Maurice Ramsay, officer who led stretcher-bearers and casualties on a perilous trek through the Burmese jungle - obituary
Posted on 31st Mar 2022 by Mark Seymour
Maurice Ramsay, who has died aged 101, was awarded an MC while serving with the Gold Coast Regiment (GCR) in the Burma Campaign.
In March 1945, Captain Ramsay was in command of a West African Auxiliary Group Platoon, 3 GCR, part of the 82nd (West African) Division and serving in the coastal province of Arakan.
His platoon was made up of African bearers, most of them unarmed but whose skill and stamina in carrying reserves of food, ammunition and equipment for long distances allowed the division to operate effectively in close, difficult terrain. They had to rely on air drops from Dakotas for their food and the platoon had the additional task of establishing and marking dropping zones (DZ) in the jungle.
3 GCR was deployed to the bridgehead at Ru-Ywa to support an infantry battalion which had run out of vitally important rations and stores. The platoon collected these supplies at the harbour but the battalion position was two miles away on the far side of a valley, and on the way there they were ambushed by the Japanese.
Ramsay abandoned the stores, made a skilful withdrawal and set up a defensive position for the night. At first light, they collected the stores and delivered them intact to the battalion.
The platoon and the battalion were then surrounded, cut off, subject to constant mortar fire and shelling and taking increasing casualties. Their only DZ was mortared and set on fire. There was a danger from exploding ammunition, and for four days they were unable to access their rations; there was also an acute shortage of water.
Two brigades fought their way south to relieve the siege but it was almost four weeks before the first of them got close enough for a rough track to be hacked out to enable evacuation of the badly wounded. Ramsay led the stretcher-bearers on a tortuous 12-mile route through the jungle in complete darkness and under sporadic shelling.
With their nerves already at full stretch, they were harassed by Japanese “jitter parties” – taunts shouted in English – and random firing to try to provoke them into giving away their position. This led to some deaths from “friendly fire”, and it was 12 hours before Ramsay was able to hand over the casualties to the medical teams. The citation for the award of an MC paid tribute to his courage and outstanding leadership throughout the campaign.
Maurice William Ramsay was born in Northumberland on April 18 1920. When his father took on the tenancy of a mixed farm, the family moved to Norfolk. Young Maurice went to Hamond’s Grammar School, Swaffham, before joining Lloyds Bank at Wellingborough in Northamptonshire.
Having volunteered for the Northamptonshire Regiment, in April 1939 he was called up. His unit became a searchlight battalion equipped with Lewis guns. On a cloudless night, the searchlights could pick out enemy aircraft flying at up to 25,000 feet.
After attending an OCTU at Southend-on-Sea, Essex, in March 1943 he was commissioned into the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) and posted to a supply depot in Shropshire.
In autumn 1943, Ramsay was posted to 82nd (West African) Division and embarked at the Firth of Clyde, bound for Nigeria. On his arrival at Lagos he was taken up-country to Abeokuta, the capital of Ogun state, and posted to 3 GCR. After six months’ training they embarked for the seven-week voyage to Karachi and then went by train on a week-long journey to Ranchi in the north-east of India. In the tented camp, one man was bitten by a krait and died. The adjutant was so worried about snakes that he got himself a mongoose.
In December 1944 the whole of 82nd (West African) Division was mobilised in the campaign to drive the Japanese out of the Arakan. Ramsay saw more fierce fighting in the pursuit southwards but, in May 1945, with the onset of the monsoon, his part in the conflict came to an end.
He was due for demobilisation after the Japanese surrender but he volunteered to see his men safely home. They disembarked at Takoradi, the only time that he actually set foot in the Gold Coast (now part of Ghana).
On his return to England, he was demobilised at York. His father had sold his interest in the farm because his other son, a wireless operator and air gunner, had been killed in a wartime flying accident. Ramsay rejoined Lloyds and worked in Norfolk, Greenford, Middlesex and Cambridge before becoming regional manager and local director for East Anglia by the time he retired aged 60.
He subsequently joined the Government’s Small Firms’ Service as an adviser, for which he was appointed MBE, and then worked with Lord Young on the Department of Trade and Industry’s Enterprise Initiative. He was a life member of the Burma Star Association.
Maurice Ramsay married, in 1949, Dilys Evans. She predeceased him and he is survived by their son.
Maurice Ramsay, born April 18 1920, died February 13 2022.