Dunkirk: The Men They Left Behind
stumbled out with their arms raised and were marched to large pens with hundreds of others. Then the crowds joined up with other crowds until thousands were bundled together into vast khaki-clad hordes. It was not long before the men captured at Abbeville were joined by similarly dazed and desperate survivors from one of the most vicious encounters of the entire campaign.
    Of all the battles leading up to the Dunkirk evacuation none was more significant than the siege of Calais. What made it so important was that the soldiers sent to the port only arrived in France on 23 May. With the BEF already retreating, the 1st Battalion, the Rifle Brigade, the 60th Rifles (officially known as the 2nd Battalion, the King’s Royal Rifle Corps), the Queen Victoria Rifles and the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment were sent to Calais to help secure the route back to Dunkirk. However, when they arrived it was soon clear there was little they could do to help the BEF. Instead it would be a miracle for them to survive.
    One of those who did survive was Bob Davies, a former Harrods clerk and pre-war Territorial. He was so typical of many young Territorials who had joined, not out of a sense of patriotism but because it was like a club. In his case, he loved motorcycles and had joined the TA’s only motorcycle battalion, the Queen Victoria Rifles. The irony was they arrived in France without their transport, which, had been left languishing in Kent: ‘When we unloaded all we had was our rifles and the ammunition we carried – bugger all else. We just had Bren guns and no heavy machine-guns. That’s all we needed. What can you do with a rifle against a tank?’ When he first reached the front line Davies found himself firing at every opportunity: ‘Every time I saw a bird fly I thought it was a German and fired at it.’ He was soon able to calm himself, finding that his training had worked and military discipline meant he was able to follow orders without question.
    For four days the battle raged through the town. Stukas rained down their screaming high explosives. Artillery fire poured down into the British and French positions. German Panzers advanced and blew apart the buildings held by the desperate defenders. Like its northerly neighbour Dunkirk, Calais was pounded to prevent its use. However, unlike Dunkirk, no ships came to rescue the soldiers. Instead they were to fight on, holding up the advance on Dunkirk.
    Valiant British tank crews attempted to advance from the town, only to be destroyed by the far superior enemy armour. All manner of makeshift units, including anti-aircraft units and searchlight crews, found themselves, rifle in hand, manning strongpoints and trenches. The lightly armed infantrymen did their utmost to hold off the enemy advances, slowly pulling back towards the port. Every hour brought fresh casualties who made their way back to the safety of the sixteenth-century citadel, where they sheltered in deep, vaulted cellars, listening to the rumbling of gunfire above them. The citadel, with its formidably thick walls, along with later bastions added to protect the port from attack from the sea, were Calais’ main defences. Fortunately, there was also a series of canals and basins protecting the port area. As the defenders were forced back, these played an increasingly important role in holding off the German advance.
    The pounding of Calais took its toll on the defenders. From his position on the eastern edge of town – with little enemy activity in front of them – Bob Davies counted his blessings. He could see the flames rising above the town and could hear the constant roar of explosions, knowing that plenty of his mates were fighting and dying. As the Germans took control of large parts of Calais, they occupied the imposing Hôtel de Ville, from where their snipers were able to cover vast swathes of the port area. As the battle raged above them, desperate doctors did their best to treat the wounded, despite a shortage of

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