Raikes, Richard Anthony
Born at Welwyn, he was the elder son of Arthur Whittington Raikes, of Ducklake, Ashwell, Baldock, Hertfordshire. His mother was Gladys Sarah Raikes, daughter of Frederick Anthony White of 170 Queen’s Gate, London, and sister of F.A. White (A1881). He came from West Downs and became head of his House and a keen member of Debating Society. While still in the school he produced a drawing showing four scenes in the life of the Virgin Mary, which, with later modification, was used in the easternmost window of College Hall. He became an effective shot, and helped as a cadet to win the Ashburton Trophy at Bisley, also being a member of the winning Cadet Pair in 1926.
From 1928 to 1931 he studied engineering at Magdalene College, Cambridge, and gained an Honours degree and entered service with Telephone Rentals Ltd.
On April 11th 1935, at Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Street, he married Luisa Josefa Helena (‘Lisel’) Lasch, daughter of Leonard Lasch of Cologne. He then, in 1938, took a commission in 1st Queen Victoria’s Rifles (1QVR), a territorial battalion of the KRRC. This unit was designated as the motorcycle reconnaissance battalion for 1st London Division. In March 1940 it was allocated to 30 Infantry Brigade, which consisted of 1st Rifle Brigade (1RB), 2nd KRRC (2KRRC), and 1QVR; the brigade commander was Brigadier Claude Nicholson (G1912-1915) who died as a prisoner of war in Germany (see individual entry).
On May 21st 1940 1QVR set out at three hours notice to Calais under orders to secure the town and await the arrival of the rest of 30 Brigade. 1QVR had been deployed in such a rush that no one seems to have considered that as a motorized battalion, a third of its men, classified as drivers, were armed only with revolvers, which were useless anyway as they had no ammunition. Many officers were not issued with weapons at all and no-one seemed to know what was going on. Their orders were to secure the harbour area, and to block the six roads leading to Calais. 1QVR secured the cable terminal at Sangatte, patrolled the beaches to prevent German aircraft from landing and dealt with the many refugees that were arriving.
Nicholson was aware that an attack was imminent and on 23rd May recorded “Calais is surrounded. Heavy bombing is expected tonight, and a powerful attack will probably be put in in the morning.” Mortar shells began to fall at dawn the following morning followed by the arrival of German tanks and infantry. 1QVR were ordered to withdraw to the line of Calais’ ramparts and attacks continued all morning. It was clear by the late afternoon of May 24th that this defensive line could not be held much longer, and Nicholson ordered a withdrawal to an inner perimeter made up of various canals and waterways surrounding the old city of Calais Nord.
On the 25th, the Germans offered Nicholson two chances to surrender, which he refused: “Tell the Germans that if they want Calais they will have to fight for it.” Churchill sent the message: “Every hour you continue to exist is of the greatest help to the BEF. Have greatest possible admiration for your splendid stand. Evacuation will not (repeat not) take place, and craft required for above purpose are to return to Dover.”
On the afternoon of May 25th the fighting intensified still further and The Citadel, where Nicholson’s headquarters were based, fell at 1630. What was left of ‘B’ Company of 1QVR was overwhelmed at around 1700. Two detached platoons of ‘C’ Company were among the last to surrender, having fought to the last around Place d’Angleterre and Place de l’Europe. By 1730, Calais had fallen.
On June 4th 1940 Churchill made the following statement in 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.”
The gallantry with which 30 Brigade held the town for four days won time for their hard-pressed comrades of the BEF to be evacuated from Dunkirk and the neighbouring beaches.
A few minutes before the surrender, Raikes was seen unhurt and it is thought he had intended to make good his escape. It is known that several British escapers were killed attempting to swim across the various basins and waterways of Calais. Some men did manage to escape that night on board a Royal Naval vessel, the yacht Gulzar, and two members of 1QVR managed to cross the Channel in a dinghy and an old motor-boat, but no more was ever seen or heard of Raikes. It was not until November 1944 that the War Office announced the presumption of his death, by drowning, on the night of May 26th, at the age of twenty-nine. He is commemorated in column 118 of the Dunkirk Memorial.
- Surname: Raikes
- Forenames or initials: Richard Anthony
- House: H
- Years in School: 1922-1928
- Rank: Lieutenant
- Regiment: Queen Victoria's Rifles, King's Royal Rifle Corps
- Date of Birth: 15th August 1909
- Date of Death: 26th May 1940
- How Died: Killed in Action
- Location in War Cloister: Inner E2
- Decoration: NA
- Burial Site: Unknown but commemorated on the Dunkirk Memorial, Column 118