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Remembered Today:

R. Ramsay, M.C, MiD; From ANZAC Cove to Cowra Camp



A remarkable man, yet so little is told about him

Robert 'Bob' Ramsay was born on September 6th, 1888 in what was then Germanton [now Holbrook], New South Wales to Alexander Ramsay and Janet Dick. He was the middle child out of 7 the couple bore between 1881 - 1902, and out of the 3 other brothers of serving age, he was one of two to serve.

Ramsay Family in 1908. This is the only photograph that Robert Ramsay is positively identified in; he's back left

On July 12th, 1911 Robert Ramsay married Jessie Rasmussen at Dunedin, Otago. I am unsure of how this marriage turned out as Jessie was in New Zealand in 1914; then it appears they divorced in 1919. Why Robert Ramsay was in New Zealand is not known to me.

Ramsay enlisted on August 11th, 1914, joining 'D' Company of the Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force, otherwise the AN&MEF. His mob was intended to be sent to New Guinea, fighting the German colony there which was no doubt a danger to Australian soil. Ramsay embarked on August 19th, 1914. He was appointed Lance Corporal on September 23rd but was reverted to Private by December 22nd, 1914. He was discharged after 6 months on March 4th, 1915.

Members of the AN&MEF, 1914

He enlisted once more on March 11th, 1915, this time into the Australian Imperial Force, listing his 199 days in the AN&MEF; Service number 1731 or 1873. He embarked on April 10th, 1915 on the HMAT Argyllshire out of Sydney, NSW with the 1st Battalion, 4th Reinforcements, a day under a month to his enlistment in the AIF. Ramsay landed on Gallipoli on May 26th as a Corporal, the date of his promotion is unknown. He was taken onto strength of his Battalion during the early stages of the Gallipoli Campaign. At the time of his arrival on Gallipoli, the 1st Battalion had just a few days prior assisted in the burial of troops on both sides whilst both sides were under a flag of truce. It is worth noting that one of the Second Lieutenants in the 1st Battalion would also serve alongside Ramsay in the 53rd, also winning a Military Cross in 1916; their name was David Thomson. The arrival of Ramsay's draft was timely; the Battalion was only now starting to recover from its heavy losses when they landed in April. Ramsay was on the peninsula for a long spell; he was there when the 1st Battalion did occasional patrolling across the lines, mining, etc. In June, he moved with the Battalion to Imbros and returned with them to Gallipoli. Ramsay was most certainly present at Lone Pine on August 6th, 1915. At 5:40pm, the attack on Lone Pine commenced, the 1st Brigade capturing Lone Pine before the day was over despite heavy fire and large counter attacks from the Turks over the next few days.

"The Taking of Lone Pine" by Fred Leist, 1921
'The taking of Lone Pine'; Frank Leist 1921

Ramsay might've been recommended for a Distinguished Conduct Medal during the capture of Lone Pine. Read recommendation here. The reason I say might've is due to the fact that he was a Corporal at the time, not a Private and that he was actually promoted to Second Lieutenant that day; there's a confusion of service numbers aswell as Ramsay's record states that he has the service number 1873 and 1731 and the recommendation reads R.T Ramsay. Either way, he was appointed Second Lieutenant.

2/Lt Ramsay transferred to the 6th Infantry Brigade on September 8th, but is not listed as taken onto strength; It is also odd to note that he winded up at Lone Pine a week later, leading a bombing party on September 16th with brilliant results.. the following day they were moved to Mudros Island.

For his actions on September 16th at Lone Pine, Second Lieutenant Ramsay was recommended for a Military Cross; the recommendation reads;

"This officer drove a Turkish Bombing party opposite Lone Pine down a line of enemy's trench with bombs and forced them to bunch in a corner. He then threw in more bombs which caused the Turks to break cover, when several were accounted for by rifle fire."

2/Lt Ramsay's Military Cross appeared in the London Gazette on January 14th, 1916 on page 591 at position 13; He was also Mentioned in Despatches for this same action it appears.

