Ulric Cross, ace airman
Saturday, October 5 2013
RETIRED Justice Ulric Cross gave an insight into his life as a navigator in a Mosquito bomber aircraft in World War II, in a 1999 interview with Sean Douglas. In the interview he came across as very dignified, yet not stuck up but having a modest affability and human warmth. He was proper, yet not proud. In fact one had to virtually pull the story out of him of his flying exploits, as he was quite humble about it all.
Amongst the 250 TT nationals who served in the British Royal Air Force in WWII, Cross flew on 80 bombing missions over Germany and German-occupied France, as a navigator, initially in a Mosquito aircraft. He described this as a two-man bomber, which was very fast but small and made of plyboard!
Instead of the norm of bombers flying at high-altitude of 25,000 feet, the Mosquito approached its target at just 50 metres above ground-level, probably to avoid radar detection, then gradually climbed high, and then dive-bombed its target.
“We dropped four 500-pound bombs. You flew in to your target at 50 feet and as you approached it you went up to 1,200 feet. You then did a shallow dive onto the target and released your bombs. The bomb had an 11-second delay, so you shot up to avoid the bomb blast.” He did eight of this type of mission.
While initially the Mosquito’s speed allowed it to dodge German anti-aircraft fire known as “flak”, the Germans soon began to shoot down a lot of pilots including Cross’ former St Mary’s College schoolmate, Kenrick Rawlins. In addition, the bombers also suffered an accuracy rate of just 20 percent, meaning that 80 percent of bombs missed their targets. This discovery led to the formation of an elite squadron, the Pathfinder Force, to guide the bombers to better place their bombs.
“We dropped flares over the target and bombers coming after us would then bomb our flares,” recalled Cross. “There were about a dozen Pathfinders followed by hundreds of bombers.” He said sometimes after the RAF dropped its flares, the Germans would then drop decoy markers 50 miles away. “To combat that we were told to drop our bombs at a particular time, with just a ten-second leeway either side. Punctuality was essential to the job,” he related. “I did 80 operational flights over Germany, including 21 to Berlin. We never had guns; for our safety we depended on accurate navigation and speed.” He was asked if he had been afraid on missions?
“You can’t be trained not to be afraid but can be trained to conquer fear,” he replied. “It comes from a belief that what you’re doing is right and is worthwhile.” Cross added that a navigator was usually too busy to have time to be afraid. “All your flight you are busy, busy, busy. The pilot has more time to be afraid than you do.” But he said a fearful experience was to be pinpointed in the open skies by a cone of light from the searchlights on German soil, and the accompany flak. “But your job is to get to the target on time and that is what you are preoccupied with,” he noted.
Cross said the big danger for bombers was enemy fighters.
“Coned in a searchlight they can see you from miles away. If you can’t get out of the light you watch out for fighters. I was once coned for 15 minutes going to Berlin. The searchlights lit up the whole sky.” He said a “coned” aircraft is a striking sight. “They all look silver whatever their actual colour. It’s amazing. They really stand out. You can be seen for miles around by fighters and by flak. My plane was hit by flak many times.”
Cross said his worst experience was when his plane was hit by flak which destroyed one of its two engines and made it crash.
“We flew home over the whole of Germany on one engine at just 7,000 feet at a reduced speed. It was very dangerous because of fighters.”
Cross said at one point, his pilot told him to put on his parachute and prepare to bail out of the limping aircraft.
“I didn’t like the idea and we stuck with the plane. We couldn’t make it back to our RAF base at Witton. I had to work out a course to the nearest other RAF base, Swanton Morley, also in East Anglia,” Cross related.
“When we eventually came in to land, the RAF base wasn’t expecting us and we couldn’t tell them because we had to maintain radio silence otherwise the Germans would have pinpointed us. There was no flare path on the runway. Instead of circling, we went straight in.” The duo overshot and landed halfway along the runway, then went over the end of the runway and through a hedge.
