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Major Ivor Ramsden MBE
Late Welsh Guards

by Paul de Zulueta
formerly Welsh Guards

Ivor Ramsden’s military career almost came to an end before it began. Whilst at Sandhurst, Ivor and a few fellow cadets decided to dress up as highwaymen, ‘borrow’ some horses from the Sandhurst stables, and hold up the Commandant on his return from Royal Ascot in his coach. An inconceivable prank in today’s humourless and desiccated times, but the Commandant at the time, Hugh Stockwell, a decorated veteran of the Second World War was much taken with the spirited stunt and invited the cadets back to Government House for a drink. It was that same sense of adventure that gave Ivor the courage and will to take on his family’s stewardship of the magnificent Pembroke Castle and safeguard its future.

Ivor’s 92 years of life belonged to a different era, but the values he held and espoused were timeless. Responsibility came early. His father, Basil, had been badly gassed serving with the South Wales Borderers in the Great War and died in poor health whilst Ivor was a young boy. Ivor soon found himself writing his own cheques to cover his school fees for Abberley Hall prep school from where he won a place to Winchester College. A school well known for producing intellectual greyhounds, Ivor nonetheless held his own on the sports field. He also clothed himself with both the letter and spirit of its famous motto ‘Manners Makyth Man’. Courteous to anyone he met and genuinely interested in their well-being, Ivor was a true Wykehamist.

As a salute to his father’s memory, Ivor joined the South Wales Borderers as a private and served in Northern Ireland. He was paid three shillings a week but he would always say that his experience as a private had its own rewards when he was to lead Welsh Guardsmen as an officer. He understood what was important to Guardsmen in their daily lives. He was commissioned in the Welsh Guards on leaving Sandhurst in 1949.

As Britain withdrew from empire with as much grace and dignity as possible, Ivor’s early years in the army were both varied and fulfilling. He was seconded to serve with the 10th Gurkha Rifles in the Malayan Emergency where he took part in the first helicopter-borne assaults against the communist guerrillas, the Malay National Liberation Army (MNLA). He retained a life-long affection for the Gurkhas and took to the rather unconventional life, conscious perhaps that he would have plenty of time to conform when he decided to return to the family estate in Pembrokeshire. He contracted Leptospirosis in the jungle, an unpleasant but common enough affliction, which meant he was given light duties towards the end of his time. Needless to say, at 6ft 3 and every inch a Guardsman, Ivor was asked to organise Her Majesty’s Coronation Parade in June 1953 under the gimlet eye of Field Marshal ‘The Tiger of Malaya’ Templer, Malaya’s High Commissioner.

Ivor’s time in Egypt serving with the Battalion in the Suez Canal Zone from 1954-6 was in sharp contrast to Malaya but it was not without its advantages. He learnt to water-ski, towed behind a three-tonne lorry as it raced down the Suez Canal. More importantly, he persuaded his girlfriend, Carola, to sail back from Hong Kong via Suez. He borrowed a fellow officer’s car and took her to the Great Bitter Lakes where he set out his stall as a suitor to her hand in marriage. She was impressed and they married in London in December 1955. They returned to married quarters in Moascar, close to the canal and within striking distance of the Red Sea. It was one of the happiest times of their life together. They were to have three children, Clarissa, David, Richard (who, sadly, was to predecease them) and Victoria.

Ivor returned to the Guards Depot which allowed Carola and him to build friendships with officers from every Regiment of the Household Division. He had one rather fraught summer in Cardiff in 1958 organising the Empire Games where the rowing platform sank and the boxing and wrestling rings had to be dismantled and rebuilt every night. His talent for organisation and getting things done was recognised with his award of the MBE. The experience stood him in good stead in later years when faced with the challenges of managing and maintaining Pembroke Castle.

His last appointment was to command The Prince of Wales Company. One of his platoon commanders, 2nd Lieutenant Charles Guthrie, later Field Marshal Lord Guthrie, remembered Ivor with affection: ‘He was the perfect company commander to have for a newly joined subaltern, beautifully mannered, avuncular, not overzealous which can be tiresome when you first join and want just to settle yourself and soak up the Regiment’s ethos, and he was jolly good on the Guardsmen’s welfare. I owe him a good deal’.

Ivor retired from the Army in 1962, thankful that his time in the Welsh Guards had prepared him for his responsibilities as a farmer and custodian of Pembroke Castle. The castle had been bought by his grandfather, Major General Ivor Philipps for the sum of £3000 in 1928. The castle, one of the finest privately owned castles in Britain, was worth preserving for its provenance alone. Built in 1093 by Roger of Montgomery and sited on a commanding ridge over two tidal inlets, it bore witness to the great events of Welsh history, including the birth in the castle of King Henry VII in 1457. It is now managed by a private charitable trust run by trustees from Ivor’s family and Pembroke town council. It is one of Wales’s best loved attractions.

Ivor, mindful of his wider obligations, threw himself into local community life: Pembrokeshire Yeomanry, High Sheriff in 1969, the year of The Prince of Wales’s investiture, Deputy Lieutenant, and President of Welsh Guards Pembroke Association for half a century. He was also a Gentleman at Arms, Her Majesty’s official bodyguard and took part in the wedding of The Prince of Wales to Princess Diana.

But it was not all civic duty. Ivor loved sailing in the waters around Milford Haven which he found the perfect antidote to his local commitments. Known by many as the ‘galloping major’, a reference to a well-publicised speeding offence, Ivor was held in great affection by the local community who recognised in him a rare selflessness and generosity of spirit.

Ivor knew how very fortunate he was to survive pancreatic cancer in 2004 and lived every year thereafter as a bonus. At his Service of Thanksgiving at St Mary’s Church Pembroke, there was standing room only. One of the Readings was Success by Robert Louis Stevenson with its verse so redolent of Ivor’s life, ‘The man is a success who filled his niche and accomplished his task, who looked for the best in others and gave the best he had; his memory is a benediction.’

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