A Trinidadian airman, who became a hero in the second world war after thwarting Nazi efforts to shoot down 200 bombers, duped his RAF (the Royal Air Force) superiors into believing he was African royalty. The RAF was Britain’s most potent weapon in the fight against the Nazis. For 70 years, this prank was not known until recently.
Ulric Cross and Kenrick Rawlins arrived from the Caribbean in 1941 to help Britain in the fight against the Germans.
As soon as they were given accommodation, they told their bosses that Rawlins was an African prince and Cross his spokesperson. Thanks to this prank, an English corporal made their beds for them in the barracks.
This story emerged in Will Iredale’s The Pathfinders, a new book about the RAF unit that looks at how West Indian servicemen fought against Hitler and helped rebuild Britain and yet were completely misunderstood, the Guardian reported.
“We knew 10 times more about the British than they knew about us,” Cross is quoted as saying. “They really didn’t know what to do with us. Going through any town in England in those days, any schoolboy was going to stop you and ask you the time. They had never spoken to a black person in their lives. All they wanted to do was hear what language you were speaking.”
Cross was the son of a post office official from Port of Spain. While in Trinidad, Cross knew about the political disturbances in Europe in the late 1930s. He even formed a leftwing book club with some friends. “We had read Mein Kampf and had Hitler down cold,” he recalled. “We knew of Kristallnacht in 1938, when the Jewish businesses in Germany were attacked and looted …. We were appalled by the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 and the Spanish civil war which started in 1936. The world was drowning in fascism … I suppose we were premature anti-fascists … we were not as ignorant as people in Europe think.”
Cross decided to join the RAF after watching Britain being defeated at Dunkirk. He also hated the fact that Hitler and the Nazis were continuing their occupation across Europe. After sailing from the Caribbean with Rawlins to join the RAF, the two flew “daring raids” for the RAF in wooden-framed Mosquitos. They carried out these raids across Nazi Germany identifying targets for bombers.
Cross, a navigator, helped prevent 200 bombers from being shot down in a bombing raid over Germany in 1943. During that mission, his engine was shot out and he crashed in Norfolk alongside his pilot. He went on to become one of the most decorated West Indian servicemen in the second world war and lived to the age of 96. Rawlins, however, died in 1943 when his De Havilland Mosquito sank in the sea.
Nicola Cross, Cross’s daughter, told the Guardian recently: “I saw him cry twice. The second time was when he was in his 90s and it was the fact that the 250 (Trinidadian airmen in the RAF) had not been recognized.” 52-year-old Nicola wants the role of servicemen and women like her father to be taught on school syllabuses, adding that: “There are lots of invisibles.”
Cross, after the war, became a lawyer and a judge. He also became a diplomat as the Trinidad and Tobago high commissioner in London. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the Distinguished Flying Cross. Even though his story is not widely known today, a Hollywood film was made about him and his legendary exploits.