If you happen to find yourself outside The Clutha & Victoria bar in the Trongate area of Glasgow, you will see it is adorned with portraits of important and famous people who have frequented the bar throughout it’s history. This includes famous personalities such as Billy Connolly, Benny Lynch and Stan Laurel. One portrait belongs to a lesser known Glaswegian, who was once subject to many a tail of Glasgow folklore.
For several decades throughout the 20th century, it was difficult not to open a Glasgow newspaper and see the words ‘Johnny Ramensky’ in the title of an article, albeit often followed by the words ‘Imprisoned’, ‘escaped,’ or ‘recaptured’.
Born Yonas Ramanauckas in Glenboig to Lithuanian parents, he grew up in the Gorbals area of Glasgow. A place infamous for its razor gangs, seriously high levels of poverty, and crime. It’s no surprise Ramensky became a criminal, but, dare I say it, a rather likable one. His speciality was safe blowing, gaining entry to properties using his impressive gymnastic, then, with the careful use of some explosives, the contents of any safe quickly became his property.
Despite being a notorious thief, Ramensky had a strict code of personal ethics, which included never resorting to violence when caught, earning him the nickname ‘Gentle Johnny’. However, a life of crime has its consequences, and Ramensky would spend over 40 years in prisons around the country . This included serving time in the allegedly unescapable Peterhead prison. Ramensky was quick to disprove this claim, successfully escaping five times from the ‘unescapable’ prison.
When war broke out in 1939, Ramensky felt he ought to do his duty and perhaps saw the war as a chance for redemption. Owing, in part, to a letter sent by his then prison governor, who recognised Ramensky’s skillset as one that could be particularly useful in wartime, he was eventually released from prison and joined the newly formed Commandos in 1943. He instructed the Special Operations Executive on explosive use, being dropped behind enemy lines to break into Axis safes to gain vital intelligence, as well as ‘acquiring’ a few mementos along the way. Ramensky was in his element.
The end of the war saw Ramensky receive a full pardon and the Military Medal for his sterling efforts. Sadly, this was not the end of Ramensky’s life of crime. He would spend the rest of his life in and out of prison until his death in 1972, at the age of 67.