Interview with Neil Ramsey


Interview with Neil Ramsey


Neil Ramsey flew operations as a pilot with 75 and 105 Squadron Pathfinders. Neil flew twin engine aircraft, including the Wellington and later the Mosquito. Neil talks about New Zealander Jimmy Ward, who was awarded a Victoria Cross. Neil Ramsey was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross. Neil participated in the Berlin Airlift and also recalls getting lost and landing in the Russian zone, and was looked after by Russian forces.




Spatial Coverage




00:33:47 audio recording

Conforms To


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SAR: Whether he wants to tell them himself or whether it’s going be me. I don’t know.
DK: I’ll just, I’ll just do the intro here. David Kavanagh, International Bomber Command Centre, interviewing Neil Ramsey on the 16th of September. Should remember that. It’s Battle of Britain Day wasn’t it? Ok.
SAR: Yeah.
DK: That’s recording ok. If I keep looking down I’m just checking that this is working.
DK: I’m not being rude.
SAR: No.
[rustling papers]
SAR: That’s just a list different places where he was posted and so on.
DK: Ok. So I’ve got he was with 105 Squadron.
SAR: Yeah. He was. You were with 75 first weren’t you?
DK: 75 squadron.
DR: Yeah.
SAR: And that, was what planes was that?
NR: Hmmn?
SAR: 75. What planes was that?
NR: What planes? Well it was still a Pathfinder. It was the original.
SAR: But 75 was where Jimmy was wasn’t it? Wasn’t that your New Zealand squadron?
NR: Yeah.
SAR: So they were Wellingtons. Yeah?
DK: So was your role, you were the pilot.
NR: Yeah.
DK: You were a pilot. So you flew Wellingtons to start with.
NR: Yeah.
SAR: Yeah.
DK: And then on to the Mosquitoes.
NR: No.
DK: No.
SAR: Not, not straight away.
DK: Not straight away
SAR: No. What did you do in between? Was Defford in between?
NR: Yeah. I flew at Defford.
DK: Right. Ok.
NR: Which you’ve heard of.
DK: I’ve heard of Defford. Obvious. Yes.
SAR: At one time you’d flown every twin and four engined in service hadn’t you while you were at Defford because they were testing out for radar and things.
DK: Oh is that what it was. It was radar being researched.
SAR: Yeah.
DK: Yeah. So was it mostly twin-engine types?
NR: Yeah. At that. Twins and more.
DK: Right. Did that include the Blenheim at any time?
NR: Hmmn?
DK: Did you fly Blenheims?
NR: No.
DK: No. Ok. Wellington.
SAR: He even flew a Lancaster but not in, not in anger.
DK: Was that, was that after the war?
SAR: No. No.
DK: Oh it was during the war. Ok.
SAR: During the war but just doing radar testing and things.
DK: So it was with the Mosquitos with the Pathfinder force.
SAR: That was where you had the most fun wasn’t it? Apart from when you was on Wellingtons. You’ve probably heard of Jimmy Ward. The new Zealander who got a VC for going out on the wing to put the fire out.
DK: That’s right. Yes.
SAR: Yeah. Well that was one of his best pals. If you see, if you ever see a picture. I don’t know why I haven’t brought that actually. Maybe I have. If you ever see a picture of Jimmy on the day that he got his DFC.
DK: Right.
SAR: Neil is in the background. For some reason I haven’t brought that one. But [pause] so many things. Did so many things and then towards the end of the war. After — I’m different with times. That’s Jimmy.
DK: Oh right.
SAR: On the day he got the VC. And that’s Neil there.
DK: There you are. In the background. Did you know Jimmy well?
NR: Yeah.
DK: A very brave man. So is that the day he got his Victoria Cross?
NR: That’s right. Yeah.
DK: Did you, did you fly with him at all at any time?
NR: Probably but not too noticeably.
DK: No. No.
SAR: Forgotten what that is. That’s Pathfinder Squadron at Bourne.
