Harry Ramsey (3rd from the left) in London with his Company, 1939.Harry Ramsey
Harry Ramsey (2nd from top left) with his Company in Egypt, 1941.Harry Ramsey
German Paratroopers landing in Greece, 1942.Harry Ramsey
Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt meeting on board the Atlantic, 1942.Harry Ramsey
"You hear the bang, because it’s not too far away and then you hear the whistle of the shell and you don’t know whether it’s for you or where it is."
The war broke out in September. And we moved to Lille, which was on the borders of Belgium. And the city in Belgium is called Tournai. And Tournai had a big bridge there, we used to go there and from there, we used to go to the Maginot Line and extend it, it had to be extended. But this was a failure because the Germans were just coming over it with the Tiger tanks. So we had to retreat. Then we found out that we were going to retreat further. This is 1940 now, the evacuation of Dunkirk. And I was 20 years of age then, in the evacuation of Dunkirk.
From then, we went to cross in small boats, hundreds of us that were saved with evacuation. Mr. Churchill called it a strategic withdrawal but it was a flop. We were getting beaten by Germany, believe me. Sent, I went with the company, we got leave to go home because we come out of Dunkirk. While I was home, I got a telegram to report immediately back to my unit. Reported back to my unit, I was informed that we were going to go to the Far East. We were given the equipments for the Far East. We went from Manchester where I went to meet the company and they all went to Greenock, part of Glasgow, where we went onboard the troop ship. The troop ship was called the [SS] Strathallan.
When it came out and we went into the Atlantic, because of the U-boat situation, it was a journey with about five or seven troop ship carriers, destroyers, one battleship, some ordinary boats, etc. It was a huge convoy. And we went via Iceland, which we saw, across to Canada’s shores, I think on Canada, we could see Canada from about 15 to 20 miles away. Went down the Atlantic, out of the U-boat situation and when we was opposite Sierra Leone, the whole convoy went into Freetown, where we got new supplies, etc. Then onto South Africa, to Cape Town. Stayed at Cape Town two or three days, got more supplies, headed for the Far East, the convoy.
And then one day we woke up and we realized that the convoy wasn’t going east the sun, we were going back, north! And it turned out that the Japs had taken over Singapore. So we was going to join the 8th Army in Egypt. We landed in Egypt in Port [RAF] Aden on the Red Sea. From there, we sent to Alexandria, which was going to be our base. Using it as a base, we lived in ,,, in tents in the desert, which is a part of Alexandria.
We was to do different jobs, different orders, going there, here and everywhere. Tank recoveries, standard, get old tanks knocked out to replace them, etc. And then the word came …Oh, and and also, we were manning Bofor guns at nighttime for the air raids from German Stuka – those, dive bombers and high bombers.
1941/1942, it came onto the board that the rear air gunners were required on the air force. So I put my name down along with some others and we were taken to [RAF]Mersa Matruh to the headquarters in the airfield of the air force. We went through a talk and we were told that if we were accepted as a rear gunner, we would be given stripes - sergeant straightaway, our pay would double to what we were getting in the army, etc. We was having lunch with the air force fellows and it came up that the average flight for rear air gunners was seven or eight times. And then, “ppbbtt”, you’d had it. So like me, along with most of us said, wait, we ain’t signing. (laughs) So we came back.
Oh, to be shelled is horrible. You hear the bang, because it’s not too far away and then you hear the whistle of the shell and you don’t know whether it’s for you or where it is. And that picture shows it just missed me. We were very pleased when one day we woke up and overhead, big fleets of U.S.A. planes, bombers, were bombing beyond El Alamein. It was the beginning of the attack that we had on the Germans. Which we won, as you know.
We was to get leave as well, two weeks, where one leave, I went to Jerusalem, then there was a, it was Palestine. Met some Palestine Police, they were all Britishers that were in the police forces there. This is all disbanded incidentally now as you know. And in the fleet club, we used to go in the Alexandria Fleet Club which is a naval club, beautiful club, in Alexandria. We had to get special permission to get in, which you got from your padre for beer, etc. And there we used to grab a few drinks and we used to sing different songs which I’m going toto record but now I’m not singing it, I’ll give you the words. Why should we fight, when we know it isn’t right. Comrades all we should be. Why raise a gun to kill some mother’s son and cause such pain and misery. The poppies of Flanders are sending a message from over the sea, mothers keep your sons from the shells and the guns and let the whole world live in peace and harmony.