As the Royal Force (RAF) marks its 100th anniversary, tales of its brave veterans have come to the fore. Caribbean Intelligence this week features some of the World War Two memories of Trinidad-born Ulric Cross, who died in 2013.
During an exciting life, Ulric Cross travelled from Trinidad to serve in the RAF – he won the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). In his obituary, Britain’s Telegraph newspaper described him as “thought to have been the most decorated Caribbean airman of the Second World War” who went on to “enjoy a distinguished career in Trinidad as a judge and diplomat”.
After leaving the RAF, Cross went on to work with the BBC’s World Service and as a judge on the Trinidad Court of Appeal, as well as notching up 30 years’ legal service in Commonwealth countries in Africa and the Caribbean. He also served as the Chairman of the Commonwealth Foundation and later as Trinidad & Tobago’s High Commissioner to London.
Uric Cross flew 80 missions with the RAF’s target-marking Pathfinders Squadron in the last few years of World War Two. He had travelled from Trinidad in 1941 and went through a year’s training. At his post-graduation interview to decide whether he would become a sergeant or an officer, his interviewer asked him if he knew Trinidadian cricketer Learie Constantine. “I said, ‘Yes, I do.’ I was made an officer and we talked cricket for the rest of the interview. He reckoned that if I knew Learie Constantine, I was obviously officer material.”
Ulric Cross said he knew that 250 Trinidadians flew with the RAF during World War Two, of whom 52 were killed in battle. Six of the people he knew who had travelled from Trinidad to join the RAF had studied Greek with him at school. As they read beyond their school studies about the growth of fascism in Germany, Spain, Italy and Japan, Ulric said he was driven by “a feeling that I was a part of the world and that the whole world was going fascist... I could play a part in a little way.”
Some of his compatriots who served in the RAF as bomber pilots went on to remain in aviation. Esmond Farfa and Junior Farfar returned home to become pilots with Trinidad airline BWIA (now Caribbean Airlines). Julian Marryshow from Grenada went on to make his name in the South Pacific.
Ulric Cross said the question he and his fellow Caribbean servicemen were most likely to be asked in a British pub during the war was: “Where did you learn English?” Julian Marryshow passed on one of the best responses to use. It ran: “It takes 10 days by boat [from the West Indies] and I’m a quick learner.”
By the way, Julian Marryshow, the son of West Indies federation campaigner T. A. Marryshow, went on to become the man credited with the revival of Crop Over in Barbados in the 1970s. One 2012 obituary described Marryshow as the “Father of Crop Over”.
Years later, as a diplomat, Ulric Cross went to collect a visa at the French embassy. A guard identified him and came to shake his hand, saying: “But for you, I would have been speaking German.” Ulric said in his BBC interview: “I thought that was a bit of an exaggeration, but people did think [then] we were part of the world.”
Ulric Cross as a serviceman taking part in the film Hello! West Indies – From The British Film Institute