Ramsay went into hospital on September 28th with Dental troubles on Mudros; the next entry is on February 5th, 1916 when he was taken onto strength of the 1st Battalion. On February 13th at Tel-el-Kebir, 2/Lt Ramsay was transferred to the newly formed 53rd Battalion; it was formed in the wake of the 'doubling of the AIF', providing more Infantry Battalions bound for France. The Battalion Commander was Lieutenant Colonel Norris, a Militia Officer prior to enlistment, he left a wife and child in Egypt when he left for France. This transfer was only for a month as it turned out - he was transferred to the School of Instruction at Zeitoun on March 4th, appointed Lieutenant 8 days later. By the end of March however, he was the Grenadier Officer of the 14th Brigade, one can assume that he was against the transfer to the School of Instruction. On April 15th, 1916 Ramsay was accidentally knocked down by a train after inspecting the 14th Brigade Canteen. He reported this accident to his Brigadier and nothing else mentioned this incident further. At Ismailia on May 11th, Lieutenant Ramsay became Captain Ramsay, still remaining as the Brigade Grenadier Officer. 10 days after his promotion, he was in hospital with Adenitis. This later was reported to be abscess in the right groin on May 30th. Captain Ramsay embarked for England on July 12th, but was put before a Medical Board on July 15th and deemed him incapacitated from duty for 6 weeks; this still allowed him to go to England. He floated around hospitals until August 20th, 1916; he was then to rejoin the 53rd Battalion as it had been all but completely decimated a month previous at Fromelles, with only two officers from the Battalion surviving; Lieutenant Colonel Norris was among the fallen. 

Fromelles Battleground; from one of the German Front Lines

Captain Ramsay joined the 53rd Battalion on September 3rd at Fleurbaix and was immediately being appointed 'D' Company Commander after Captain Arblaster had been captured at Fromelles on July 20th, dying of wounds 4 days later. The Battalion was being rebuilt for the best part of 1916, seeing no further action for the remainder of the year. The Company Commanders in late 1916 were the following;

(A Company - Commanded by Captain D. Thomson [later MC] )
(B Company - Commanded by Captain J.J Murray [Later DSO, MC; WW2 AIF Maj Gen] )
(C Company - Commanded by Captain P.T Roberts [Later DSO, CDeG] )
(D Company - Commanded by Captain R. Ramsay [Later MC; WW2 AMF Major] )

In the Whale Oil Guards published by the 53rd Battalion Chaplain, John Joseph Kennedy, he mentions Ramsay on numerous occasions.

1) Among the officers there was Captain Bob Ramsay. Bob, while yet a Lieutenant, had been awarded the Military Cross for bravery in Gallipoli. In the line, there was no more capable Company Commander. He was a father to every man in his company. He understood Australians thoroughly, and though he maintained strict discipline, was perhaps the most popular officer in the battalion. In the trenches he never touched alcohol. His care for the men's safety and comfort won him the regard and admiration of the Colonel. In No Man's Land he was as happy as if he were stalking kangaroo in the bush of Queensland, and was as unconcerned under a machine-gun barrage as if it were only a summer's shower-burst. In the line no officer was truer to his trust. Out of the line no officer was more irresponsible. His escapades were nightly occurrences. Many of them were laughable in the extreme. On one occasion he persuaded the driver of a motor waggon to give him a ride to Amiens. Bob's first care on arrival was to fill the unsuspecting Tommy with strong liquor and so put him out of action for at least twenty-four hours.

2) Bob Ramsay was perhaps the most talented officer in the old regiment. He was certainly the most interesting problem in contradictions I've tried to sole. Had Bob Ramsay, when younger, adopted soldering[sic] as a profession, had he in addition been possessed of the advantages that a liberal education bestows, I am quite sure that his military career would have been exceptionally brilliant. Even as things were, with only an ordinary education but with considerable natural ability, he was a company commander who would make his mark in any regiment. At any rate he was an asset to us. In the line he thought of nothing else but his job. Out of the line he was the most rollicking and apparently the most irresponsible officer in the Battalion. Nevertheless he was never absent from morning parade, and always appeared trim and soldierly. His laugh was a speciality, and so was his gift of winning men's affection. Captain Bob, as the men called him, could lead the way to the most dare-devil and hazardous stunts, and there was not one N.C.O., or Private, who wouldn't follow him. Colonel Croshaw once said of him: "Ramsay is a devil, but if hell were peopled with deils of his ilk, I should ask for bi-annual leave there from the other place"

3) The afternoons at La Motte were generally free. The Colonel allowed a percentage of the officers leave to Hazebrouck. Some of the officers enjoyed themselves with a vengence. Captain Ramsay particularly made the most of those festive hours.