DK: I’ll put those on here.
SAR: Of course bar Freddy was the most famous Mosquito. It did more trips that any of the others so he flew that one quite a lot.
DK: Are you in this photo?
NR: Sure to be.
SAR: Yeah.
DK: Sure to be. You’re in there somewhere.
SAR: That one. That’s the actual photograph. At the back. That’s Bourne.
DK: Oh right. Bourne. So this Mosquito was with 105 Squadron?
NR: Yeah.
DK: Yeah
SAR: Yeah. It did more trips than any other Mosquito didn’t it? And then just at the end of the war they went and crashed it at an air show.
DK: That was, that was in Canada wasn’t it? I believe. Yeah. Oh dear. Did you fly that particular Mosquito?
NR: Yeah.
DK: Yeah. Yeah. It’s got two hundred and seven missions on that.
SAR: But then when — I get confused with the timings, when did you — it was still during the war. Just before the war ended that you and Don went on to Diplomatic Mail.
NR: Yeah.
SAR: Still flying a Mosquito. And then you finished and then you came back for the Berlin Airlift and stayed in and went on to Far East Command. Is that right? Is that in the right order? Yeah.
DK: So what, what was the Diplomatic Mail then. Was these the flights to Sweden and places?
SAR: All over Europe.
NR: All over. Yeah.
DK: And that was in Mosquitoes again.
NR: Yeah.
SAR: They held the record for times didn’t you, to all the capitals, didn’t you? You and Don.
NR: Yeah.
SAR: Held the record.
DK: Really
SAR: They used to get the English papers in Lisbon or Rome or something before people had got them in London. And they had all kinds of — what to tell. There are countless stories about what you did when you were doing that in the Mosquito. All the, all the smuggling things you used to do. What did it start off with? It started. What did you take from England?
DK: Don’t say you were bringing contraband back.
SAR: Not really. It was a big swapsie thing.
NR: Oh swap. That’s ok.
SAR: That’s when he was Dip Mail
DK: Ok.
SAR: which, it’s the only picture I’ve got of him without a moustache. You took, you took nutmegs.
NR: Yeah.
SAR: From England
NR: Nutmeg was the favourite thing. Everybody wanted it.
DK: Right.
NR: In Europe.
SAR: And then you would sell your nutmegs and buy what?
NR: Hmmn?
SAR: You sold the nutmegs and bought what?
NR: I can’t remember.
SAR: Well as far as I know he sold his nutmegs in Belgium mostly.
NR: Yeah.
SAR: Didn’t you?
NR: Right.
SAR: And bought cigarettes.
NR: Oh yeah.
SAR: And took the cigarettes to Greece. Was it Greece where you got the bicycles? Oh no. You used to sometimes take bicycle tyres as well as nutmegs didn’t you? Because people wanted bicycle inner tyres, inner tubes. And then they used to get, they used to bring sponges back from Greece in return, you know.
DK: I suppose –
SAR: They had a lot of fun
DK: With the bicycle tyres. I suppose the rubber was scarce.
SAR: Yeah
DK: That’s why they needed the inner tubes and things.
SAR: Yeah. Yes. Yes.
DK: So did the, all the diplomatic bags and things go in the bomb bay of the Mosquito?
NR: Yeah.
DK: So you carried them there.
SAR: What have I done with these other little things here? Yeah. I’ve done you some of the photocopies of things
SAR: That you can take away with you.
DK: Ok.
SAR: Which you’ve got quite a few other little bits because the local village magazine here did a little bit about him and that’s got some of his story on it as well.
DK: Right. Excellent. Ok. Thanks. So what, what were your thoughts of flying the Mosquito. Was it a good aircraft?
NR: Yeah. Fine. Fine. Very, very, good.
DK: Very manoeuvrable.
NR: Yeah.
DK: Made of, made of, made of wood I believe.
NR: Yeah.
