Colonel G P M Ramsay
Late Scots Guards
by Major General D M Naylor CB MBE DL
formerly Scots Guards
Colonel George Ramsay died on 11th April in his 94th year. He was one of a diminishing band of Scots Guards officers who fought in the last war and afterwards served a full career in the Regiment in peacetime. His family lived for centuries near Arbroath in Angus and most generations served in the Regiment although George, in his haste to be part of the war effort, initially signed up to join the Black Watch, an error his father quickly corrected!
Home life provided a wonderful start for George and his siblings: shooting, fishing, learning to garden, and service in the Boy Scouts particularly appealed to George who quickly developed a great love of the outdoors. Existence at Kellie Castle was quite Spartan with ineffective central heating and frozen pipes which meant that the family usually donned overcoats when moving from one room to another in winter, something which might account for George’s lifelong propensity to often make quick, occasionally impulsive decisions. Following school at Summer Fields and Eton and with war looming, his next move was to enlist.
After Sandhurst and a spell in 4th Battalion in the Guards Armoured Division, George was sent to Italy in 1943 to join 1st Battalion by then fighting north of Naples. Because he had developed a singular ability to manage communications he was appointed Signal Officer, a role he held throughout his time in the Battalion. Involved in several engagements up to and beyond the Gothic Line he was badly wounded by a shell near Rimini and, had it not been for the skills of the doctors, might have lost an arm. Many years later he recorded a fascinating interview with a military historian giving trenchant opinions on the Italians, British generals, those alongside whom the Battalion fought, and how the task of defeating the Germans was handled. Well worth a read if only to see how George never really changed over his long life!
After the war George decided to remain in the Army filling all the key appointments in the regiment up until his retirement in 1967. He served in Malaya, Egypt, Germany and Kenya with one or other battalion including being Regimental Adjutant under his old friend Henry Clowes, later commanding 2nd Battalion until finally commanding the Regiment itself. It was however his time as Commanding Officer of 2nd Battalion in Kenya which gave him greatest pleasure.
Kenya in 1962 was approaching independence and British military forces needed to behave sensitively with an eye constantly on the political barometer. During George’s time in command the Battalion exercised in the harsh desert conditions of the NFD, deployed to Zanzibar in August 1963 to supervise the pre-independence elections there, surely one of the few occasions when a commanding officer has been appointed as the electoral returning officer, trained in Aden, only to return at no notice to be ready to intervene when mutinies occurred in early 1964 in the four East African countries, finally dispatching Right Flank under Douglas Prior to deal with the Ugandan uprising while the battalion deployed into Nairobi to forestall a mutiny amongst the security forces there. It was a time when the battalion did its duty in an exemplary fashion but equally played hard contributing a sense of reassurance and normality to those whose lives were, with the coming of independence, to change for ever. George Ramsay presided over events with aplomb, enthusing over all that his Guardsmen had to do, having fun and ensuring that others had fun too. Memories of the Bolthole evenings, safaris, the Sergeants’ Mess lion cubs, and the Independence ceremonies of December 1963, will be recalled by all who were there. It was a happy battalion.
When George retired in 1967 he first worked for the Merchant Bankers, Hill Samuel, after which he became a head hunter for ten years. No doubt he brought to the latter the same qualities of enthusiasm and persuasion he always displayed when in military command. Thereafter he lived for several years at Elham in Kent before moving to Oxfordshire. As always, he threw himself into all that he did, be it the local Conservative Association or the Royal British Legion branch; he was a Knight of Malta, a member of the Royal Company of Archers, and President of the Scots Guards Association Berks and Bucks branch. Above all he indulged a passion for gardening, building new gardens and creating a geranium which he called GOSH - ‘George at the Old Schoolhouse’; he was an acquisitive hunter of plants although many of the donors may never have been aware of it!
George and Pat had five children, the eldest of whom, Alec, served in the regiment, something which gave George enormous pleasure, especially when Alec later became Adjutant of 2nd Battalion. The Ramsays were a close family and undoubtedly suffered much unhappiness when the marriage later ended. In 1980 George married Bridget, a union which brought stability to their lives and helped to again provide a loving, family home.
So how shall we recall Colonel George and his long and eventful life? As Patrick Ramsay said when speaking about his father at the funeral ‘it is a Ramsay family trait which leads them to believe that their opinions are usually infallible’. Probably most families think that way and George, whatever he might say or do, was always totally genuine in his views and actions. He was one of the most courteous of men, invariably welcoming and friendly, keen to learn about people and what made them tick. He was kind and loyal to those with whom he served, an attribute not always reciprocated by some who worked with him who should have known better. He may not have been a military genius, few are, but he was a wonderful example of the best sort of regimental officer, a man of deep religious faith, a stalwart friend and a loving father. In this turbulent world in which we live today, those are characteristics for which we would all wish to be remembered. It was good to see so many Scots Guardsmen across several generations turning out to say farewell to a very special old soldier.