Scotland's Safecracker: Johnny Ramensky By Eilidh McLaughlin
We love our war heroes in Scotland. They are the stuff legends are made of and monuments are built in their honour. Set against the stunning backdrop of Ben Nevis and Aonach Mor, near the village of Spean Bridge, stands the Commando Memorial remembering heroes of World War II. One of the carvings of the three commandos is rumoured to be a likeness of a famous Scottish war hero, one famed for tutoring commandos and devising strategies to fight the Nazis. However, this man had a parallel fame and reputation, earned from safe cracking and breaking out of Scottish prisons. That man is Johnny Ramensky.
Gentle Johnny Ramensky Johnny Ramensky had a rich and diverse life. Video credits: camera, sound and editing by Adam Spencer.
Born in Glenboig in 1906 to Lithuanian refugees, Yonus Ramanauckas, was to move from the North Lanarkshire mining town to the Gorbals, in Glasgow, at age seven when his father died. It was there he fell in with a bad crowd and was sent to Polmont Borstal in 1921. It was no deterrent and he soon began his life of crime.
.Although known throughout most of his life as Johnny Ramensky, he latterly changed his name to John Ramsey. He had a strong code of ethics and when caught, would freely confess to his wrong-doings, and even alerted authorities to possible unexploded gelignite in order that it be disposed of safely. When any war savings or pension books were found in safes, Johnny would post them back to their owners. In prison, he also gained a reputation for wielding a pen and fighting the causes of other prisoners.
In Peterhead Prison in 1941, he felt compelled to take up a new cause: a national one. He wrote to the prison governor asking to fight against the Nazis. He joined the commandos and promised to stay on the straight and narrow whilst in uniform. He had a successful and diverse career in the army which even involved parachuting behind enemy lines.
However, Ramensky found it difficult to keep away from his life of crime. Soon after his demob he was apprehended attempting to crack a safe in York. Although Johnny was in and out of prisons until his death, he was well liked amongst prison chiefs, police officers and those he encountered in all ranks of society. This was in spite of breaking out of Peterhead Prison five times and climbing onto the roof of Barlinnie Prison.
Two songs have been penned in Johnny's honour. Roddy McMillan, the late Para Handy actor, wrote Let Ramensky Go and the late Labour MP, Norman Buchan wrote The Ballad of Johnny Ramensky. Johnny Ramensky died in 1972 in Perth Prison. His legend lives on in Scottish folklore as the ultimate likeable rogue.
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