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Dave Ramsay was a pattern maker by trade and a member of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, then of the AEU. He was a member of the Socialist Labour Party in Leicester. An anti-war activist, he was fined £100 on 11th May 1916 for attempting to prejudice recruiting to the army.
Ramsay was part of the inner circle of activists involved in building `workers’ committees’ across Britain, in the model of the Clyde Workers Committee. In November 1918, he is described in British police files as 'advocating revolution with machine guns' at a meeting that included Sylvia Pankhurst as a speaker. A speech given to a large Daily Herald League rally in a Croydon cinema led to his conviction and imprisonment for sedition.
Announcing himself proud to be a Bolshevik, he was arrested on February 16th 1919, charged and sentenced to six months' imprisonment all in rapid order. As he was in prison, he was not able to attend the funeral held shortly after of Alice Wheeldon (see separate entry) of Derby, the activist prosecuted for supposedly planning Lloyd George’s assassination, after she died from Spanish Flu. His mother was the Mrs Ramsay from Leicester who is known to have been at Alice’s funeral, which was a celebrated affair of waving flags and talk of red revolution. A massive celebration to mark Ramsay’s release in similar but grander style was thwarted when the government arranged for his early release from Pentonville prison.
Heavily involved in the “Hands Off Russia” movement as its national treasurer, Ramsay was also National Treasurer and Organiser of the National Council of Shop Stewards and Workers Committees from 1919.
He was a delegate in that capacity to the 2nd Congress of the Communist International, which was held from July 19th to August 7th 1920 in Soviet Russia. Since the British Communist Party had not yet been formally founded, delegates from the British Socialist Party, the British branch of the Industrial Workers of the World, and from the NCSS Movement attended.
Even before the Soviet trip, in May 1920, he applied for a passport supposedly to settle in Argentina and this was granted. In June, 1920, he applied for an endorsement of his passport to go to Scandinavia to "visit relations". It was ascertained that this was in fact a well-known Bolshevik based in Bergen.
In 1920, the British Home Secretary consulted ministerial colleagues as to whether to allow Ramsay a passport (Arthur MacManus was also the subject of the memo). Secret police reports showed that he had been present at meetings in Grosvenor Square, held to protest against UK support for the Polish offensive against Soviet Russia. Ramsay was recorded as saying that if workers were called up for the army they should not refuse, but should take rifles but would “know what to do with them".
Ramsay stayed in Soviet Russia to become a full-time paid functionary of the Communist International. By 1921 he was believed by the British secret police agency, MI5, to be the leading British official for underground propaganda and resources aiding that. He was believed to have secretly travelled to Soviet Russia several times. His passport applications were monitored with a view to prevent him travelling to British overseas territories.
During 1924-25, he was supposedly collecting information on armaments production at Vickers' and Hadfield's factories in Sheffield. A journey to the torpedo factory in Greenock for the purposes of spreading subversive propaganda and espionage attracted significant interest from the intelligence forces.
After 1926, he was allocated the role of Scottish Organiser of the Party. He was Harry Pollitt’s agent in the Seaham constituency during the 1929 general election.
A 1932 memo from Special Branch to MI5 describes Ramsay as having left the Party due to a difference of opinion with the executive committee. In 1933, however, a report from Glasgow police stated that he was employed as a courier for the Russian embassy.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s Ramsay was kept under constant extensive surveillance by the secret intelligence agencies until at least 1945.
It is believed, from comments on family genealogy sites, that Ramsay died in Leicester. Harry Pollitt, in writing on the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party, recalled Ramsay positively in a long list of the great names of British Communism: "We salute the memory of all those who have toiled. sacrificed, suffered and died in the service of the Party on a firm and indestructible basis by our late Comrades Tom Mann, Arthur Mc Manus Albert Inkpin, Thomas Bell, William Rust and David Ramsay. This suggests that Ramsay had died at least by this point but, more importantly, his formal leaving of the Party a while before had been to deflect secret service attention.
He may have married a Helen, or Nellie, Hendry around 1902. Even more intriguing is the possibility that their son was the David A Ramsay, a Leicester branch member of the Communist Party, reported to have died since its last biennial district congress by the East Midlands district in a 1964 report to the Party’s EC. David A Ramsay had died, the official state records show, in 1962.
Sources include: National Archive files KV 2/1867-1870; 1919 BHT report on revolutionary organisations; CPGB archives; thanks to Michael Walker; http://www.rootschat.com/forum/index.php?topic=610084.0