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The Death of John Maxton Ramsay 6 Armoured Car Company RAF

Who Was John Maxton Ramsay And How/Where/When Did He Die?

I first became aware of John Maxton Ramsay when I came across his RAF Casualty Card whilst researching a query from a 6 Squadron RAF veteran. The Casualty Card didn't specify the place of death, only the location of the authority who reported it, viz. RAF Air HQ, Baghdad, located at RAF Hinaidi. At first I was unable to find the "Returns of DEATH" until I searched for “Ramsey” instead of “Ramsay” and found an entry for “John Maxton Ramsey”. The surname of “Ramsey” was obviously a clerical error for when I compared the details of “Ramsey" against the birth certificate and the Casualty Card for “Ramsay", everything matched – e.g. the age at death “22 years and 45 days” represents the same birth date as “Second day of June 1902”. The “Returns of DEATH” is unequivocal in stating that Ramsay died on the 17th July 1924 at the RAF British Hospital Hinaidi, part of a complex in the newly completed RAF Hinaidi Cantonment, located in buildings shared by the RAF AHQ and situated less than 1/2 mile from the Armoured Car Companies’ HQ (see diagram of Hinaidi Cantonment further down this page).

Casualty Card for AC1 John Maxton Ramsay RAF
Certified Military Deaths - AC1 John Maxton Ramsay RAF 6 Armoured Car Company
John Maxton Ramsay Birth Certificate
RAF Hinaidi Cantonment - Armoured Car Company HQ Map

Having found out where John Ramsay died, the next step was to find out where he was buried.

At Which Cemetery Was AC1 John Maxton Ramsay Buried?

At the time of Ramsay’s death in July 1924, the RAF Armoured Car HQ and the No: 4 Armoured Car Company were both permanently situated within the cantonment of RAF Hinaidi, only ½ mile from the RAF hospital and less than a mile from the Hinaidi RAF Cemetery (aka Ma’Asker Al Raschid RAF Cemetery). The other Armoured Car Companies at that time operated out of various locations (Nos: 1 & 2 in Palestine, No: 3 in Basrah, No: 5 in Mosul and No: 6 in Kirkuk), though burials for all but No: 3 Armoured Car Company deaths invariably took place at Ma’Asker Al Raschid, though at least one man from No: 4 Armoured Car Company (AC2 C R Crang from 'C' Section) was drowned at Basra in April 1925 and buried at the Basra (Makina) RAF Cemetery. Between June 1922 and May 1935 there were 23 burials for Armoured Car Company personnel at Ma'Asker Al Raschid RAF cemetery – see diagram below.

Ma'Asker Al Raschid RAF Cemetery Armoured Car Company Deaths

In 1924 there were only two allied Military Cemeteries located in Baghdad, the Baghdad (North Gate) War Cemetery and the Hinaidi RAF Cemetery (name later changed to the Ma’Asker Al Raschid RAF Cemetery). According to the CWGC Roll of Honour for Iraq (recently made available on-line via the CWGC website), Baghdad (North Gate) War Cemetery holds the bodies of nine “NON WORLD WAR” deaths for RAF personnel (see below).

Commonwealth War Graves Roll of Honour Baghdad North Gate War Cemetery (non world war deaths)

l researched the deaths of each of these nine men and found that their burials took place between September 2021 and February 1922, the last burial more than two years before Ramsay died. The first burial at the newly completed Ma’Asker Al Raschid cemetery was the 27th December 2021, with a small overlap in the usage of the two cemeteries. There are several reason for the overlap. Four of the nine men died in the “23 British Stationary Hospital”, located in central Baghdad in what was formerly the Turkish Military Hospital buildings, before the General Hospital at RAF Hinaidi had opened. Three of the other deaths were the result of a mid-air collision between two RAF aircraft over Baghdad, another man died in the Mosul hospital and was transferred to Baghdad and the ninth death was of an RAF Captain who was killed in an ambush on the Turkish border whilst he was ‘attached’ to the RAF Iraqi Levies and his body transported back to Baghdad. John Maxton Ramsay’s name does not appear on this list.

 

With Baghdad (North Gate) Cemetery ruled out as Ramsay's final resting place, I searched the whole of the on-line CWGC Iraq Roll of Honour as well as the Basra Memorial document for ‘J M Ramsay’ (and also for ‘J M Ramsey’) and couldn't find a match. As a matter of interest, for the name listed above Ramsay’s entry on the Military “Returns of Deaths” extract, a Corporal Frank Stuart Bolan whose death was also entered by the RAF Air HQ Baghdad on the same day, 24th July 1924. For him I did find a match. Dolan was reported to have died at the RAF Combined Hospital in Basrah and was buried at the Basrah (Makina) RAF Cemetery.

 

Having exhausted every other avenue, I came to the only (and obvious) conclusion that AC1 John Maxton Ramsay was buried at the same cemetery as his contemporaries from 6 Armoured Car Company who lost their lives whilst serving with the Royal Air Force in Iraq – namely at the Ma’Asker Al Raschid RAF Cemetery.

 

But where exactly was he buried?

Where Was the body of AC1 John Maxton Ramsay Interred?

