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Ivor George Harry Cross
Able Seaman
Service no. D SSX 23702

 

A newspaper cutting announcing Ivor's incarrceration as a pow (click to enlarge in a new window) (35635 bytes)

A newspaper cutting announcing Ivor's incarceration as a pow

Able Seaman Ivor George Harry Cross (click to enlarge in a new window) (43465 bytes)

Able Seaman Ivor George Harry Cross

Ivor Cross at Changi in 1944 (click to enlarge in a new window) (49690 bytes)

This picture of my father was painted by Charles Thrale in 1944 at Changi Prison, Singapore.


My Father was Ivor George Harry Cross. He was born in Kettering, England, on the 9th of November 1920. His parents were Kate Ellen and George Eady Cross. He was born at 158 Regent Street in Kettering, the home of his maternal grandparents Eliza and Harry White.
The name Ivor was given to him after his parents had run across this name whilst on a visit to Wales, the second name George was after his father and the third name was after his maternal grandfather Harry White. 
His early childhood was spent in the village of Rothwell, also in the county of Northamptonshire, England. At the age of 10 the family moved to the market town of Market Harborough, Leicestershire where his father found employment with the local bakery.
My Grandfather spent the rest of his school years in Market Harborough and at the age of 14 left school to work in a local rubber factory. The work was dreadful and at 16 years old asked his parents if he could join the Royal Navy. They were at first reluctant but later on gave their permission. At this time it was not an easy job to get into the Navy, the exams were strict and quite intense. The Royal Navy was regarded as the Senior Service and therefore the most prestigious of all the British Military Services.
Finally after much paper work and waiting he was assigned to the training ship HMS Wildfire at Sheerness on November 22, 1937 11 days after his 17th birthday, his rank being “Boy 2”. He was now DSSX23702. Life was very hard on the training ship everything was done ‘’at the double’ even eating. Somehow Ivor managed to survive and three months later he was promoted to be “Boy 1” On the 21st June1938 basic training was over and Ivor was assigned to HMS Cardiff on the 5th August 1938.
On the 9th of November (his birthday) he was promoted to the rank of Ordinary Seaman. He spent 10 months on board HMS Cardiff and although it was difficult for a start (he suffered with sea sickness when first out at sea) he had many happy times during the ship’s cruise to the Far East. He particularly enjoyed China and had a fondness for the Chinese people.
Returning to England on the 27th June 1939 he was given a months leave and then assigned to the HMS Repulse on the 28th July. HMS Repulse was a beautiful ship, a battle cruiser, with a displacement of 32,000 tons and capable of 32 knots. In 1936 she had undergone a massive modernization.
When Ivor joined the Repulse she was in Scapa Flow in the Orkneys, Scotland. Scapa Flow was to be the main base for the ship. The first duty after he joined the ship was to patrol the waters of the North Sea.

At 11:00 AM on September 3rd, 1939, a state of war was declared between Britain and Germany. It is believed that an unsuccessful U-boat torpedo attack took place in Scapa Flow within a few hours of the declaration of war, however HMS Repulse did not receive any damage.
HMS Repulse was then assigned to patrolling the waters between Scotland and Iceland protecting the Atlantic convoys. Returning to Scapa Flow and then on to Rosyth in October they narrowly missed another attack on Scapa Flow that sank the HMS Royal Oak. The end of that year saw the Repulse escorting 20,000 Canadians safely across the Atlantic.
A short time after the Battle of Dunkirk the Captain of the Repulse (Captain Spooner) was transferred and replaced by Captain Bill Tennant. Captain Tennant was held in high regard by the crew. Ivor spoke many times of his respect for his Captain. 
During this time, February 1st to be exact, Ivor was promoted to the rank of Able Seaman.
Most of the rest of the year was spent patrolling the Northern waters looking for enemy ships and protecting Atlantic and Russian convoys. No real action took place until May of l941. The giant German battleship “Bismarck” with the cruiser “Prinz Eugen” were trying to get into the Atlantic shipping lanes. HMS Repulse was one of a group of ships sent to stop them. Among these ships were King George V, Prince of Wales, Hood, Illustrious and Rodney.
Tragically when they encountered the German vessels HMS Hood was sunk with a huge loss of life (only 3 survivors). HMS Prince of Wales was slightly damaged and had to break off the engagement. The orders the Repulse received were very disappointing to the Captain and crew. “On no account were they to engage the ‘Bismarck”, they must avoid her”. The ship was ordered to go to Newfoundland for refueling and repairs for damage caused by rough seas. DKM Bismarck was chased by HMS King George V and HMS Rodney, and was so badly damaged it was finally ordered to be scuttled. HMS Repulse now returned to Rosyth, during this period all the crew were given 10 days leave.

