Tribute to Lt-Col G E Ramsay & Ramsay Force No. 1 Battalion – ‘A’ Force

Colonel George Ernest Ramsay E.D.

Commanding Officer, 2/30 Bn. A.I.F., from 13/2/1942 until Demobilization (Original Commission in C.M.F. dated 15/7/1921)

The following is from Les Hall author of “The Blue Haze, POWs on the Burma Railway,

“A Humble Tribute
“Gentleman George”….two words with a tremendous wealth of meaning. They signify the man….the soldier….the diplomat”.

“My admiration for this man of compassion grew in abundance. We were at Mergui under the dominance of one of the toughest Japanese Commandants, whom we were to come up against throughout our P.O.W. Life, Lieutenant TOKORO.

It was at that camp, perhaps more than anywhere else, that his diplomacy was exemplified at its highest peak. He exerted so much pressure on the strutting Nipponese officer, that we of the ranks benefited to a great extent.

But for the efforts of “Gentleman George” I am quite certain that the records of executions and death in consequence of privations, would have been much greater at Mergui and the subsequent jungle camps.

From the 26 kilo Camp to the 75 kilo and to the 105 kilo camp Lieut. Col. G.E. Ramsay E.D., proved beyond any doubt that he was a true soldier, a great commander, and a diplomat of the highest order.

Fear of personal punishment was never his companion. He stood up to the toughest, gave a little, gained a lot. At the 105 kilo Camp admiration for him stemmed from his determination to thwart the Japanese at every turn in their demands for more and more workers.

He held his ground, to such an extent, that he actually forced the Nipponese Area Commandant, Col. Nagatomo, to travel from his headquarters, some eighty kilometres distant, to personally inspect the “many sickmans”, who, Lieutenant Colonel G.E. Ramsay and his Medical Officers stated emphatically, were absolutely unfit for any kind of work!

The result…..large groups were transported, or walked the greater part of the distance, to the 55 kilo Camp, at which the “Burma Hospital” had been set up.

That incident, in my opinion, was one of the most outstanding successes attained over the Nipponese by any Force Commander.

My personal regard for “Gentleman George” knows no bounds. I knew him as a Water Board officer as a training and fighting soldier, and under prisoner of war conditions in the exacting privations throughout the length of the Notorious Burma Siam Railway task, and in its primitive, disease ridden camps.

To me he is the epitome of manhood. One, who will never be forgotten, whilst any man, who had the honour to wear the Purple and Gold patches remains alive.”

 

 ‘A’ Force Burma – Ramsay Force No. 1 Battalion

When ‘A’ Force made up of 3,000 POWs embarked on two ships at Singapore on 14 May 1942 sailing to Burma, the POWs numbering about 1200 men of Ramsay Force No. 1 Battalion under the Command of Lt-Col. G.R. Ramsay of 2/30th Battalion disembarked at Mergui on 25 May 1942.  Green Force No. 3 Battalion had already disembarked at Victoria Point and the remaining POWs sailed to Tavoy under the command of Brigadier Varley.  All three parties were cut off from all communication with each other.

No arrangements had been made for the POWs arriving at Mergui.  The 1000 men were accommodated in a local school which normally catered for 600-800 students.  Ramsay reported number of British and Australian POWs had developed dysentery during their very trying sea journey where they were cramped into small areas.  They were again cramped and sanitary conditions very poor.  After many protests, The Japanese agreed to Ramsay’s request to move the sick to a wing of a local Burmese hospital with Ramsay Force medical officers.  Later Ramsay Force was moved to a new camp, which had been initially  built for Japanese Troops.  This accommodation was to easily prove to be the most comfortable of any quarters the POWs had throughout their incarceration.

Initially these 3 Forces would work on aerodromes and runway repairs at these coastal locations, about 150 miles apart, before moving further into Burma’s north to commence work on the Burma-Thai Railway.

In August 1942 Lt. Col. Ramsay and his men were moved to Tavoy.  Ramsay Force now comprised the original 1500 men from Mergui, less one Company and less the Medical detachment and sick making a total of 1100

They were joined by Green Force from Victoria Point, now numbering 600 under the Command of Maj. C.E. Green plus Medical and R.A.E. detachments from “A” Force Headquarters, plus a Dutch party of 200 from N.E.I. so that Ramsay Force then totalled 1900.

The main part was quartered at Tavoy High School with one Company at the Aerodrome. Brigadier Varley and part of the original “A” Force  were also at the aerodrome but communication between the aerodrome and school was not permitted officially. However George Ramsay managed to contact Brigadier Varley at  Tavoy Hospital, which was available to the sick from both camps.

Ramsay Force arrived at Kun Knit Kway 26 Kilo Camp about 20th December 1942 joining Black Force. Lt-Col. Ramsay became Commanding officer of the combined work force.

The 26 kilo camp was very open, being situated at the end of a valley leading up to the mountains and dense jungle.  There was a section of line at 26 kilo that was 2 1/2 miles long on which were 6 cuttings and 3 embankments.  Each of the cuttings was 55 yards deep and from 80 to 250 yards long.  In the same section there were 6 small and two large bridges, one of which contained about 60 yards of two-tier scaffolding about 60 feet above the ravine.

It was at 26 km Camp that Lt.-Col Ramsay addressed the 1500 men of Ramsay & Black Forces at Christmas – indicating to them that he endeavoured to keep them abreast of the news of the war (as was possible) and vaguely suggested this would be via secret radio.  As his talk was also attended by Japanese guards, Ramsay was guarded with his words. His speech was intended to lift the spirits of the men at Christmas.  He however reminded the  POWs to always remember that lives were at stake.

On the 18th March 1943 Ramsay Force moved to the 75 Kilo Camp, then to 105 Kilo Camp on the 22 May 1943 where they were amalgamated with Black & Green Forces.

There is little doubt the combined strong leadership of ‘A’ Force with men such as Brigadier Varley, Lt-Col. Ramsay,  Lt-Col Chris Black, Lt-Col Williams, Lt-Col Anderson and our own 2/4th Major C.E. Green in conjunction with talented, dedicated and strong minded Medical Officers such as Coates, Richards and Anderson of 2/4th the numbers of POW lives lost was greatly reduced.