Folkestone: Prince Harry Dedicates Arch

Blazing sunshine welcomed Prince Harry as thousands of people turned out to commemorate millions of men and women who travelled to and from the Western Front during the First World War.

The event, organised by Folkestone-based educational charity Step Short, marked the centenary of the First World War and saw many war veterans turn out to mark the occasion.

The Prince, who wore No 1 dress of the Blues and Royals, greeted dignitaries before unveiling Folkestone's memorial arch and laying a wreath at the town's war memorial.

Damian Collins, MP for Folkestone and Hythe and chairman of Step Short, said many of the men and women who went to war would have walked through the site where everyone stood today, before making the walk down to the harbour.

He said: "One hundred years ago in this country, a country that was not yet the full democracy that we know today, people believed that freedom was worth fighting for.''

He said we should cherish those values and ideas and added: "Today we can say that we remember them.''

Step Short is an educational charity which has worked to ensure that all those who passed through Folkestone during the First World War are remembered in an appropriate way during the centenary.

The official unveiling of the memorial arch was the centrepiece of a military and civilian parade along The Leas and down to the harbour.

Padre Daniel Merceron, a senior chaplain, read a short prayer as Harry lay the wreath, on which he had written a short message, and two minutes' silence was held at noon.

Two buglers from the Tower of London played The Last Post and the Prince took the salute of a military and civilian parade before walking down the Road of Remembrance to Folkestone's harbour.

The military parade was led by the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas and included members of the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.

It was followed by a second group made up of 800 veterans and civilians led by Folkestone Pipes and Drums.

At the top of the Road of Remembrance, members of the parade were given the "Step Short'' order, just as the servicemen were given during the First World War.

The order was given to allow them to shorten their stride as they descended the steep slope - it was formerly known as Slope Road - on their way to the harbour and a boat to the Western Front.

Shortening their stride allowed those marching to negotiate the slope safely.

But as Harry made his way down to the harbour the sky clouded over and it began to rain.

The Prince took time to speak to members of the public who had gathered there and those who had taken part in the parade.

Among them was Stanley Hodge, 88, president of the Normandy Veterans Association, who for the first time undertook the march in a wheelchair.

He said: "I have always walked it but this year thought it would be a bit too much.''

Mr Hodge, who was in the Dorset Regiment and in the first wave of landings on Gold Beach in 1944, said Harry was ``eyeing up'' his impressive range of medals.

He said: "It was an honour to meet him.''

Six-year-old Kelisha Marsh, who had come to the harbour with her mother, also spoke to the Prince.

She said Harry asked her what school she went to and told her to ask her parents what the ceremony was about when she told him she did not understand what was happening.

The Prince also watched as 600 white balloons bearing the names of each person listed on Folkestone's war memorial were released.

A Kensington Palace spokesman said:"Folkestone played an integral part in the Great War as the port of embarkation and return, to and from, the Western Front for millions of men and women.''

He added: "For many it was their last time on British soil before heading to the battlefields of France and Belgium.''