4) Norman Lovatt informed Bob Ramsay of the uncomplimentary remarks passed b the froggies at the expense of the redoubtable Captain and his party. Then the fun commenced. "Excuse me a moment, Gentlemen" Captain Bob apologized to his friends. He sauntered over to the table where the Frenchies waxed facetious over their clicquot. "Pardon me, messieurs" he exclaimed extra politely, as he pulled a chair towards their table and sat down next [to] the most arrogant and raucous of the group. "May I join your merry party?".. "Mais oui monseir. You will dreenk with us" replied the fat and prosperous-looking Frenchman at the head of the table. He was evidently the host and the others were his guests. He filled a glass and held it to Ramsay's lips. The Captain thanked him and proceeded to drink the health of the party, but Monsieur persisted in forcing the wine and so spilt the foaming beverage over Bob's tunic. The other members of the party thought this was a great joke and laughed hilariously, but Captain Ramsay's turn was coming.

He [Ramsay] called for another bottle of wine. "Now gentlemen." he exclaimed, "you will drink with me. I wish you to do so in Australian fashion. We shall begin with my fat friend here whose manners are so charming".. Bob seized the bottle. With his left hand he grabbed the Frenchman's nose, tilted his head and poured the wine down his throat. The Froggie spluttered and choked, but Ramsay did not desist until he had almost smothered him. Then things happened. The other profiteers rushed to the scene of their host, and gesticulated and chattered and screamed as only excited Frenchmen can. But the Captain's friends now took part in the fun. The room was bedlam in five minutes. Madame called the gendarmes. These, assisted by the whole staff of the estaminet, finally succeeded in ejecting the laughing Australians, but not before they had tweaked the noses of their antagonists to some effect. Before they departed they won over Madame by paying liberally for the damage to her glass-ware and crockery.

On November 13th, he went to an RFC School, returning two days later. The circumstances of this course is unknown, presumably he tried to become a pilot. On March 14th, 1917 Captain Ramsay was near Captain Trevor Francis MC of ‘B’ Coy, 53rd Battalion when a shell landed right infront of Captain Francis, killing Captain Francis outright. Ramsay was left unscathed, living to tell the tale to the Red Cross. Captain Ramsay went on leave to Paris on April 14th, returning to the Battalion on April 25th.

image.png.33400f4cf93ab6f22aabf1a7a88b6faf.png[PHOTOGRAPH ON RIGHT] 53rd Battalion officers in early 1917; note Lt Waite MC [and later Bar] of D Company in the front row, second left.

Private James Marshall of ‘D’ Company mentions Captain Ramsay a couple of times in his diary… 

1) Bennie was so done up that I gave him a hand with his pack, and brought on another dose of fever. Incidentally I lost my own pack during this move with all of my souvenirs etc. Captain Ramsay had quite made up his mind then to send me back to the Base on account of my being under age but I managed to be kept on.

2) With Bob Logan, a stretcher bearer, I used to keep a good fire going all day and night for anybody to cook on, or warm their toes at. Up to then my feet had kept pretty well, but about the third trip in I had a bad gum-boot and had very bad feet in consequence.

On account of the long trip out Captain Ramsay gave orders for me to go out before the Battalion. I started off from the post alright to go to Coy. Hqrs. to report in company with two others. It was then at the muddiest period of my experience, and we had not gone far before I got stuck up to my armpits in a big shell-hole. As Fritz was making it very hot with big ‘coal boxes’ and had several aero-planes up, I told the others to go on and wait at HQ. if they liked. After a good deal of trouble I got out minus one boot, which on account of the suction would not come out. I managed to grope around and get my rifle out though, and then made my waty to Coy. H.Q. I will never forget what I felt like, and have a good idea of what I looked like. When Captain Ramsay saw me he just put his hands on his hips and laughed rather too much for my liking. However as soon as he had given off steam, he fixed me up very well. He got out a dry pair of sox and gave me a good nip of rum which was very welcome and I started off again, carrying about a ton of mud as well as my pack. My overcoat and trousers had to be dumped and it was no good fun in that weather.

