A private in the 3rd platoon, (Military ID 359-1-38), Erik Viggo Ringman (1918 – 1945) drove a Volvo Spetsnos, a light truck converted for this journey.
Gift #9: Erik Viggo Ringman
How does one say ‘Thank You’ to those who risk death to save strangers in need?
Does history even remember these 308 bus drivers, medical personnel (perhaps as few as 20) and support staff whose collective actions can be called heroic?
They are another gift of the White Bus mission, an example of service before self.
The first team included 15 ambulances under the command of the Chief of Transportation Karl Gottfrid Björck.[i]
These buses and support vehicles rescued 786 female prisoners from Ravensbrück, the first of what would exceed 15,000 lives, people, souls, parents, children, brothers, sisters … survivors.
On April 24th, Lt. Gösta Hallqvist’s mission departed with 706 women, hopefully on their way to safety in Denmark.
– possibly because of the fog of war,
– perhaps because the British wanted to close off Nazi escape routes,
– perhaps because there were Nazis on the buses as guards and escorts,
– perhaps because Nazis were using the Red Cross convoys to escape,
– perhaps because … well, who knows?
The next day Hallqvist’s column was attacked, killing many including a volunteer driver Erik Viggo Ringman; Lt. Hallquist survived a near-fatal head injury.
Was this driver just another casualty of war?
Perhaps, but he is also a reminder of heroism in action.
A private in the 3rd platoon, (Military ID 359-1-38), Erik Ringman (1918 – 1945) drove a Volvo Spetsnos, a light truck converted for this journey.
The convoy leader, Lt. Gösta Hallquist referred to Ringman as his ‘best driver.” [ii]
In the annals of the Second World War, April 25, 1945 is often remembered for three important events. At a global level, it is the day that 46 nations met to start the creation of the United Nations.
It was also when American and Soviet forces met at the river Elbe to form a united front against the Nazis.
And, most relevant to this history, it was the day that approximately 355 British Royal Air Force bombers and Mustang escorts from the US 8th Army bombed (not as successfully as planned) Hitler’s holiday retreat known as Berchtesgaden.
It is also the day that other British planes were flying over the safe skies of Germany looking for military targets. Somehow, their flight paths intersected with the escape roads of the White Bus convoy.
Erik Ringman’s last trip was on April 25th when these allied planes bombed his convoy. As part of the bombing of Wismar (a large city in northern Germany), travel on the Wismar Road was extremely dangerous.
Another group of vehicles was also attached, killing and injuring dozens. Despite being painted white with red crosses as identifiers, the buses came under attack, killing as many as 45 additional former prisoners and their rescuers.
When Åke Svensson returned to Ravensbrück to load the last of 934 prisoners into 20 buses, he “saw two Red Cross vehicles in the ditch, shot to pieces.[iii]
One of these was driven by 27-year-old Private Erik Ringman. His coffin was transported home, fittingly perhaps, that the Volvo Private Ringman drove became a hearse for his remains.
Pictures above show Private Erik Ringman’s body returning home in April 1945.xxii
At his funeral, a colleague spoke for many about Ringman’s legacy and gift:
“This [is a] true Scandinavian ceremony, when the Swedish soldier was buried by a Norwegian officiant in a Danish church.”
What has yet to be mentioned is the legacy Erik Ringman left with his family and his country.
Marie Magnusson, a third-generation descendant of Erik’s cousin, is striving to keep his legacy alive. Marie simply wants Erik to “be known” as well as “the others” that were on the White Buses.
Marie mentions Erik as a “caring soul,” someone who was not driving White Buses and trucks for attention or limelight, but someone who simply wanted to make a difference as opposed to being a bystander.
Our Family’s Memory
By Marie Magnusson
My maternal grandfather and Erik Ringman were cousins, their mothers were two of many daughters.
Erik was born on October 31, 1918 and by the beginning of 1922 he had lost both his newborn sister and mother to tuberculosis.
Erik’s maternal grandparents took care of him because he had no father in his life either; eventually and lovingly, they adopted him.
It seems that Erik took my maternal grandfather’s place and joined the White Buses operation, because he himself had no children.
In April 1945, on their last journey back from Ravensbrück the White Buses were shot at by allied planes. Erik was the only Scandinavian Red Cross staff member who was killed.
Before the White Buses were to travel home to Sweden, a funeral service was held at the church in Bov, Denmark.
It was led by a Norwegian pastor, himself freed from a concentration camp. No eyes were free from tears.
For the ferry ride home to Malmö harbor, Erik’s coffin rode on to the truck he had been driving throughout the operation.
There was a small service was held where Prince Carl, the head of the Swedish Red Cross, laid a funeral wreath on the coffin as a “thank you for your service.”
After the service Erik’s coffin was loaded on to a truck from Malmö Fire Brigade and transported to Hököpingeand.
His final resting place is in the New Cemetery of Hököpinge after a service that was covered extensively in the press.
May Erik rest in peace, his life of service inspires us today.
While war is characterized by death, persecution and atrocities, this moment of Erik’s heroism shines light on human empathy and pure sacrifice.
This is how the country mourned Erik; but death is personal and remains in memories of those who knew and loved the deceased. In many families, the stories handed down from one generation to the next become legends, perhaps enhancing events and filling in gaps.
Marie Magnusson remembers how the family regarded Erik, his work, his life and sadly his death as the country also mourned at the time. To them, he was “a hard-working man, honest, cared for other people and a good friend.
He had a fiancé, but never married. My grandfather was the one who was initially supposed to go with the Red Cross and (I guess they talked to each other) Erik told my grandfather that it was better if he (Erik) went instead since he did not have any children and my grandfather had two at the time.” [i]
Service above self is a legacy that both a country and a family hold dear. What a gift!
[i] Personal correspondence with Marie Magnusson, April 18, 2022
[ii] Letter from Hallquist to his beloved Karin, June 15, 1945.
[iii] Greayer, Agneta and Sonja Sjöstrand. The Swedish Red Cross rescue action in Germany during the Second World War. Edited by Martin Wikberg with Translation by Annika and Peter Hodgson
The Swedish Red Cross, Stockholm, January 2000.