Major General Charles
Alexander Ramsay, CB, OBE, soldier: Born, 12 October 1936, in North
Berwick; died, 31 December 2017, in Berwickshire, aged 81.
Picture from the Berwickshire News
Charles Ramsay was the
man who put tanks on the streets of Scotland’s capital during an
exceptional military career begun with the Royal Scots Greys. The city
authorities were no match for his powers of persuasion, and he had his
way, with 30 tracked vehicles, including 15 Chieftain tanks, thundering
down Princes Street to celebrate the regiment’s 300th anniversary in
Ramsay, at the time in
command of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers and Greys),
known as Scots DG, the Greys’ successor regiment, had brought his men
up from Catterick, North Yorkshire. Today the regiment resides at
Edinburgh Castle. The parade took place in spite of some local
opposition, including worries about burst gas mains, and, it is
recorded, achieved its end with little more damage done than the loss of
a traffic light.
“It was”, Ramsay
recalled, “a fantastic occasion. We formed a Guard of Honour at Holyrood
for the Queen’s arrival there and we did a special parade down Princes
Street where Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, took the salute. For this we
had a mounted section; I was at the head of it riding a grey horse which
belonged to the Queen, called Banner.
“Behind me was my
Adjutant, Captain John Sharples, riding my horse – Sea Fox. There was
then an armoured recce squadron in tracked reconnaissance vehicles and
finally a tank squadron. It was a unique event. Separately there was a
parade in Holyrood Park where the Queen took the salute. Our band and
pipes and drums performed magnificently. Additionally we had a great
Regimental Ball in the Assembly Rooms which The Queen came to.”
For his service Ramsay
was appointed an OBE in 1979.
He had already commanded
C Squadron, Scots DG, on a tour in South Armagh, Northern Ireland,
during which an IRA bullet ripped through the top of his Land Rover,
narrowly missing his head.
He would go on to command
an armoured brigade at Osnabruck, the largest British military base
outside the United Kingdom, with the British Army on the Rhine (BAOR)from
1980-82 during the Cold War; rise to the rank of Major General in charge
of the UK Army’s Eastern District; and finally, from 1987-89, become
Director General of Army Organisation and the Territorial Army. He was
made CB in 1989.
Throughout his Army
service, which took him to Aden, Hong Kong, and Belize as well as
Germany, his charm and powers of delegation echoed the personality of a
father he hardly knew. He was the younger son of Admiral Sir Bertram
Home Ramsay, the officer who masterminded the evacuation of Dunkirk in
1940 and commanded Allied naval forces at D-Day, 6 June 1944.
“He.. inherited many of
the qualities that made the Admiral such a great military commander”, a
senior officer who served under Charles Ramsay said of him.
Only eight when the
Admiral was killed on active service in an aircraft crash in January
1945, the young Charles grew up at the home his father had bought in
1938, and which is still in the family, Bughtrig House, near Coldstream
But Charles Ramsay was to
fulfil a love affair with Scotland that his father – plucked back to
command at Dover from his own retirement when crisis erupted in May 1940
– had dearly wished to pursue, and of which the Second World War
Himself descended from
the Ramsay baronets of Balmain, from Fasque in Kincardineshire, but
brought up in England, the Admiral had hoped to end his days in the
Borders, having married into another old Scottish family through his
wife, Margaret, whose forebears founded the news distribution business
His son would do just
that: after retiring from the Army in 1990, Charles Ramsay devoted
himself to managing the family estates, enjoying a foothold for the
family both in the Lowlands at Bughtrig, and, from 1978, another in the
Highlands, having bought South Chesthill in Glen Lyon, Perthshire. He
became a director of John Menzies, and chairman of Scotland’s oldest
wine merchant, Cockburn’s of Leith.
He served as Honorary
Colonel of the Scots DG from 1992-98, and for the rest of his life went
on working for the regiment, including raising funds for its museum,
which was reopened on a new site at the Castle by the Queen in 2006.
He became a member of the
Queen’s Body Guard for Scotland (The Royal Company of Archers), and
directed Edinburgh’s Royal Military Tattoo.
Known to his regiment as
General Charles, Ramsay had an enthusiasm for sports cars, including
his first, a second-hand MG with an Edinburgh number plate that he
found in London, and later a series of Jaguars and, in the 1970s, a
He married, in 1967, Mary
MacAndrew, daughter of the Ayrshire Conservative politician Charles Glen
MacAndrew, who was made, in 1959, 1st Baron MacAndrew.
They would have four
children, William, Rowena, Camilla and Charlie, who, with his wife and
brother, survive him.
Horses were a lifelong
passion, his favourite hunter being one from the 1960s called Ainsty –
and he would recite the names of many further steeds, some of which he
had painted in oils, and on which he took part during his Army career
in events such as the regimental cross-country point-to-point, the Sprot
Prize. In this he was victor in 1969 and 1977.
He also played polo,
hunted in Scotland, mainly with the Berwickshire but also the Buccleuch,
and owned a series of winning racehorses. He enjoyed shooting, and
treasured a pair of 12-boreWilliam Powell guns made for his father in
Charles Ramsay was
educated at Eton and Sandhurst, but would wistfully recall his early
years in Scotland, especially his father’s rare wartime visits: “All I
remember is this great excitement every time he came home and flew into
He reflected: “I greatly
regret that I never really knew my great father – who never received the
acclaim for what he achieved in the Second World War.”
By Anne Keleny in the Scotsman.