3) He [Waite] came back at the ‘toot’ followed by dozens of ‘broomstick’ bombs. He retaliated with a dozen or so of Millsies. Fritz then gave us some pineapples, which was answered by Captn. Ramsay with several rounds from the Stokes, giving one Germans a fine rise in life. As he went up about fifty feet he saw things from a very lofty aspect. We then got some of his Minnies, and had a casualty through it, which set the Captain going. After withdrawing the men from the post he got the 18pdrs. onto it and completely obliterated it.

There is an entry in the Divisional War Diary on August 20th, 1917, it reads; Major D. Thomson, M.C., and Captain R. Ramsay, M.C., both of 53rd Battalion, appeared before the Divisional Commander in connection with a charge laid against them by their Commanding Officer of disobedience of orders. Major Thomson, M.C., was severely censured, and the G.O.C., 14th Infantry Brigade, was instructed to arrange for his transfer to another battalion of the Brigade if possible. Captain Ramsay, M.C., was censured.

There is no evidence to the disobedience of orders whatsoever, but either way, Major Thomson was transferred to the 14th Battalion and Captain Ramsay remained with the 53rd Battalion. A month later at midnight on September 25th/26th, the 53rd was preparing to move up to the assembly point for an attack, now known as the Battle of Polygon Wood. On the way up, Captain Ramsay MC was with Lieutenant Alan O. Correy when he was wounded, writing in his Red Cross report; ‘We were moving out through Glencorse Wood previous to taking up positions for the attack of 26th and passing through a heavy barrage, a shell burst close to us severely wounding Lt Correy and practically severing one of his legs. Stretcher bearers immediately carried him to a dressing station. On the same night we received word he had died that night presumably at one of the Casualty Clearing Stations by Paperinghe or Reky(?)’ The plan was as follows;

The Battalion would cover an area of 550 yards,
'A' Company on the left with 'B' Company in support
'D' Company would take the right with 'C' Company in support.

They were ordered to advance in files if shell-holes permitted. As Zero Hour came at 5:50am, the pre-battle barrage opened up. 2 Companies of the 53rd rose from their trenches and advanced to 60 yards short of the barrage; they then sent out 2 platoons to capture 'Butte', at the same time B and C Company along with Battalion Headquarters moved up to the position. The A/D proceeded to move up after a spell, moving to the two platoon that had advanced to Butte, who were the evident victors of a short hand-to-hand struggle. They moved onto the objective, capturing it at 6.25am. By this time, Colonel Croshaw was missing (presumed dead) and Captain Roberts was in command; By this point, it is most likely that Captain Ramsay had been wounded aswell, though the War Diary makes no mention of said wounding. Over the following days, the Battalion took more casualties from bombs from Gotha Bombers and hand-grenades, despite this though, the final tally reads..

  Officers NCO/OR's
Killed/DoW/Missing 3 104
Wounded 4 222
Hospital 1 41
Total 8 342





'This mound, which stood on the far side of Polygon Wood, was taken by the 5th Division in the Battle of that name on 26 September, despite heavy difficulties caused by the driving in of the line immediately to the south of it on 25 September. Around its slopes were thickly strewn the shell torn bodies of more than a hundred German, Australian and English troops.'

Captain Ramsay had been wounded in the leg, a gunshot wound that fractured his tibia on the left leg. Coincidentally, the next officer to command 'D' Company, Capt. W. Lindsay would be wounded in September 1918 also suffering a fractured tibia on the left leg! Captain Ramsay was moved to England on September 29th, where he went to 3rd London General Hospital at Wandsworth where he remained. On December 27th, he was placed on the Supernumerary List due to being absent from the Battalion, per standard procedure. He was moved to Cobham Hall on January 22nd, 1918 and he apparently stayed there for 5 months before a Medical Board decided to send him to 'Aust granted leave until recalled' on June 28th, 1918. He arrived back in Australia [2nd Military District] on September 28th.

