It is with great sadness that we learn of the departure of Edwin (Ted) Cross. Another Second World War and Russian Arctic convoy veteran “crossed the bar”.
Ted Cross was born at Erith in Kent on 11th July 1925, the older of two with his sister Sally. He left school at the age of 14 and had several jobs before volunteering for the Royal Navy six months before his 18th birthday to avoid being conscripted into the Army.
After his ten-week basic training course at HMS Collingwood at Fareham in Hampshire Ted decided to be an RDF Operator (radar) – and trained at HMS Valkyrie on the Isle of Man. A new technology called RDF, or Radar, could track submarines when surfaced while ASDIC, or Sonar, tracked them when submerged so there would be “no hiding place” for German U-boats. After completion of the course, Ted joined HMS Westcott at the start of her final commission, in June 1943. HMS Westcott was at Londonderry after her conversion to a Long Range Escort (LRE), then, in September, joined the 4th Escort Group at Liverpool escorting Atlantic Convoys but soon she was transferred to the 8th Escort Group based at Greenock on the River Clyde escorting Arctic Convoys to Northern Russia. In 1943, aged barely 18, Ted embarked on the first of his seven Arctic convoys, escorting ships ferrying weapons, food and supplies to Russia during the Second World War.
There were six RDF Operators on HMS Westcott: two on duty at a time for each of Red, Blue and Green watches. It was impossible to maintain one’s concentration to the flickering screen for an entire four-hour watch, thus two men were required. At the end of a watch operators had four hours off before going on watch again. Ted was also RNR officer’s servant to First Lt Ernest Quarrie, tidying his cabin and bringing him tea when in harbour. Ted spent his time off-duty sleeping and eating on his mess deck three feet beneath sea level which could be reached via a hatch and a vertical ladder.
There was no official British medal for veterans of those convoys until the Arctic Star was announced in mid December 2012. The institution of the medal, nearly seven decades after the end of the Second World War, was the result of a 16-year-long campaign by Commander Eddie Grenfell, Lieutenant Commander Dick Dykes and Merchant Navy veteran Jock Dempster, who stressed that service in the convoys north of the Arctic Circle was entirely different from those in the Atlantic, for which the Atlantic Star had been awarded, with different aims and different conditions. From 1941 to 1945 1,400 merchant vessels sailed with naval escorts from Britain, Iceland and North America to the Soviet ports of Archangel and Murmansk. 85 merchant vessels, 16 Royal Navy warships and more than 3,000 sailors were lost.
Ted Cross, 87 at the time, felt honoured to visit Number 10 Downing Street and be rewarded after a 70-year wait since he first went to sea on the convoys. “It was my first time at Downing Street and the last time I think. We are getting the medal at long last but it’s unfortunate for those who aren’t around any more.”
Ted said about his service as a radar operator on HMS Westcott from June 1943 to May 1945, making seven return trips to the USSR across the freezing Arctic Ocean: “It has just gone on and on and on. The cold was bitter and the ship was covered in ice at times. That had to be got rid of because too much ice could capsize a ship with the weight. We were in the Navy, we were on a ship and there’s nothing else we could do. I don’t remember anybody being scared. Maybe they were, maybe I was, but that was what you had to do. You couldn’t say ‘I’m not going’. That was life.”.
He has often thought about the risk he and his fellow seamen ran after some material dragged behind the ship to distract U-boats was blown up by a torpedo on one occasion.
At the ceremony on June 16, 2013, Prime Minister David Cameron praised the convoys as “essential in the war effort to defeat fascism and Nazism.” He was joined by the President of the Russian Federation who awarded Mr Cross and his fellow seamen the Medal of Ushakov a Russian Navy award, for their efforts, adding, “We remember you and we believe you are heroes”. The British government had previously blocked Arctic convoy veterans from accepting the Ushakov medal.
On the 11th July this year Ted marked his 98th birthday. He passed away peacefully at home on the 28th July. At this sad time, our thoughts are with Linda and Jane, Ted’s daughters, and their families.