A Collection of Awards to the Worcestershire Regiment formed by Group Captain J. E. Barker

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Date of Auction: 27th September 2017

Sold for £2,000

Estimate: £1,400 - £1,800

A fine Second War ‘Escaper’s M.C. group of six awarded to Captain C. N. Cross, Worcestershire Regiment, a pre-war rugby player for Cardiff R.F.C, who used his agility to good effect - when he successfully escaped captivity in Italy and proceeded to make a 450 mile journey through German occupied territory. His successful bid for freedom was made after having already made three unsuccessful escape attempts

Military Cross, G.VI.R. reverse officially dated ‘1944’, and additionally engraved ‘Italy Capt. Charles N. Cross, 1. Worc. R.’; 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; Italy Star; Defence and War Medals 1939-45, with six related miniature awards (last two plain discs only), both sets mounted as worn, contact marks, therefore nearly very fine (lot) £1400-1800


Provenance: Glendinings, March 1995 and DNW, December 2004.

M.C. London Gazette 9 December 1943. The original recommendation states:

‘This officer was captured at Rigel Ridge, Libya, on 14 June 1942. He was transferred to Italy and was imprisoned in Campo 21 at Chieti from 4 August 1942 to 4 August 1943. During this time he was involved in three escape schemes.

On 4 August 1943, he was moved to Campo 19 at Bologna, whence he escaped on 12 September 1943, three days after the occupation of the camp by the Germans. With four other prisoners, Lieutenant Cross hid in an uncompleted tunnel which had been begun on 24 August 1943. He was the second officer to leave the tunnel and was able to climb out of the camp unobserved. In bare feet he followed the railway from Bologna to Castel S. Pietro where he obtained civilian clothes, food and 300 lire from English-speaking Italians. He then walked to Imoli and caught a train to Termoli where the train was taken over by the Germans. He evaded them and made his way from Termoli to Bari, receiving a good deal of help en route from Italians. At Bari he was able to contact British paratroops.

In view of this officer’s enterprise and determination to rejoin the Allied Forces, I strongly recommend that he be awarded the Military Cross.’

Charles Napier Cross was born in Edmonton, Llandaff, Cardiff, in April 1913. Prior to the Second War he was employed as a Director of a company in Bridgend, and played for Cardiff Rugby Club, as well as being a former captain of Glamorgan Wanderers. Cross was commissioned Second Lieutenant in the Worcestershire Regiment, in April 1941. He served with C Company, 1st Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment in North Africa, and was present when the Battalion fought in a gallant defensive action against the 21st Panzer Division at Rigel Ridge, south-west of Tobruk, 14 June 1942. Cross was part of a small number of men left to cover the withdrawal of the main force, and was eventually taken prisoner of war.

The story of Charles Napier Cross’ remarkable 450-mile journey through German-occupied Italy, is reported at great length in his MI9 Debrief, and was retold in a wartime feature that appeared in the Western Mail & South Wales News, on 11 December 1943, from which the following extract has been taken:

‘ ... Six British officers continued their tunnelling operations, and decided to make a new passage under the cookhouse. They knew the officers were going to be moved, and their idea was to stay in the hole, for days if necessary, and come out after the camp had moved.

Then came their first shock. Five of them got into the hole and waited for 15 hours. Coming out to reconnoitre they found that instead of the Germans having left the camp they had moved the British officers and taken the camp over as a barracks.

Then there was a dash for freedom, Lieutenant Cross was second of the five to escape over a 12 ft. wall surmounted by another 4 ft. of wire. Bare-footed he went over another barrier of barbed wire, ran into the vineyards and began his great trek.

After walking some miles with swollen legs and blistered feet he called at a villa and asked for shoes or boots. The occupants gave him boots and civilian clothes, and speaking Italian he was able to pass as an Italian civilian.

After walking another 10 miles, he came between the railway and the road that ran to a town and jumped on a train in a siding. With a handkerchief over his head to the complete the illusion that he was an Italian, he travelled for 100 miles as a passenger. At the end of this journey the Germans searched passengers for arms, but his nationality escaped detection, and he made for open country.

Occasionally, he got lifts in a mule cart; more often he walked, passing from village to village until at last he decided to make for Naples. A peasant warned him that it was impossible to get over the hills so he turned back to a town on the Adriatic coast.

He had little sleep, rising at about one a.m. and travelling through the night and day until 10 p.m. when he had a couple of hours’ sleep and was off again. For food he helped himself from the vineyards. In the villages he bought macaroni and spaghetti and sat at cafe tables with other Italians.

Sometimes he was asked too many questions. He escaped from a difficult situation by saying he had been with one of the Bersaglieri regiments, and, pointing to a mark on his face, said he had suffered a wound which made talking difficult.

He had little trouble in bluffing the Germans. Sometimes an Italian who guessed his identity would shake hands with him, and, with a sly wink, help him on his way.

When some 30 miles from the British lines a group of Italians mistook him for an escaping German and put him in a local gaol. But he managed to get out and shortly afterwards arrived at a town where he met a platoon of British paratroops.

Lieutenant Cross, who has owned a business in Bridgend for the past seven years, is a son of the late Mr. Ernest Cross, managing director of Messrs. Cross Brothers, Cardiff, and will be remembered among Cardiff Rugby followers as a former player with Cardiff Rugby Club and a former captain of Glamorgan Wanderers.’

Cross managed to make contact with British Paratroops at Bari, 18 September 1943, and after a debrief at HQ 5 Corps was sent the following day to Brindisi. Whilst at the latter he was interviewed by General Mason-Macfarlane, Chief of the Armistice Commission. Cross was deemed useful and travel orders were raised for him to escort Herr Thisson (former German Consul at Bari) and his wife from Brindisi to Algiers by air (see original documentation included in lot). Having carried out his duty he returned to the UK via Marrakech, and advanced to Temporary Captain in May 1944. After the war Cross resided at 1 Rectory Road, Penarth, Glamorgan, and died in August 1964.

Sold with a quantity of original documentation including an Allied Forces H.Q. travel order, with several carbon copies, marked “Secret” and dated 21 September 1943, authorising the movement of ‘Herr Thisson, ex-German Consul at Bari and his wife’ to proceed from Brindisi to Algiers, with ‘Lt. C. N. Cross’ as their ‘prisoner of war guard’, together with an Italian post-marked envelope addressed to Cross at his residence in Glamorgan from the Thissons at Merano; the above quoted newspaper feature from the Western Mail & South Wales News; a letter from a freelance journalist asking the recipient for permission to recount his escape story in an edition of The Soldier magazine, dated 13 August 1959; and three photographs, one of them - that shown - believed to have been taken of the recipient while a P.O.W. in Italy. Also with a file of copied research.