Captain Robert Ramsay M.C, MiD, after 5 years in the service had his appointment terminated on February 4th, 1919 at 2nd Military District. A recommendation for termination signed by Lieutenant Colonel Wallace Brown states that he is Medically Unfit. He still appears to have been on the Reserve of Officers in 1919 as an Honorary Captain. On July 6th, 1920, Honorary Captain Ramsay married Agnes Emily Hibbard in Sydney, New South Wales. They had a son, Robert Bruce Ramsay, born on February 15th, 1921 in Double Bay, New South Wales. Robert Bruce would serve in the 2/AIF in the 2/18th, captured in Singapore and worked on the Thai-Burma railway. Honorary Captain Ramsay, 2nd Military District [Reserve of Officers was promoted to Captain on January 1st, 1921. By 1925, Ramsay and his family were living at 197 Moray Street in Brisbane, Queensland; He was listed as a 'traveller'. In April 1925, Ramsay was caught issuing fake cheques. A Newspaper wrote ‘Captain Ramsay Lives beyond his means’ ‘Military Cross holder issues valueless cheques’ and ‘Captain “Coded”’. Here is the news article.


His life in the 30s is not that well documented. In 1933, he was living with his family at 62 Esplanade in Manly, working as a broker. By 1937, they were in Darlinghurst at 134 Ocean Road, and Robert was a salesman.


Ramsay enlisted into the Australian Military Forces on June 3rd, 1940 at Paddington, New South Wales shortly before the Fall of France a few weeks later. He dropped his birth from 1888 to 1891 to ensure he was not discharged due to his age. He was assigned the service number N74218 and appointed a Provisional Lieutenant on August 18th whilst serving at the 16th Garrison Battalion. After hopping around on seconded duties with Training Battalions for the majority of 1941, he is sent to No.12 Prisoner of War Camp at Cowra on September 6th, 1941 and is promoted to Captain on October 1st. On December 1st, he was appointed Commandant of ‘B’ Compound for the PoW Camp. On April 27th, 1942, Captain Ramsay was put before a General Court Martial. The Members of the Court are as follows; President of the Court - Lieutenant Colonel D.T Moore C.M.G, D.S.O, V.D; Members - Major A.B Sandford D.S.O, V.D; Major H.D Pulling M.C; Major J. Wattleworth; Captain C.G Walklate M.C; The charges were as follows - 


Captain Ramsay pleaded not guilty on all 3 charges; he was found Not Guilty on the first and second charge, and was found Guilty on the third charge. He was only to be reprimanded. On January 28th, 1943 he was appointed Temporary Major, but was appointed a Substantive Major that same day.

Cowra Breakout
Possibly Major Ramsay towards the right, flanked by 2 officers.

