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Monday, December 17, 2018

Ramsey's Raiders

In May 1940, a British unit under Second Lieutenant Gareth Evans is ordered to hold a vital stretch of road in France to allow the BFE to retreat to Dunkirk. As the day wears on, the unit offers a stubborn defence against advancing German forces, until the commander of a unit of stragglers orders Evans to join his men for evacuation.

In August 1942, Evans is bored of training and wants to get back into the action. He is posted to a long range group base in western Egypt, home to the elite SRF—Special Raiding Force. Evans' knowledge of the local terrain (pre-war he had been a driver for an archaeological expedition in Egypt) makes him a useful recruit to Captain Jimmy Ramsey's unit.

Demolitions expert Sgt. Derek “Jarv” Jarvis, a Scot, introduces Evans to two more newcomers: Aussie veteran Corporal Bill “Oz” Orwell and Irishman Corporal Liam “Fitz” Fitzpatrick. Along with private Bernard “Monty” Monteith, and with Sgt. Joe Haynes introduced in the second story, they make up a unit known as Ramsey's Raiders. The SRF take on long range missions, striking at key targets behind enemy lines.

Nicknamed “Ramsey's Ruffians” by their sister SRF team, they will take anything not nailed down if it will help a mission, from jerricans to a German PzB 39 anti-tank rifle, which they fit to the back of their jeep. Evans is more “by the book” and struggles to show the initiative that Jimmy expects of his team—so Jimmy pulls some strings to get them an “op” and throws Evans in at the deep end... only for Evans to show the same lack of initiative.

But Jimmy has talked with his opposite number on the rival team and talked into giving Evans another chance. Put in charge of Jeep number two again, will he be able to prove himself when faced with another major operation?

Anyone expecting the vast desert vistas of Lawrence of Arabia is going to be disappointed. The colouring is unremittingly dark and drab, as if everything happens at night, which it doesn't. Even in daytime scenes, the sky has faded only slightly to grey most of the time; at mid-day, the burning desert still only has a hint of blue (see top panel, right); and a "violent orange flame" (bottom) looks like a dying ember. Subtle colouring works on night-time scenes, but there needed more contrast between night and day.

That said, the story survives the muddy colouring. It harks back to the kind of wartime movie made in the 1940s and 1950s, the fish out of water newcomer who struggles at first but eventually finds his place in a team that then accepts him.Made up of the first two Ramsey's Raiders yarns originally published in Commando in 2005. In a break from the normal tradition for stories that were complete in themselves, Ramsey's Raiders was planned as a series, which meant that author Ferg Handley could introduce the characters over a number of issues. Where the first issue concentrates on the arrival of Gareth Evans, the second weaves the background of "Oz" Orwell into the story as the action moves from Africa to Sicily and his fractious relationship with the breezy, upper-class "Monty" comes to the fore.

The page size has been enlarged and, along with the new colouring, the episodes have also been re-lettered. Keith Page's original artwork has a confident simplicity that works well in colour; called upon to draw endless driving scenes in desert landscapes, often at night, Page still managed to imbue every panel with motion and action.

The book has Volume 1 printed on the spine, and I hope that D C Thomson has the confidence to continue to reprint the series, which ran for an initial 11 episodes, with more following over the years (and more adventures are promised for 2019), and also to take a look at other episodes of Commando that might be deserving of the same treatment... there are plenty of them.

Ramsey's Raiders Volume 1 by Ferg Handley & Keith Page. D. C. Thomson ISBN 978-1845-35747-4, 128pp, £14.99. Cover by Ian Kennedy. Available via Amazon.

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