SAR: It was thirty years ago, thirty five years ago when we got together. He was in the midst of building a boat out of plywood. And the man who designed the boat was also a Mosquito pilot.
NR: Right.
SAR: So they, you know, knew how to –
NR: How to build a boat.
SAR: The strength of plywood. We’ve done it for seven years.
NR: It’s very strong.
SAR: Yes. Yes. Especially if you sort of put across, you know, different layers.
NR: Yeah.
DK: Quite an amazing aircraft. So do you remember many of the operations you did with the Pathfinder force?
NR: I can remember a lot of them but they’re all mixed up now.
DK: Is there any that stand out?
SAR: Where were you coming back from that time when you and Don ended up in the Russian zone and got treated so royally? You were posted missing at home weren’t you but in actual fact you were being looked after by the Russians.
DK: Did they, did they look after you well? So what had happened? Had the aircraft been damaged or —
NR: No.
DK: Mechanical problem?
NR: No.
SAR: Why did you have to, why did you land there? Just ‘cause, you had lost [Stubbing?] weren’t you? Don, I mean Don was a good navigator but he told, he didn’t think you were in the Russian zone when you came down did he?
DK: You got a bit lost then.
SAR: That’s, that’s Don Bower who was his navigator.
DK: Oh right.
SAR: But he’s no longer with us.
DK: Ok. So when was this taken?
SAR: That was taken about fifteen years ago I should think. That was at a Pathfinder reunion.
DK: Did you regularly go to the reunions?
SAR: Yes. We used to. When he was better.
DK: Wyton wasn’t it?
SAR: Wyton. Yeah
DK: Yes. Yeah.
SAR: Yeah. And we went to a particular anniversary one at Ely Cathedral as well. It was a special one.
DK: Right.
SAR: Now, this time when he came down in the Russian zone the Russians were quite nice to them, you know, but they wanted to have a chance to look over the aircraft so they they treated you to a really slap up meal and everything. Don was from the isle of Barra so he had lived on whisky as a child more or less and it was impossible to get him drunk. He was never absolutely sober but you never saw him drunk. And he drank all these Russians under the table.
DK: That takes, that takes some doing.
SAR: Yeah.
DK: They’re getting the vodka out
SAR: Yeah. And then the next day they must have really trusted them because they gave them shotguns and things and took them out duck shooting.
DK: Oh right.
SAR: And of course Neil was a big wildfowler in his youth so he shot more ducks than the Russians so in the end they said, ‘You’d better get off back home then.’ [laughs]
DK: Outstayed their welcome.
SAR: In the meantime they’d been posted missing. Then they suddenly arrived back.
DK: Right.
SAR: Having had a lovely time with these Russians. Didn’t they take you to the opera as well?
NR: Yeah.
SAR: Yeah. And then as I say he came back for Berlin Airlift didn’t you? Which always amazes me, you know, when they say today about a near miss or something and they’re two miles apart whereas there they’d got none of the modern things.
DK: No. That’s right.
SAR: And they were landing every ninety seconds or something.
DK: So can you remember much about the Berlin Airlift?
NR: Quite a bit
DK: Can you remember what type of aircraft you were flying into Berlin?
NR: Yeah.
DK: What were they?
NR: The old Wellingtons.
DK: Wellingtons. Oh. All full of cargo.
SAR: Full of food weren’t they?
DK: Full of food.
NR: We used to load it with everything we could. So I wouldn’t tell you, couldn’t tell you what the load was because it was never recorded. It was just —
DK: Oh. They just put the cargo in and away you went.
NR: Yeah.
SAR: And after that finished he stayed on and went on to Far East Transport and did — took the scientists to Christmas island and were in, you were based in Changi weren’t you? And there he started sailing and ended up, when you came back to the UK, being in the RAF sailing team.
NR: Yeah.
SAR: Sailing the, you know, Windfall yachts that they got from the Germans. The hundred foot.
DK: Right.
SAR: Mast things.
DK: So was he sailing for many years then?
