MAJOR GENERAL CHARLES RAMSAY, who has died aged 81, was a larger-than-life character with an appetite for adventure which peacetime soldiering could not, perhaps, wholly satisfy.
Ramsay was a man of high courage, unshakeable principles and total integrity. He had a good brain and once he had decided that a particular course of action was the right one, nothing would persuade him to take an easier path. He was a natural leader and, had there been a major war during his career, he had qualities which his country would have found invaluable. As it was, danger held an irresistible attraction for him.
Charles Alexander Ramsay was born at North Berwick, East Lothian, on October 12 1936. His grandfather, Brigadier General William Ramsay, commanded the 4th Royal Hussars in India in the late 1890s. One of his subalterns was Lieutenant Winston Churchill, who wrote, in a letter to his mother: “I am now getting on quite well with Colonel Ramsay who takes my advice in most matters.”
Charles Ramsay’s father, Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, was responsible for the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940 – for which he was knighted – and the planning and command of the naval forces in the invasion of France. He was killed in a flying accident in 1945.
Young Charles was brought up at Bughtrig House in Berwickshire. His remarkable powers of persuasion were evident from an early age. He once convinced his brother, David, that if he opened an umbrella, he would float gently down from the first floor balcony. David, fortunately, suffered nothing worse than a sprained ankle.
He went to Eton and, in his last half there, he bought a second-hand MG and persuaded a garage owner in the High Street to hide it for him. In 1955, he went to Sandhurst and, the next year, he was commissioned into the Royal Scots Greys.
He became friends with the racing manager at Jaguar and, while serving in Germany, where there was no tax to pay, he bought a succession of sports cars in their XK range – 120, 140 and 150. After three years in BAOR, he was posted as adjutant of the Ayrshire Yeomanry. He learnt to fly at Carlisle and kept a Beagle Airedale, a single-engined aeroplane, at Prestwick.
He rejoined his Regiment in Aden and spent several months with one of the squadrons in Hong Kong. Command of a squadron at Fallingbostel, BAOR, followed. He bought his first Ferrari and kept a plane. One day, as he took off from the parade ground, someone drove across in front of him and a serious accident was only narrowly avoided.
On another occasion, flying back to Scotland, he got into thick cloud and lost height in a desperate effort to get free of it. Suddenly he found himself flying close to the ground and going past a large power station. Fortunately, the tower at Leeds/Bradford Airport found him on their radar and was able to guide him down. He was shaking, he said, when he got out.
Ramsay spent a year at the Canadian Army Staff College and then took up a staff appointment at HQ UK Land Forces. In 1969 he had a bad fall on the Cresta Run and ruptured his liver. He needed a large blood transfusion, but was given contaminated blood. He recovered, despite the doctors having given him only a five per cent chance of survival.
After joining the 3rd Carabiniers in BAOR, he commanded a squadron in South Armagh where the Troubles were rife. On one occasion, in his Land Rover, he was fired at; the bullet passed just over his head.
He instructed at the Junior Staff College, Warminster, and then became Military Assistant to the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff in Whitehall. This was the first of four appointments in the MoD. In 1977, at Catterick, Yorkshire, he assumed command of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, an amalgamation of the 3rd Carabiniers and the Royal Scots Greys which had taken place in 1971.
In 1978, in what was the highlight of his career, he commanded the Regimental Tercentenary parade in Edinburgh. This was attended by the Queen and a consisted of a band of pipes and drums, a mounted contingent and 30 tracked vehicles, including 15 Chieftain tanks. He persuaded a nervous Edinburgh Council to allow the parade to travel over the gas mains down the length of Princes Street. In the event, the only casualty was a demolished traffic light.
Ramsay took the Regiment to Germany in 1979 and was appointed OBE the same year. He returned to the MoD before commanding 12th Armoured Brigade and the Osnabruck Garrison in BAOR. On important occasions, instead of a regulation Army staff car, he drove his shiny, black V12 Jaguar saloon. This caused considerable dismay among the top ranks after the commander-in-chief saluted him by mistake.
In 1983 he went back to the MoD as Deputy Director of Military Operations. Two years later, he was promoted to major general on becoming GOC Eastern District. His final appointment was that of Director General of Army Organisation and the TA.
His superior at the time asked him to write a paper recommending changes to the organisation of the Army. Ramsay consulted widely and his plan had the support of the Army Board. His boss, however, disapproved of it and ended Ramsay’s chances of further promotion. It was a great shock and a disappointment. He handed over to his successor and was appointed CB on his retirement from the Army in 1990.
Ramsay lived at Bughtrig, the Georgian family house which he had inherited in 1975. He and his wife subsequently moved to a smaller house where they farmed about 1,000 acres. He had always wanted to re-establish his family’s links with the Highlands and when an estate at Glen Lyon, Perthshire, came on the market, he bought it. It provided forestry, farming, sport and a useful income from letting the lodges. For some 25 years, he also kept a holiday house on St Lucia and a motor yacht for trips around the Caribbean.
He hunted, played polo and won point-to-point and cross-country races, having his share of heavy falls. He hated being in hospital and, on one occasion, discharged himself while concussed and with the drip still in his arm. Latterly, he trained his point-to-pointers at Bughtrig, with his children, William, Rowena and Charlie, riding most of them. As an owner, he also had wins under National Hunt Rules.
He was the most generous of hosts and devoted to his soldiers – his “Regimental Family”. Many of them had enjoyed a day’s fishing or stalking with him and they regarded him as a sort of father figure.
For some 13 years, he was on the board of John Menzies, his mother’s family business, based in Edinburgh. Ramsay was Honorary Colonel of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards from 1992 to 1998 and then took on the responsibility of chairman of the Regimental Museum and the shop in Edinburgh Castle.
He and his wife, Mary, had the happiest of marriages and she was the greatest support to him throughout their time together.
Major General Charles Ramsay married, in 1967, Mary MacAndrew, the daughter of Lord Charles MacAndrew. She survives him with their two sons and two daughters.
Major General Charles Ramsay, born October 12 1936, died December 31 2017