Beaulieu Palace in the New Forest is noted as a motor museum but in 1940 was commandeered for war service and became the ‘finishing school’ for agents being selected for service with the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Even students who passed the induction course followed by extensive training in Irregular warfare in the harsh terrain of the Scottish Highlands were rejected if they failed Beaulieu which taught tradecraft and security. Wireless operator Cyril Watney described the course as being equivalent to a modern-day university degree syllabus because it was so intense.
Tony Brooks who served with SOE remembered two students who did not take the training seriously and said, “I regret to say neither of those chaps survived… They were both caught, and both died. Beulieu, I think was the most important part of the training and I took it very seriously. That’s why I’m here.”
There were eleven schools deep inside the New Forrest, students were accommodated at three remote buildings so members of various European country sections never saw each other and approximately 3,000 students received their security and tradecraft training on the estate.
Johnny Ramensky spent most of his life in and out of jail.
Several agents who served with the Special Operations Executive who graduated from the Beulieu finishing school mentioned a larger than life Glaswegian career criminal called Johnny Ramensky who was also known as ‘Gentle Johnny’ because every time he was arrested he was polite to the police and owned up to his crimes. Ramensky had a Polish Father and Scottish mother and was released from prison after agreeing to train students to become safecrackers and cat-burglars and after disappearing from Beulieu it was rumoured he was back in prison after being caught breaking into a safe.
Due to his criminal skills still being in demand he was released from prison again in 1943 and enlisted into the Fusiliers, but throughout the remainder of the war he served with 30 Commando and was later awarded the Military Medal. Apart from cracking safes and sabotage operations behind enemy lines it was widely said Ramensky found time to loot the Germans and find ways to transport various valuables back to Scotland and even gave an expensive ‘stolen’ present to the governor of a prison where he previously served time for burglary and during a short time in hospital a senior police officer who arrested him several times over many years sent a letter addressed to ‘Gentle Johnny’ wishing him a speedy recovery.
Ramensky started his long criminal career shortly after leaving school and spent 40-years of his life in and out of various prisons and after the war returned to crime. Sometime in 1972 Ramensky was sentence to one-year in prison after being caught on the roof of a shop and whilst in prison ‘Gentle Johnny’ suffered a stroke and died at Perth Royal Infirmary on 4 November 1972.