Berwickshire’s tribute to Dunkirk and D-Day mastermind

Captain William Ramsay.
Captain William Ramsay.

In a peaceful garden in the heart of Berwickshire on Sunday morning, a commemoration service was held in honour of Admiral Bertam Ramsay.

Bughtrig, near Leitholm, was the home of Admiral Ramsay who masterminded the naval forces contribtion to both the Dunkirk evacuation 75 years ago, and four years later the D-Day landings during World War 2, and a statue to “one of the most successful British military leaders of the entire war” now stands in the formal gardens of the Ramsay family home.

Edwin Witchell plays in the gardens of Bughtrig in front of the statue of his  great grandfather  Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsayf

Edwin Witchell plays in the gardens of Bughtrig in front of the statue of his great grandfather Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsayf

It was here in front of the statue that military personnel, family and friends gathered on the 75th anniversary of the evacuation from Dunkirk for the service of commemoration, led by Rev Alan Cartwright and Rev Stephen Blakey, to one of Berwickshire’s most distinguished citizens who played such a major role in the allies victory in World War 2.

First to pay tribute was Admiral Ramsay’s son Charles who spoke about his father’s naval career and his death in a plane crash in France in June 1945, which Charles said meant “he never really received the acclaim he should have done.”

Historians are now catching up with Admiral Ramsay’s contribution, agreeing with Eisenhower’s description of him as “a most competent commander of courage, resourcefulness, and tremendous energy.”

Admiral Ramsay’s grandson William Ramsay paid tribute to his grandfather, telling those gathered: “When Germany invaded the Low Countries, he put into operation his plan for bringing the retreating British Army back from France.

Service of commemoration for Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay and the 75th anniversary of the evacuation from Dunkirk at Bughtrig Gardens, Coldstream. The Royal Navy team attending the service.

Service of commemoration for Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay and the 75th anniversary of the evacuation from Dunkirk at Bughtrig Gardens, Coldstream. The Royal Navy team attending the service.

“This involved assembling 845 boats, (over 500 of these were civilian and included yachts, barges and dinghies) which in nine days evacuated a third of a million British and French soldiers, who formed the core of experienced soldiers who proved vital for winning the war.

“He received many letters of congratulation, including from Churchill and Lord Gort, the general in charge of the British Expeditionary Force, who wrote: “We in the BEF can only say thank you and in doing so, we shall never forget an achievement which will live forever in the annals of the sea”.

“Perhaps the most succinct and apt was from his brother in law: “Thousands of men, women and children will be grateful to you and your men for the rest of their lives”, while a soldier’s wife wrote to him “…even if you had time, please do not answer this, but I felt I must thank you for rescuing my old boy…”

“Exactly 75 years ago today, three days after the evacuation ended, he sent a telegram here to my grandmother: “Lady Ramsay, I am proud to be the first to congratulate you on your new title.”

Service of commemoration for Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay and the 75th anniversary of the evacuation from Dunkirk at Bughtrig Gardens, Coldstream. L-r, Captain William Ramsay, Major General CA Ramsay and David Ramsay.

Service of commemoration for Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay and the 75th anniversary of the evacuation from Dunkirk at Bughtrig Gardens, Coldstream. L-r, Captain William Ramsay, Major General CA Ramsay and David Ramsay.

“He went on to plan the North African and Sicilian landings, before becoming Allied Naval Commander of D-Day. It was fitting that he was chosen to send the Allies back to France in 1944, after bringing them back from France in 1940.

“For D-Day, he led the largest amphibious operation the world had ever seen, and probably will ever see, with 4,126 vessels which also in nine days landed half a million men and 77,000 vehicles.”

A sense of duty weighed heavy on Admiral Ramsay and on the evening before the D-Day landings started he wrote in his diary: “I am under no delusions as to the risks involved in this most difficult of operations, and the critical period around H-Hour when, if initial formations of landing craft are held up, success will be in the balance. We shall require all the help that God can give us.”

On successful completion of the D-Day landings, Admiral Ramsay wrote to his wife: “No doubt it is natural to congratulate the head of the concern, but it only serves to remind me of the many people on whom success depended quite as much if not more than on myself. At the same time I realise that in the event of failure it would equally be all attributed to me.”

Admiral Bertram Home Ramsay

Admiral Bertram Home Ramsay

Concluding his address, William Ramsay said: “That he was killed in January 1945 in a plane crash in France was a terrible tragedy for his wife (my grandmother) and their two young sons (my father and uncle, both here today), but also a cruel curtailment of a great leader’s life.

“Eisenhower called Ramsay “a most competent commander of courage, resourcefulness, and tremendous energy.”

“Berwickshire should be proud of him.

“Sadly he was never able to have a much earned retirement at this magnificent place, so I was delighted to be able to give him a retirement of sorts by acquiring this statue of him – a second version of the one at Dover Castle overlooking the Channel towards Dunkirk.

“But, today is not just about him.

“This statue, of one person who happens to be wearing a naval uniform, represents the huge sacrifice in WW2 of every single soldier, sailor, airman, wife, mother, father, sister, brother and child, irrelevant of whether they were involved in the Dunkirk evacuation we are remembering today. We will remember them.”