A year ago today, I managed to get caught in a number of snow flurries. The temperature struggled to reach zero. While today was not record breaking it was still a stunning February day with the temperature close to 20 and the sky empty of cloud. Rather than scrubbing the terrace tiles in the sun, I was in the library all day where I catalogued a load of books on Naval schools and colleges.
One of the schools was HMS Britannia (1869-1905). The books dealt with the ships of that name as well as the training base that came last. Many young boys were sent to HMS Britannia to make them into effective and proficient cadets then, ultimately, officers. And, perhaps for the few, admirals…like Admiral Alexander Ramsay.
Coincidentally, a hundred years ago today (27 February 1919), saw the marriage of Princess Patricia of Connaught to Commander The Hon. Alexander Ramsay in the first royal wedding at Westminster Abbey since the 15th century. Patricia was a grand daughter of Queen Victoria and Alexander, a Royal Navy officer who served with distinction during the First World War.
By the way, the previous royal wedding at the Abbey was the one between King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York back in 1486. (Incidentally, Henry married Elizabeth a year after he ‘detained’ her following his victory at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Given he defeated Richard III and she was his niece, I guess she was, sort of, the spoils of war. Mirinda would know more about that given her love of the Wars of the Roses.)
But back to the 20th century.
When Patricia married the commoner, Alexander Ramsay, she had to give up her royal title of Princess Patsy and became just plain old Lady Victoria Patricia Helena Elizabeth Ramsay. Mind you, while she gave up the title, she was still a member of the royal family and, therefore, in line for the throne.
Though a lot of people would have to die or abdicate before she even came close to the big chair.
Patricia was quite an accomplished artist, specialising in water colour work similar to Gauguin and Von Gogh.
Regardless of her artistic skills, I think she looks delightfully wistful in the photo to the left.
She was also very popular in Canada. So popular that they stuck her face on an Ottawa $1 note in 1917. Here she is in the middle.
Alexander, on the other hand, wasn’t what anyone would call wistful. Having spent his cadet years on HMS Britannia he was soon off to see the sea, gradually climbing the ladder of command. He was awarded a DSO for his services at Gallipoli and, in 1919, finally made Captain. It was while he was a captain that he proposed to Patsy.
They were both in Nova Scotia, staying in a fishing lodge belonging to the philanthropist and businessman, Jack Ross. According to Patsy, Ross and his wife lived more royally than the royals. They had 30 servants for a start. I mean, really, who needs 30 servants? Some of their servants must have had servants of their own.
The very wealthy Ross had made some hefty donations and yacht loans during the first world war and was definitely in the Royal Navy’s good books, which explains why Alexander would be invited to the lodge. Patsy’s invitation would have been a given. I’m assuming this fishing lodge was rather sizeable and not some cabin in the woods beside a lake. Like the one to the right which is by a Canadian lake.
Anyway, fishing aside, having dispensed with the wedding and got on with things, Alexander took command of a whopping big aircraft carrier in 1928 (HMS Furious 1915-1945) which was but a stepping stone to his becoming Vice Admiral in 1936. This led to his serving as commander-in-chief, East Indies Station until 1938 when he became Fifth Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Air Services.
By 1942, having reached the rank of Admiral, Alexander voluntarily retired. For the next 30 years he lived happily ever after in a rather posh house in Windlesham, Surrey. Alexander died in 1972 while Patsy lasted a year and half longer, dying in 1974.
Patsy and Alex had a long and lovely marriage. They had one child, Alexander Ramsay of Mar. Alex junior went to Eton then joined the Grenadier Guards, serving in North Africa during the Second World War. He unfortunately lost his leg during a tank battle in Tunisia. He then studied agriculture and moved to Scotland.
How much of his life, Alexander senior owed to attending HMS Britannia is anyone’s guess but I can’t help but think that it had just a bit of influence.