The following are notes that Ivor wrote himself (presumably during his time as a P.O.W) about the cruise beginning in 1941 that preceded the battle that sank his ship.
1941
31st August Left Greenock, Scotland approx. 1800 hrs Sunday. Sail for Freetown Sierra Leone, West Africa.
10th September Arrived Freetown Stayed 3 days.
13th September Left Freetown Sailed for St. Helena
24th September Arrived St. Helena. Sailed again same day for Durban, South Africa.
3rd October Arrived Durban had wonderful time for 5 days. Ken was drafted off the ship to be sent home for more exams. (Note: Ken was a shipmate of Ivor’s, a petty officer, he was from the Channel Islands but as they were occupied by the Germans he was unable to go home on leave so would spend them with Ivor in Market Harborough. Ivor was unable to trace him at all after the War.)
5th October Left Durban sailed for Mombasa on East Coast of Africa 
15th October Stayed 3 days - plenty of fruit.
18th October Left Mombasa sailed eastward to Seychelles Islands off the east coast of Africa, believed to be 90 (islands) all told, largest being Baha the one that we stopped at, very interesting place. Stayed 3 days. Arrived on the 24th October.
27th October Left Seychelles sailed southward back to Durban.
3rd November Arrived Durban another wonderful 5 days. (Note: Ivor celebrated his 21st birthday a little early and was taken back on board a little worse for wear.)
8th November Left Durban. Sailed for Mombasa arriving 15th November. Length of stay 5 days.
20th November Left Mombasa sailed for Colombo Ceylon arriving 25th stayed 3 days.
28th November Left Colombo sailed to opposite coast to Trincomalee arriving 29th November Stayed 2 days.
1st December Left Trincomalee with Prince of Wales. Sailed for Singapore, arriving December 5th.
6th December Left Singapore, sailed for Port Darwin, Australia.
7th December Recalled to Singapore with all despatch.
8th December Arrived back in Singapore. Bombed by Japanese on first day of War against them.
9th December Left Singapore with Prince of Wales to find Japanese Convoy. Shadowed by aircraft all day and night.
10th December About 09:30hrs sighted 17 Japanese high level bombers. Bombed again, near misses, approx. 09:45 torpedo attack by about 12 aircraft.
Prince of Wales hit by one amidships. Repulse missed, approx 10:00hrs another attack by bombers and torpedo bombers. Repulse missed again. Prince of Wales listing badly. Repulse shears off from Prince of Wales to take all the attack to help the Prince of Wales get away.
Next attack more aircraft about 10:30hrs. Prince of Wales nearly on horizon still listed and still being attacked. Another torpedo attack on Repulse still no hits but plenty of aircraft shot down, up to 19 torpedoes very near misses. Lull in the action for about 50 minutes.
Next attack by torpedo bombers approx. 11:20 hrs. Repulse still holding good speed. Prince of Wales still in sight on horizon. This attack about 15 aircraft from all directions, and their first hit was scored by one torpedo hitting us on. Port quarter and damaging steering. Another lull in the action put Repulse still doing good speed but steering out of order and ship just going round in circles to Starboard.
Next attack approx. 12:25hrs more aircraft than ever and from all directions, not much hopes of getting away from any, but out of about 20 torpedoes, six hit us in rapid succession, 2 starboard side 4 port side ship listed very quickly to port and sank with all guns firing till the last second.
Survivors were picked up by HMS Electra and HMAS Vampire and taken to Singapore F.S.A.
(This ends Ivor’s notes)

