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The Rifle Brigade at Calais, May 1940 - Messages From The King & The Colonel in Chief.


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In May 1940 the German army was moving swiftly across France to the coast, the British Expeditionary Force was retreating words evacuation from at Calais, Boulogne & Dunkirk.

Although it became recognised that only Dunkirk could be used to evacuate the remains of the BEF, it was still necessary to defend Calais and Boulogne in order to delay the Germans advance on Dunkirk.

On 22 & 23/5/40 the 30th Infantry Brigade landed at Calais, the aim being to keep the port open. The 30th Infantry Brigade consisted of the 2nd King's Royal Rifle Corps, the 1st Rifle Brigade, the 1st Queen Victoria's Rifles and the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment.

On the 23rd, 1st & 10th Panzer Divisions attacked Calais, artillery shelled it & having surrounded it continued to shell it.

By the 23rd, British troops had been joined by French and Belgian volunteers but were still heavily outnumbered, suffering heavy casualties as did the Germans

As the British ran out of men the Germans slowly worked their way into Calais advanced through Calais, subduing strongpoints & killing or capturing the British, French & Belgian personnel.

?Every hour you continue to exist is of the greatest help to the BEF. The government has therefore decided you must continue to fight. Have greatest admiration for your splendid stand? - Anthony Eden, Secretary of State for War, to Brigadier Nicholson, Commander of the Calais Garrison

Fighting lasting for 4 days until, on the 26th, short of ammunition & food & havng suffered heavy casualties, the surviving British troops surrendered, having bought essential time for the evacuation at Dunkirk..

On 4/6/40 Winston Churchill stated to parliament:

: "The Rifle Brigade, the 60th Rifles and the Queen Victoria's Rifles, with a battalion of British tanks and one thousand Frenchmen- in all about four thousand strong-defended Calais to the last. The British Brigadier was given an hour to surrender. He spurned the offer, and four days of intense street fighting passed before silence reigned over Calais, which marked the end of a memorable resistance. Only thirty unwounded survivors were brought off by the Royal Navy, and we do not know the fate of their comrades. Their sacrifice was not however, in vain. At least two armoured divisions, which otherwise would have been turned against the British Expeditionary Force, had to be sent to overcome them. They have added another page to the glories of the Light Division and the time gained enabled the Gravelines Walnlieu to be flooded and to be held by French troops; and thus it was that the port of Dunkirk was kept open."

This paper contains two messages to the regiment, one from their Colonel in Chief, the other from King George VI's Private Secretary.

Of interest is the representation of the regiments cap badge ? a pattern which was replaced by another, more ornate & apparently unpopular version in 1936, but which by all accounts continued in wear for some time after

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