In February 1943, a number of Japanese PoW’s in Featherston Prisoner of War Camp in New Zealand overpowered their guards. 240 prisoners refused to work and after negotiations failed with the officers, warning shots were fired which accidentally wounded one of the prisoners. This led to the prisoners rushing the guards with stones and answers of immediate small arms and machine gun fire. A ricochet from a machine gun bullet killed a guard and a total of 48 Japanese prisoners died in this action. Major Ramsay took note of this incident and after some mutterings were heard in the compound by Japanese prisoners that they would rebel, he took serious action to deter this. His actions included two Vickers Guns, searchlights, more sentries and the use of flare signals incase of an escape. Despite these new additions, there were still 1104 prisoners to guard in ‘B’ Compound which easily outnumbered the guards. In June 1944, action was taken to segregate the Non-Commissioned Officers from the enlisted men which was seen as a factor in the incident at Featherston. On August 4th, 1944 three senior PoWs were summoned before Major Ramsay, their names were Sergeant Major Kanazawa and Sergeants Kojima and Toyoshima. The latter [Toyoshima] was a notable prisoner, him being the first Japanese soldier captured by Australians after being forced down during the Attack on Darwin on February 19th, 1942; He used a fake name 'Tadao Minami' to probably hide the fact that he was a Prisoner of War, a dishonorable act in Japan. Ramsay was blunt and to the point, saying that every prisoner below the rank of Lance Corporal was to be transferred to the Prisoner of War Camp at Hay, approximately 360km away. This action would remove 700 of the prisoners from 'B' Compound, relieving the heavy stress held by Major Ramsay. There was heavy resistance from the trio, but Ramsay stood firm and sent them away to spread the word. When the three senior Japanese PoWs returned to their hut, they immediately started formulating their breakout. The plan was simple; Toyoshima would blow a bugle to sound the attack, the huts would be burned, those who would not participate would commit seppuku (honourable suicide; per Bushido Code). If all proved well, the prisoners would capture a Machine Gun and turn it towards the 'B' Compound Headquarters building whilst others would turn to scattering into the country; this includes possibly attacking an AIF Training Center some 2 miles away. A testimony shortly after the breakout by a survivor Kanazawa Akira says 'the unanimous decision was that all desired to die', he was questioned if there were any objections to this, responding with 'No, various ways were suggested but nothing was definitely decided upon.'

Layout of the Cowra Camp. 

At around 1:49am on August 5th, Lieutenant Merrifield was awoken by Sergeant Widdup of the Guard who informed him that there was a Japanese Prisoner between the two gates that separated 'B' Compound from Broadway. Lieutenant Merrifield informed Sergeant Widdup to send a Corporal [Cpl Dean] and another man [Pte Marsden] to bring this PoW to the Guard Officer. A few minutes following, two shots were fired that signaled the general alarm; waking up a few men. Lieutenant Merrifield sprung into action, waking up the Vickers gunners to get to their posts incase of danger. Private Hilton Keegan was in 'F' Tower when at 1:55am he heard a bugle blow. He goes on to state that 'I saw Japanese on the compound open the doors of their huts and then rush out. When they opened the huts I noticed they were on fire inside. After coming out they made a wild rush for the fence surrounding the compound.' Major Ramsay was awoken shortly after the bugle and was informed that there was a riot in the compound. He heard gunfire crackling and rushed to the Guardroom. Major Ramsay found that the men were firing and No.1 and No.2 Machine guns were manned, killing any prisoners in their line of sight. One of the officers, Captain J.M.G Small said a few months afterwards that he merely had his revolver, cap, pyjama pants and carpet slippers on. After 10-20 minutes after the initial 'rush', the Japanese were either wounded/dead in the camp or in the countryside. By 2:30am, Major Ramsay was informed that the gunners of No.1 gun, Private Hardy and Jones were killed and severely wounded respectively. Ramsay informed the orderly to contact the nearby R.A.P Station.  Shortly after daybreak, Major Ramsay entered Broadway where the Japanese rushed, viewing the killed Japanese prisoners. To cover more area, it was decided to bring in the recruits from the nearby Training Centre to help with the ‘mop-up’ of Japanese Prisoners who still scoured the countryside. At 5:30pm, Lieutenant Doncaster [Pictured] and 2 recruits from the training centre were in the bush, searching for Japanese prisoners. One of the recruits, Private Battiscombe recalls 'I was with a party incharge of Lieut. Doncaster searchiDoncaster.jpg.35f25a6c180d0923953702024fcc5163.jpgng the countryside for prisoners of war who had escaped from the Japanese compound. At about 5:30pm on that date I was proceeding up a hill with Private Hanna and some distance away from Lieut. Doncaster, when I head Lieut. Doncaster call out to me and I came back towards where he was. When I came in sight of him he was being attacked by two Japanese prisoners of war; - When I first caught sight of him he was holding two Japanese prisoners at bay; they were a fair few yards away from and one was armed with a knife and one with a large stick and he was telling them to keep back. He picked up a rock and shouted again and threw the rock at them. They still kept coming and Hanna and myself ran down and just as we got near him the other Japs had come out from behind the rocks and trees - more than a dozen of them - and they went for Mr Doncaster first and the two that he had at bay were the first to reach him and the others finally went down there was sick of them on to him and the others split up and came at myself and Hanna. One of the Japs jumped on Doncaster's back - before that Doncaster knocked one Jap down with his fists and the other jumped up on his back and I saw the Jap with a knife in hand and I saw the knife descend.