Ivor was in the Crow’s nest on the Repulse when the final attack was made. He had to dive somewhere in the region of 60 to 80 feet to the water. Unfortunately the mate that was with him broke his back in the dive and did not survive. Ivor survived the dive and to quote him he then “swam like hell” to get away from the sinking ship. He was picked up by the HMAS Vampire (Australian) the same ship that picked up Captain Tennant.
We do not know exactly where Ivor was taken ashore but he has told us many times in the past that he was so exhausted he lay right down to sleep in his clothes but took his boots off. When he awoke his boots had been stolen. This was a big upset for Ivor as they had been hand made by his Granddad White who was a shoemaker (Granddad White was a descendent of John White founder of John White Shoes a big Company in the Midlands). The family at home, Ivor’s Mother, Father and his two sisters were sent a message that Ivor had survived the sinking of the Repulse. This was the last they were to hear of him until March of 1943. It was then they learned he was a Prisoner of War.
Various duties were given to Ivor at this time including guarding oil tanks and apparently he had orders to be repatriated to Britain but he never received them. Singapore was in state of chaos at this time and the Japanese were advancing down the Malayan peninsula at a rapid pace.
After spending some time in Singapore he was assigned to the steamer “Mata Hari”. Civilians were being evacuated as fast as possible especially the women and children, and sailors were being drafted to various ships. The “Mata Hari” was one of these vessels, but was unfortunately taken by the Japanese in the Bangkok Straits. It was then that he was captured.
He was taken back to Singapore and together with a small number of men lived in conditions Ivor would never talk about. Their home was two hulks (old ships) in the Singapore Harbour. During this period he was joined by William (Bill) Nicholls. The two became fast friends and would spend nearly four years together as P.O.W.’s. Sadly, over two and a half years more than 50% of the men died through lack of food and medical attention.
The food ration was mostly watery rice, about a cupful at breakfast another at lunch and another in the evening. Each man had a tin cup or something similar that they had scrounged from somewhere, if they did not have a container they did not get food. Only the able bodied received their rations —no work no food— so the sick were left with nothing to eat except what their comrades could share. 
Due to the returned POW’s reluctance to talk about their experiences it is difficult to know exactly what did occur during this time. We do know that Ivor was ferrying a captured ship (probably to Japan) when for some reason it sank. Some of the crew were able to get to shore, including Ivor, but the men were lost in the jungle for two weeks. It was at this time they existed on snails and edible leaves.
In March of 1944 Bill and Ivor were transferred to Changi prison in Singapore. Conditions in the prison were extremely poor. The men barely had room to lay down to sleep. Previously, Changi had been occupied by civilian prisoners, but the Japanese decided to transfer thousands of P.O.W.’s to this prison. The prisoners to build the airstrips for the airport. All of the work was done by hand. No heavy equipment was used. This airport is used to this day for commercial aircraft landing in Singapore. Many prisoners died during this part of the captivity and many became seriously ill. Ivor suffered his worst weight loss at this time. He weighed just 90 pounds when he was released , his normal weight was 155 pounds.
On August 17th 1945, word came to them (there were several hidden radios in the prison) of the Japanese surrender. All the guards disappeared and barricaded themselves in their barracks. That day three medical officers parachuted into the camp and were appalled at what they found. It took several days to get all the men taken care of and the men that were in the Royal Navy were taken to ships in the Harbour to recuperate. They were not allowed to be repatriated to Britain until they had all had medical treatment and were put on special diets to build them up. Sadly, several men passed away after their release.
On September 11th Ivor and Bill were sent aboard the S.S. Monowai for repatriation to Britain. The voyage took the exactly a month, including a stop in Ceylon, where they were given the Royal treatment and were all greeted personally by Lady Mountbatten. The ship docked at Liverpool on October 11th but as the family had no idea of the date it would dock there was no member of either family there to meet the men. It was too late for them to get trains to their home towns so they had to spend the night with a fellow POW, Ginger Baines, whose home was in the Liverpool area.
Happily both Ivor and Bill were able to make it home the next day to happy family reunions.
Ivor was demobbed (discharged) from the Royal Navy in January 1946 but stayed in the Reserve until December, 1950.

He was a key witness at the Japanese War Crimes Trials in London, although he never spoke of this to any of our family

He married Norma O. V. Mason in 1947 and had two children, Stephen & Julie and five grandchildren. He emigrated with his family to Denver, Colorado, USA in 1957 and lived the rest of his life there. He passed away at the age of 63 on the 8th of January 1984 in Aurora, Colorado, USA.

Regards,
Stephen Cross.

Please contact Andy (webmaster) with any information.

Andy Wade (Webmaster)

Information provided by
Steve Cross (Son).

 

 

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