According to the CWGC 1964 Burial Record Plan, at that time there were five vacant plots recorded at Ma’Asker:

 

Plot 1 Row A Grave 13

Plot 1 Row D Grave 3

Plot 2 Row B Grave 1

Plot 3 Row G Grave 2

Plot 3 Row N Grave 8

CWGC Cemetery plan of Ma'Asker Al Raschid RAF Cemetery with vacant graves marked

Looking at the timeline of burials at Ma’Asker, all of these plots except Plot 3 Row G Grave 2 are in areas of the cemetery that were used for burials between 1928 and 1937, at least four years after John Ramsay’s death. However, Plot 3 Row G Grave 2 fits the timeline perfectly, with the burial in Plot 3 Row G Grave 3 taking place 11 days before Ramsay’s death and the burial in Plot 3 Row G Grave 1 taking place four days after Ramsay’s death. If you look at the extract of Ma’Asker burials shown below, you will notice that between the 19th April 1924 and the 8th March 1925, five men from No: 6 Armoured Car Company were buried at that cemetery, including the then commanding officer of the company, Squadron Leader Jasper Cruickshank OBE.

AC1 John Maxton Ramsay burial seuence number at Ma'Asker Al Raschid RAF Cemetery, Baghdad
Plan of Ma'Asker Al Raschid RAF Cemetery with AC1 John Maxton Ramsay's grave marked

As final photographic proof, here are two images showing that Plot 3 Row G Grave 2 was not vacant and contained a headstone of similar design to that of the majority of headstones in the Ma’Asker cemetery. 

 

The first photograph was taken in 1924, shortly after the death of LAC William Bartlett, 6 Armoured Car Squadron RAF. Though there isn’t much to see, as most of the headstone is blocked by the headstone marking the grave of Private Alexander Francis Noble of the Beds & Herts Regiment (Plot 3 Row H Grave 3), you can just see the tip of the headstone marking Plot 3 Row G Grave 2, next to the headstone for Corporal Arthur J Carless of 70 Squadron RAF (not 60 Sqn as indicated in error on the photograph) Plot 3 Row G Grave 3.

Photo taken in 1924 of Ma'Asker Al Raschid RAF Cemetery showing tip of AC1 John Maxton Ramsay's headstone

The second photograph was taken in the mid nineteen-thirties and is a wide-angled shot taken from near the south-eastern corner of Plot 3, looking towards the north-western corner of the cemetery. In the immediate foreground are two headstones whose details are clearly visible, for Sergeant William Stanley Woods (Plot 3 Row M Grave 1) and Pilot Officer Jack Whitworth Wood (Plot 3 Row M Grave 2). By examining the photo, it is a simple matter to count back seven rows from Jack Wood’s headstone to confirm that there is indeed a headstone in Plot 3 Row G Grave 2.

Note:   If the body buried in Plot 3 Row G Grave 2 is not that of AC1 John Maxton Ramsay, then it means there is another fallen (and unknown) British serviceman who needs to be accounted for and honoured by the CWGC.

Photo taken in mid 1930s of Ma'Asker Al Raschid RAF Cemetery showing AC1 John Maxton Ramsay's headstone

So What Happened To AC1 John Maxton Ramsay’s Headstone?

British war cemeteries in Iraq suffered greatly over time from the extreme climate of the region, with headstones weathering due to the wide temperature variance as well as water damage from heavy rains and the frequent flooding of the river Tigris. Vandalism also played its part, especially in periods of war and political unrest, with many headstones damaged or destroyed altogether. The CWGC has done an excellent job in replacing headstones and restoring cemeteries in Iraq when it is safe to do so, but it is inevitable that some burials might be overlooked, especially in abandoned cemeteries such as Ma’Asker.

 

Last year, when I was compiling a database of headstone photographs for the recently restored Habbaniya War Cemetery, I discovered that one of the burials had been overlooked during the restoration process and that nothing now marked the grave of Norwegian sailor First Officer Magnus Kristiansen. Going through my archives I found a photograph of the original headstone for Kristiansen and understood why his grave might have been forgotten as the face of the headstone was badly eroded and almost illegible. I had to use special computer software to reveal what was written on the headstone (see the two images below that show the condition of the headstone and an artist’s impression of what it should have looked like). Perhaps something similar happened to the headstone of AC1 John Ramsay at some point between 1933 and 1964 when the official CWGC survey team deemed the grave ‘VACANT’ and John Ramsay’s name was forgotten. 

Headstone of first officer Oskar Kristiensen at the CWGC Habbaniya War Cemetery, Iraq

How Can AC1 John Maxton Ramsay’s Memory Be Restored?

The first action by the Commonwealth War Graves should be to add “RAMSAY, J M” to the IRAQ ROLL OF HONOUR, page 273 for the MA’ASKER AL RASCHID RAF CEMETERY, under the category, ‘Aircraftman 1st Class’.

Extract from CWGC Roll of Honour book for the Ma'Asker Al Raschid RAF Cemetery

In the longer term, when a memorial is erected at Ma’Asker for the 300 men, women (+ one baby) buried there, or when the cemetery is restored and new headstones erected, AC1 John Maxton Ramsay must be included.

 

NOTE: If physical evidence is deemed necessary to prove that human remains lie in Plot 3 Row G Grave 2, it would be a relatively simple matter for a local contractor in Baghdad to excavate on behalf of the CWGC a shallow trench at the southern end of Row G. Two years ago when the concrete headstone bases of Plot 3 were examined, they were found to be intact (see photo below).

Photo of Ma'Asker Al Raschid RAF Cemetery taken in 2023 showing the exposed concrete headstone bases in Plot 3
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