Stand-up comedian, TV presenter and co-host of podcast Shagged, Married, Annoyed Chris Ramsey was born on 3 August 1986 and grew up in South Shields.


At the start of his episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, he says he doesn’t know much about his family history: “I’ve always been fascinated about why I’m here, how I’m here, how lucky I am, what would happen if that didn’t happen? Who in my family had to survive to have kids, and their kid survived, and here we are?”

To start his journey, Chris goes to visit his parents. He learns that his maternal grandfather Alf Lawson fought in the Navy in the Second World War. He’s intrigued by some of Alf’s mementoes – a photograph of the ruins of Nagasaki in the devastating aftermath of the nuclear bomb dropped in 1945 marked “Official photograph not to be communicated to the press”, and a medal with writing on it in Russian. He also learns that his paternal great grandfather Dryden Gordon Young fought in the First World War – Chris’ father thinks he was in Gallipoli campaign before being captured in France.

Chris heads to Blandford Camp in Dorset, where Dryden’s battalion, the Collingwood Battalion, trained. He meets historian Professor Catriona Pennell. She tells him that Dryden was in the Royal Naval Division. At the beginning of the First World War, the Royal Navy had too many reservists, so the Division was created. The excess navy personnel were under the command of the Navy, but fought on land. Dryden fought in the 1915 Gallipoli campaign in Turkey, where the British and French forces fought to gain control of the Dardanelles Straits. Dryden was wounded in the face with a bayonet and the Collingwood Battalion were described as “almost annihilated”, but he survived. Dryden was then very nearly deployed to fight in the bloody Battle of the Somme, but avoided it because he came down with scabies. He then fought in the Battle of Passchendaele, but was captured – which was another stroke of luck, because it was less dangerous than being on the battlefield, although he would have had to put up with very poor food in the POW camp.

Chris Ramsey's great grandfather Dryden Gordon Young
Chris Ramsey's great grandfather Dryden Gordon Young Chris Ramsey

Next, Chris goes to HMS Belfast in London to find out more about Alf Lawson. Alf’s service record shows that he was on HMS Ulster Queen, which served in the Arctic convoys. They were charged with escorting military supply ships to Russia, Britain’s ally in the war, through the Arctic, facing freezing cold and German bombing raids. Alf’s medal was one awarded to servicemen who fought for Russia in the Second World War. Alf then served on another ship, HMS Speaker. The Speaker was in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese document of surrender was signed. The ship then went on to Nagasaki, where the crew toured the devastated site of the bombing. The photographs Alf had were taken by one of his crewmates, Cecil Creber.

Chris Ramsey's grandfather Alf Lawson
Chris Ramsey's grandfather Alf Lawson Chris Ramsey

Chris then takes his family tree further back. He learns that his 5x great grandfather Gabriel Davies was a footguard at the Tower of London in the 18th century. Gabriel’s wife Ann gave birth to their first child, Chris’ 4x great grandfather William, at the British Lying-In Hospital.

Chris learns more about the Lying-In Hospital from Professor Lisa Cody. She tells him that the hospital was set up “to relieve the pregnant wives or widows of soldiers, sailors, and of the laborious and industrious poor”. Women who gave birth at the hospital received much better maternity care than women who gave birth at home at the time, so many were desperate to be admitted. To get in, Ann needed the recommendation of Lieutenant Colonel Lister, her husband’s commanding officer and a patron of the hospital, she needed to pass an interview to prove that she was of respectable character, and she needed to enter in a lottery where women who drew white balls were admitted to the hospital and women who drew red ones weren’t.

At the end of his episode, Chris marvels that Dryden, Alf and Ann were all lucky enough that they beat the odds to survive. “I feel like I’m the really lucky one in the story,” he concludes. “I’m here because of all those people survived… I thank them to the ends of the earth.”


Rosemary Collins is the features editor of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine