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№ 1315


1 December 2004

Hammer Price:

A fine Second World War escaper’s M.C. group of six awarded to Lieutenant C. N. Cross, Worcestershire Regiment

Military Cross
, G.VI.R., reverse officially dated 1944, and privately inscribed ‘Italy, Capt. Charles N. Cross, 1 Worc. R.’; 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; Italy Star; Defence and War Medals, together with a set of related miniature dress medals, both groups mounted as worn, contact marks, generally very fine (12) £1200-1500

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 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.’

The story of Charles Napier Cross’ remarkable 450-mile journey through German-occupied Italy 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.’

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.