“We plunged down into a disused quarry. My pilot said, ‘Ulric this is it’. I said, ‘Yes Jack’. We thought we were going to die. We were both rather cool about it.” Cross said that luckily the landing speed of the Mosquito was not fast, especially with just one engine. “We both hit our heads very badly, but we survived,” he related thoughtfully. Cross went on to a distinguished career spanning the Judiciary, diplomatic service and charity patronage.
PHILLIP Louis Ulric Cross was born on May 1, 1917 in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, to Reginald Rufus and Maud Iris Cross. He was the second child in a family of nine. At the age of 11, he passed the Exhibition Examination and was awarded one of eight annual government scholarships that qualified him for free secondary education.
Cross came first in the island, achieving the highest marks scored nationally, and went on to attend St Mary’s College. His mother died when he was 13. His academic focus was completely derailed by this latter event and so, after completing five years of college education, he left school. His first job was with the Trinidad Guardian as a copy editor. Then he worked for about four years as a clerk to Leo Pujadas, Solicitor. At age 21, Cross, joined the Civil Service and worked for a while with the Trinidad Government Railways.
World War II service
In 1941, at the age of 24, Cross joined the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and served with RAF Bomber Command during the Second World War, attaining the rank of Squadron Leader. He was the only West Indian in his squadron.
In June 1944 he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and in January 1945 was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in recognition of his “fine example of keenness and devotion to duty” and “exceptional navigational ability”.
He was a member of the elite Pathfinder Force that perfected techniques for precision main force bombing. Cross flew 80 missions over Germany and occupied Europe as navigator of a Mosquito fighter-bomber, and was the model for the Black character Squadron Leader Charles Ford in Ken Follet’s novel Hornet Flight.
After the war, Cross went on to study law at Middle Temple, London, and was called to the Bar in 1949. From 1949 to 1953 he was legal adviser to the Controller of Imports and Exports in TT. He also lectured in Trade Union History and Trade Union Law at the Extra-Mural Department of the University of the West Indies, in Trinidad. He returned to London where he became a Talks Producer with the BBC (1953-57).
Subsequently, he practised law in Africa for many years: between 1958 and 1960 he worked in Ghana, where he was Crown Counsel and Senior Crown Counsel, and lectured in Criminal Law at the Ghana School of Law.
Continuing his career in West Cameroon (1960–66), Cross was elevated to Senior Crown Counsel and Attorney General, was a Member of the Cabinet, the House of Chiefs and the House of Assembly Avocat-General at the Federal Court of Justice of the Republic of Cameroon.
In 1967 he became a High Court judge in Tanzania, where from 1968 to 1970 he was chairman of the Permanent Labour Tribunal. He also served as a Professor of Law at the University of Dar-es-Salaam, before returning to Trinidad in 1971 as a High Court judge. In 1979 Ulric Cross was elevated to the Court of Appeal.
From 1990 to 1993, Cross served as this country’s High Commissioner at the Court of St James’s, UK, combining the position with that of Ambassador to both Germany and France. Previously, he had been appointed Chairman of the Commonwealth Foundation in 1983.
In April 1993, Cross co-founded a charitable non-profit organisation called the Cotton Tree Foundation (CTF), to work with some of the most deprived communities in Port-of-Spain, aiming to combat high levels of poverty and unemployment through counselling, self-help, education and training projects.
On his 90th birthday in 2007, the Ulric Cross Cotton Tree Endowment Fund was launched, to expand the work of the CTF to include a legal aid clinic, community sports programme and an art and music programme.
Cross has been the recipient of many awards and accolades. In 2011, at TT’s 49th Independence Day celebrations, he received the Order of the Republic of TT, the nation’s highest award, for distinguished and outstanding service in the sphere of law.
In June 2011, the Piarco Air Station was renamed the Ulric Cross Air Station. In 2012, a comic book entitled And Justice For All, The True Story Of A Local Hero was published in his honour in Trinidad by the Heroes Foundation, in their “Heroes of a Nation” series.
A documentary feature film by Frances-Anne Solomon inspired by the life of Ulric Cross is currently (2013) in production. His daughter Nicola Cross is the film’s associate producer. Cross also has another daughter, arts administrator Sue Woodford-Hollick, Lady Hollick and a son, Richard Finch, an educator who currently works in South Africa.