Family memories of Dunkirk evacuation masterminded by Vice Admiral Ramsay

IT was a proud moment for one Berwickshire family recently when they were invited to remember a history-shaping role played by one of their ancestors.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 16th June 2010, 4:23 pm

Charles Ramsay, grandson of Vice Admiral Bertram Home Ramsay, and his mother Hon Mary Ramsay, were guests of honour at a commemorative service held at Dover Castle in Kent on Friday June 4 - 70 years on from the last day of the 10-day Dunkirk evacuations.

The evacuation, code named 'Operation Dynamo', was masterminded by Vice Admiral Ramsay from the secret wartime tunnels, deep beneath the white cliffs at Dover Castle.

Among the invited guests were Dunkirk veterans and following a service in the church at Dover Castle, Charles Ramsay laid a wreath at the foot of the statue of his grandfather at Admiralty Look Out overlooking the Channel to France. The Ramsays have a replica of the statue in their garden of Bughtrig near Leitholm.

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Charles was asked to address those gathered at the Dover service and said: "We are proud of the role that Admiral Ramsay played, not only in the evacuation from Dunkirk of which today is the 70th anniversary, but also of his remarkable role in World War II as a whole, which is perhaps relevant given we have recently passed the 65th Anniversary of the end of the war in Europe.

"Having been brought back from retirement, my grandfather assumed independent command at Dover ten days before the start of the war in August 1939. It was therefore by chance that overall responsibility for the evacuation from Dunkirk and the fate of the bulk of the British Army therefore fell to him.

The outstanding role that he and his team played in the successful evacuation is recorded in a quotation I will read.

It is a letter from Field Marshal Lord Gort, commander of the BEF, written on 17th June 1940:

'My Dear Ramsay,

I thank you, on behalf of the BEF, for the truly magnificent performance of the Royal navy in carrying through to complete success the evacuation of the troops from Dunkirk.

Never will the Army forget the superb effort made by you and those under your command to achieve, in the face of constant and heavy air attacks, what at first looked like being an almost impossible task. And an impossible task it would undoubtedly have remained had it not been for the indomitable spirit which is the proud tradition of all ranks of the Senior Service.

We of the BEF can only say Thank You and, in doing so, we shall never forget an achievement which will live for ever in the Annals of the Sea.'

"With the British Army saved, Churchill politically secure, and the threat of invasion subsiding, in 1942 my grandfather was appointed chief planner and commander of the task force for Operation Torch – the landings in North Africa, and in 1943 operation Husky – the landings in Sicily.

"In the Autumn of 1943 he returned to London and was appointed Allied Naval C-in-C for Operation Neptune: what would become D-Day, and which remains the greatest naval armada in history. So having rescued the British Army at Dunkirk in 1940, my grandfather completed the Full Cycle by returning the Allied Army to France in 1944.

"My grandfather has since been credited with having the strategic vision, meticulous attention to detail, willingness to delegate, and high standards that contributed to the success of these operations.

"He also possessed great modesty which is one reason why he remains to this day a largely unknown figure for the majority of the British public.

"Another factor in this respect is that tragically, he was killed in an aeroplane crash outside Paris on January 2 1945 – so close to the end of the war and the opportunity to return to his family and a quiet life in Scotland which he longed for.

"Thus ended the life of one of the greatest contributors to the Allied victory, whose achievements have since, in places, partly due to his untimely death, been overlooked. Vice-Admiral James wrote to my grandfather after Dunkirk and said 'You will live in history and thousands will bless you'.

"It is with the same gratitude and pride that today, 70 years on, we remember him and all those involved in Operation Dynamo."

And reflecting on his visit to Dover last week and the hard work of his grandfather, Charles Ramsay told 'The Berwickshire News': "What needed to be done back in 1940 was relatively clear; it wasn't a brain wave- the British forces needed to come back.

"But my grandfather's attention to detail and the planning capabailities of him and his team, to co-ordinate such important naval operations while under extreme pressure, were amazing.

"I felt extremely proud to be able to address such a respected group of people. It was certainly a very poignant moment for me and the highlight of the day was meeting people with a real appreciation for the role my grandfather played."