SAR: Yeah. Yes. That’s the cup that they won which was the Cowes to Dinard thing that they won once which —
DK: Ok.
SAR: Yeah. He’d always been interested in boats. As I say we lived on this boat that he built for seven years.
DK: Did you sell the boat then?
SAR: Yes.
DK: Does it still exist. Do we know?
SAR: I don’t know. I’m not sure. We sold it in Holland because we went all around Europe when we lived on it so we ended up selling it in Holland. We don’t know if it’s still on the go or not.
DK: So what did you prefer? Flying an aircraft or skippering a boat?
NR: About fifty fifty.
DK: Fifty fifty. Ok.
SAR: What else have we got for you to take away. That’s the thing about Defford.
DK: Ok
SAR: People that he remembers at Defford. Although there was a chap that did cartoons a lot at Defford.
DK: Do you remember the Rose and Crown pub?
NR: Yeah. It wasn’t the only pub that I remember.
DK: Oh you remember a few pubs.
SAR: And that’s another cartoon. That’s of Peter Boggis who was a friend of ours.
DK: Oh right.
SAR: And that, that letter that’s accompanying it actually written by Peter to Neil but it’s got some quite interesting bits in it. But he’s not with us anymore. Peter.
DK: So you flew the Lancaster once.
NR: I flew it often.
DK: Often. Oh ok.
SAR: But not in anger.
DK: What did you think of the Lancaster? A good aircraft?
NR: Yeah. Not bad.
SAR: You might get more out of him if I’m not here to prompt. I’ll go and get us a drink. Would you like a tea or a coffee or something?
DK: Can I have a tea please?
SAR: Tea. Sure. If you’d like to have a poke through these things and ask him questions about them. You might get on a bit. Get on a bit better. I don’t know.
DK: Ok. Thank you. You as a young man. [pause] You were awarded the DFC.
NR: Yeah.
DK: Yeah. [pause] Is that you again? In the Mosquito.
NR: Yeah.
DK: Can you remember where that was?
NR: No. I remember the bloke, the other chap on the end.
DK: Who was that? Who was he? So he would have been your navigator?
NR: No.
DK: Oh he was another pilot.
NR: Another pilot.
DK: Another pilot. Ok.
DK: Now, did you fly the Avro Anson?
NR: No.
DK: No
NR: I think I flew in it a time or two.
DK: You flew in it. Ok [pause] Can you remember who the air gunner was?
NR: Reg McLean.
DK: Ok. Was he part of your crew at one point?
NR: Yeah.
DK: Ok.
NR: He was my rear gunner.
DK: That’s on the Wellingtons?
NR: Yeah.
DK: That’s a Wellington there isn’t it?
NR: Yeah.
DK: Yeah. Was he a good air gunner?
NR: Very good.
DK: Very good. Yeah. Ah. F for Freddie. Mosquito. So did you, did you actually fly F for Freddie?
NR: Well we used to fly them all.
DK: Right. Ok.
NR: It just depended whether you came in the draw whether you were flying that day. Very difficult to say who flew what because —
DK: They just gave you the aircraft.
NR: Yeah.
DK: Yeah. That’s a lovely photo of a Wellington.
NR: Yeah. It is isn’t it?
DK: Very atmospheric with all the clouds. Lovely photo. That’s the Wellington again. Is that, is that your crew?
NR: Yeah. That was the original crew.
DK: That’s crew and ground crew there isn’t it?
NR: Yeah.
DK: I read on the back — it says Wellington N for Nuts. Feltwell. And you’re second right at the rear.
NR: Yeah.
DK: There you are there. Same photo again. Out shooting.
NR: Yeah.
DK: And do you remember the dog? We’ve got a dog. He’d make a good gun dog. He’s always chasing things. Rabbits. Whatever. Yeah. Shot a few there.
SAR: I forgot to ask you whether you took sugar or not.
DK: No. No. Thank you.
SAR: You don’t.
DK: I don’t. No.
