Stephen Snelling


Heroes, raids and time-travelling…


It’s been a dizzying week, juggling projects and switching time zones. One moment I was travelling in the slip-stream of ‘Darkie’ Hallows as he skimmed the roofs of Augsburg in a death-defying Lancaster sortie 70 years ago and the next I was following in the footsteps of Harry ‘Crossy’ Cross as he scrambled across the desolate wastes of a first world war no-man’s-land to recapture a couple of machine-guns with nothing more than a revolver and his own mighty resolution.

An artist's impression of Harry Cross earning his VC on the Somme in March 1918

‘Crossy’ has been a hero of mine for years, ever since a chance encounter with his grandson more than 20 years ago. As a Norfolk holder of the Victoria Cross, ‘Crossy’s’ brave action was familiar to me, but it was the character of the man that made his story so compelling. Here was an ordinary country boy from Shipdham, a carpenter’s son who left home at 15 for London in a bid to make his fortune. He failed. His life was one of constant struggle. Such was his poverty several of his children died in infancy. His second wife and two more children were killed during the London Blitz. And yet, he remained undaunted. As tough as they come, ‘Crossy’ battled on and achieved a second dose of fame when he loaned his VC to David Niven for the filming of ‘Carrington VC’.

'Crossy' presenting his VC to David Niven for the film 'Carrington VC'

The irony of it all is that the outstanding courage of a man who had nothing beyond his own stout heart has just made his descendants richer to the tune of around £185,000! For that’s the sum that his film star, celebrity-linked medal group made at auction in London this week. Hardly seems fair. But then, I suspect ‘Crossy’ would never have sold his treasured medals – and, incidentally, they included a Military Medal for bravery as well – at any price.

Harry's magnificent group of medals that made a small fortune at auction this week

I was glad, at least, that the publicity surrounding the sale meant that ‘Crossy’s’ story was able to reach a new audience. He deserves to be better known and more widely remembered and to that end the EDP and About Anglia did him proud.

Incidentally, in helping with the TV coverage, it was good to catch up with an old journalist friend. I’ve known Malcolm Robertson since the late 1970s when we were both relatively new to the game. Malcolm was covering Norwich City and I was following the fortunes and misfortunes of King’s Lynn Stars speedway team. Back then, we were also still fit enough to play a bit and one of my enduring footballing memories is of a fiery ‘Robbo’ sending off – for sheer incompetence – the match referee, one David Jennings who later went on to become his boss at Anglia!

Talking of Anglia, it should be worth checking out the news later in the week as they prepare to mark the 70th anniversary of the Baedeker Blitz on Norwich. Along with BBC Look East, whose Mike Liggins popped round a couple of weeks back to do some filming, they are looking back on the raids that made such a devastating impact on the city. It will be interesting to see what their take is on a story that continues to reverberate all these years on.

On that same subject, next Saturday (April 28) will see a number of events taking place to commemorate the beginning of Norwich’s ordeal by fire in the spring and summer of 1942. A service of remembrance is being held in Earlham cemetery where so many of the victims of the early onslaught were buried (11am). And at the Norwich Arts Centre, where an exhibition of photographs chronicling the bombing continues until May, a day of talks, walks and activities is being held to mark one of the most significant anniversaries in the city’s recent history. I shall be joining blitz ghost photographer Nick Stone to discuss the raids and their impact on the lives of thousands of ordinary people. In the process, I suspect and certainly hope we will discover more insights about the raids from those who actually lived through those darkest of days.

The full programme for the arts centre open day, which is entirely free and runs from 10am to 4pm in St Benedict’s, is:

Arts Centre programme - Baedeker Raids 70th Anniversary Event


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