Few people can have crammed more into a life time of service than Ulric Cross and whilst this site is dedicated to all matters 1940s, this gentleman’s story spans a far greater timeline than that and as a result of his overall achievements, we have included a potted life history.
Philip Louis Ulric Cross was born on 1 May 1917 in Port of Spain, Trinidad. After high school, he worked on Trinidad’s railways, but his real love was aviation. With the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, and the Fall of France the following June, Ulric Cross saw the situation demanded action:
“The world was drowning in fascism and America was not yet in the war, so I decided to do something about it and volunteered to fight in the RAF.”
Aged 24, Cross arrived in Britain in November 1941, joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) and trained as a navigator. He was commissioned as an officer and then posted to 139 (Jamaica) Squadron at RAF Marham. This unit was so named because it flew bombers paid for by the people of Jamaica. Pilot Officer Cross excelled as a navigator and was selected to join the élite Pathfinder Force.
These crews had the difficult and dangerous task of marking targets accurately for bombing raids. Cross was promoted to Flying Officer and, in June 1944, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). In early 1945, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his “fine example of keenness and devotion to duty” and his “exceptional navigational ability.”
Overall, Ulric twice refused to be rested from flying and by the end of the war he had completed 80 missions over Germany and occupied Europe as navigator in Mosquito fighter-bombers, and was the model for the black character, Squadron Leader Charles Ford, in Ken Follett’s later novel Hornet Flight. Cross left the RAF as a Squadron Leader in 1947.
After the war, Cross went on to study law and was called to the Bar under the aegis of the Middle Temple, London, on 26 January 1949.
He returned to Trinidad where, from 1949 to 1953, he was Legal Adviser to the Comptroller of Imports and Exports, Trinidad and Tobago. He also lectured in Trade Union History and Trade Union Law at the Extra-Mural Department of the University of the West Indies, located in Trinidad. When he went back to London, he worked for some time as a Talks Producer with the BBC (1953–1957).
Subsequently, Cross 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 African journey, he served in West Cameroon (1960–1966), where he 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, Cross became a High Court judge in Tanzania, where from 1968 to 1970 he was also Chairman of the Permanent Labour Tribunal. He also served as a Professor of Law at the University of Dar-es-Salaam.
He returned to Trinidad in 1971 to serve as a High Court judge. In 1979 Ulric Cross was elevated to the Court of Appeal. He then became Chairman of the Law Reform Commission of Trinidad and Tobago from 1982 to 1983, in which position he made a significant contribution towards furthering the revision and development of the country’s laws. On his death, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, then Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, acknowledged: “Some of his judgments changed the landscape of Trinidad and Tobago.”
From 1990 to 1993 Ulric Cross served as High Commissioner for Trinidad and Tobago 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—with his colleague, Desmond Allum SC—the charitable non-profit organization called Cotton Tree Foundation (CTF), that works with some of the most deprived communities in Port-of-Spain in order 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.
Squadron Leader Cross served as President of the Royal Air Forces Association Trinidad and Tobago Branch No. 1075 (established on 17 April 1953) from 2009 until his death. As President he was very active in the running of the Branch and inspired the vision to build a Military Veterans Complex for all veterans of military service on the Branch’s property, at 20 Queen’s Park East, Belmont, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
Awards and Honours
Cross was the recipient of many awards and accolades throughout his life. In 2011, at Trinidad and Tobago’s 49th Independence Day celebrations, he received the Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, 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 July 2011 the President of Trinidad and Tobago. George Maxwell Richards, presented Cross with the Heroes Foundation first heroes medallion, and in 2012 a comic book entitled And Justice For All, The True Story Of A Local Hero was published in his honour by the Heroes Foundation, in their “Heroes of a Nation” series.
A feature film by Frances-Anne Solomon entitled Hero: Inspired by the Extraordinary Life and Times of Mr. Ulric Cross, was released in 2019.
Ulric Cross died aged 96 on 4 October 2013, at his home on Dere Street, Port of Spain, where in his retirement he had been living with his daughter Nicola. A memorial service in his honour was held at Memorial Park, Port of Spain, on 10 October 2013. Paying tribute to Cross at the service, the British High Commissioner said: “Without the help of servicemen from the Commonwealth (like Cross), the outcome of World War II would have been entirely different.”
On 8 February 2014, a tribute to “Justice Cross” was held in London by the Trinidad and Tobago High Commission at St Peter’s Church, Eaton Square, where the High Commissioner H.E. Garvin Nicholas spoke, saying: “Justice Ulric Cross was a man who not only served Trinidad and Tobago tirelessly, but dedicated his existence to the preservation of justice and democracy on an international scale…. His was a distinguished life, a life very well lived. Now more than ever, our society dearly needs role models like Justice Ulric Cross.”
Few can surely lay better claim to that final statement.