"The Gay - and Dramatic - Adventures of Major Denis Rake MC, SOE"

24th August 2022

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Born in Brussels 1901, Denis Rake led a colourful and sometimes mysterious younger life as he is said to have belonged to the Sarrasani Circus as a young child. He later pursued an acting career under the name Denis Greer, before joining the Royal Army Service Corps at the start of the War.

Denis Rake escaped two sinkings early in his military career, once whilst evacuating France as part of the British Expeditionary Force and again after joining the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve.  As a French speaker Denis managed to secure a place in the SOE French section as a Telegraph Operator.  He had an eventful and controversial time in training, refusing to complete certain training but his skills and bravery so impressed that he was kept on and sent to the continent in 1942.

Denis served two terms as a POW in France, and after escaping, in Spain. Even though he suffered terrible treatment and permanent injury from interrogation he volunteered again in 1944 to return to France working with the resistance. He worked closely and was admired by Nancy Wake, the famous Australian SOE agent. After leaving SOE in 1944 he worked for Army Welfare Services organising entertainment for the troops. Denis Rake received the Military Cross, the Croix de Guerre with palm and the title of Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur for his service in France.

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His officer once said of him that “he says he is not afraid of death and I believe him”, Denis said that his lack of fear came from his need to prove himself because of the prevailing prejudice against his homosexuality, something he never hid.


After demobilisation Denis worked on cruise liners and also as a 2nd Butler for Douglas Fairbanks Jr and his family.  When a piece of post came for him addressed Major Denis Rake MC, Douglas Fairbanks handed him the letter and Denis apparently replied “I was hoping you wouldn’t hear about all this nonsense”.


Denis was later persuaded to write his autobiography “Rake’s Progress -The Gay and Dramatic - Adventures of Major Denis Rake MC, the Reluctant British War-Time Agent”. 


Denis Rake died in 1976, a later biography was written in 2009 - The Shooting Star: The colourful life and times of Denis Rake, MC.

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Postcards from Denis Rake during his time as a prisoner of war in Spain. Greer was his stage name and Esme was his older sister.
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Burstow & Hewett are offering for sale a collection of items related to Denis Rake’s life and war-time service, to include, his Military Cross, Croix de Guerre with Palm and Chevalier de la Legion D’Honneur.  There is also a French Resistance Medal and miniatures which includes his DSO.  There are some related war-time papers from the French government, a signed copy of his book, postcards to his sister, Esme, from his time imprisoned in Spain and various photos of Denis Rake throughout his life. There is also a signed photo from Douglas Fairbanks Jr and his family to Denis.


The lot will be going under the hammer on Wednesday 24th August 2022.


This lot represents a very poignant story of one man’s bravery in the face of the enemy and defiance in the face of prejudice from society.


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