On August 6th at 10:20am, the Regimental Sergeant Major of the 22nd Garrison Battalion, Richard Witherwick was on a train when it suddenly stopped without notice. He watched the engine driver hop out of the train and backtrack where the train had come from. It wasn't long afterwards that the driver asked 'Are there any military officers aboard?'. RSM Witherwick hesitated, yet responded with 'I am not an officer, I am a Warrant Officer, can I be of any assistance to you?' with the driver replying with 'There are some Japanese Prisoners run over'. RSM Witherwick walked 130 yards along the track, witnessing the bodies of a couple Japanese prisoners whose bodies were smothered along the tracks. RSM Witherwick volunteered to guard the bodies whilst the driver fetched the proper authorities. That same day, Major Ramsay viewed the burnt huts, where he discovered the remains of 12 soldiers completely unidentifiable.

By the end of this fiasco, the final count was 231 Japanese soldiers dead and 5 Australians killed; Lieutenant Doncaster, Privates Hardy, Jones and Shepherd. A VDC Soldier, Sergeant Handcock [C Coy 26th Btn] was indirectly killed as a result of the breakout; he was disembarking from a truck when he was accidentally shot, dying a couple weeks afterwards of sepsis. Private Hardy and Jones were awarded the George Cross as a result of holding their machine gun to the last, and once overrun, removed the spring from the machine gun so it could not be turned onto the guards

Two black and white portrait photos, of Private Ralph Jones and Private BG Hardy.
Private Jones G.C (left) and Private Hardy G.C (right)

On a small side note, in the Cowra Breakout Mini-series from 1985 the Compound Commander is named as Major Horden [Played by Simon Chilvers], wearing a Military Cross and the unit patches of the 22nd Garrison Battalion as well as the 26th Battalion. In the first episode, he mentions his son Robert is a Prisoner of the Japanese which is just like Ramsay's son, Robert Bruce Ramsay.

Major Horden; played by Simon Chilvers

Shortly after the Cowra Breakout, Ramsay resigned his commission on October 5th, 1944 followed by his CO, Lieutenant Colonel Monty Brown in March 1945. After the war, Ramsay led a solitary life. In 1949, he was living with his wife at 63 William Street in Woollahra as a salesman once again. By 1963, they were still living there.

Robert’s wife Agnes died on May 2nd, 1965 aged 71, this no doubt affected Robert as his health deteriorated shortly thereafter. Major Robert Ramsay, MC, MiD died on May 23rd, 1965, just three weeks after his wife at the age of 76. His first wife who he left behind in New Zealand died the following year. Major Ramsay was buried in Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park in Randwick, New South Wales

After a remarkable amount of time in the Army, displayed below is a representation his final medal set.

Edited by tankengine888
Revised; information from Whale Oil Guards


Recommended Comments



This is a fascinating story and well written up.  What a complex character!  Thanks for sharing it.

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Thank you WhiteStarLine!

He had a significant contribution during the Second World War, but his service in the 14-18 war has never really been brought up. I definitely focused more on the Cowra Breakout than the man himself.. but he was incharge of the compound the Japanese broke out of. I have two other biographies in the making. One is a WW1 turned WW2 KiA, other is a Home Guard Officer during WW2.

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Kimberley John Lindsay


Dear Zidane,

A really good expose of that complex Officer. Well done!

Kindest regards,


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Thanks for sharing that detailed research - I'd echo the comments made above. I visited the site of Cowra POW camp in 1982 having read about it many years earlier. The breakout brought the war home to Australia.

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Thanks mates, much appreciated.

Cowra certainly gave everyone something to think about. I'd rank it up there with the Great Escape.m their 76 to the Japanese' odd hundreds.

I've been trying a new format with my blog posts (exception of Clark MBE) where I detail events more (i.e information of Ramsay behind the lines, RSM Witherwick, etc) and I think it helps to grasp an idea.

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