SAR: Ok. Are you doing better without me here?
DK: Ok.
SAR: I’ll stay out then. if you want me I’ll just be down the corridor.
DK: Ok. Thanks. So you shot a few there?
NR: Yeah.
DK: That’s the Defford reunion 2002.
NR: I haven’t seen that for years. That photograph.
DK: Yeah.
NR: I think this is me isn’t it?
DK: Looks like it. Yes. I think that’s you.
DK: It looks, it looks like the Wellington again there. Can you remember which squadron you were with, with the Wellingtons?
NR: Yeah.
DK: Which squadron was that?
NR: Well I mainly was flying W.
DK: Oh ok.
NR: Anything with W on it is mine.
DK: Right. There’s a picture of Defford there from the air. Recognise that? RAF Defford.
NR: Yeah.
DK: Was it a good airfield?
NR: Very good.
DK: This looks like an Avro York.
NR: Yeah. Well that was after I left Defford.
DK: So that would have been the Berlin Airlift then?
NR: Yeah.
DK: So you would have been flying Avro Yorks to Berlin?
NR: Yeah. I can still remember these blokes you know.
DK: Yeah. Can you remember their names?
NR: Most of them. I can’t remember all their names.
DK: No. What was, what was the Avro York like to fly?
NR: Very good.
DK: Was it? Was it much different to the Lancaster because they had the same wings didn’t they?
NR: It was exactly the same I think.
DK: Really. Had a bigger fuselage. That looks like an early photo. Looks like early in your flying career.
NR: Yeah. Very early.
DK: Was that while you were training?
NR: Yeah. That was when I first put a flying suit on.
DK: So what was the first aircraft you, you flew? What did they train you on?
NR: More or less straight on to those. On to —
DK: Really. Yes. You don’t need all the warm clothing now to fly, do you?
NR: No.
DK: It’s a lot more comfortable.
NR: Very much more.
DK: That looks to me that might be a Hastings. Remember the Hastings? Looks like in the Far East. There’s another one there. That’s a Hastings as well isn’t it? Must have been taken at the same time.
NR: Yeah.
DK: You remember where that was?
DK: It wasn’t, wasn’t Christmas Island was it?
NR: No. Christmas Island was very much later.
DK: Oh. [pause] so was it, was it a bit strange for you going to Berlin delivering food?
NR: Not really.
DK: Because a few years before obviously, you were —
NR: Yeah.
DK: You were at war with Germany.
NR: Yeah. Yeah. No, it all worked very well really.
DK: Do you feel that was an interesting part of your life? The Berlin Airlift.
NR: Very.
DK: What state was Berlin like at the time?
NR: Pretty shot.
DK: How did the Germans treat you?
NR: Quite well really. Yeah. We never had any trouble with them.
DK: No.
DK: Ok. If you’re a little tired I can stop there if you like.
NR: If you can put up with me on in —
DK: That’s ok. No. No. You take your time. Do you remember much about the Pathfinder force and what your role was?
NR: Well we were the only marker.
DK: Ok. So you dropped markers.
NR: No. We didn’t drop things in those days.
DK: Ok. So you just flew out to the targets then before the, before the main force.
DK: Were you based at Moreton in Marsh? It’s the Fire Service College now where they train all the firemen. Did you fly Wellingtons from there then? Was it Wellingtons?
NR: Yeah.
DK: Yeah. It’s got here rugby tour in Japan. Did you play rugby?
NR: No.
DK: No. oh ok. Did you go to Japan though?
NR: We did with the team. Yeah.
DK: Did you fly the team there then?
NR: We flew them about. Yeah.
DK: Oh ok. It says the Combined Services Rugby Tour. That’s 1957. So when did you leave the air force then? Was it the 1960s?
DK: Lots of interesting photographs. Very interesting. Thank you for letting me look at them. Ok. I’ll go, I’ll go and see if your wife’s around.



David Kavanagh, “Interview with Neil Ramsey,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 7, 2023,

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