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Film charting Black war hero Ulric Cross’s extraordinary life to be screened tonight

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Ulric Cross, shown in a 1944 documentary

One of the most decorated West Indian servicemen of the Second World War, he was only ten seconds away from death on 80 different missions as an RAF squadron leader.

And that was just the beginning of a remarkable life for Trinidadian Ulric Cross which has now been turned into a film called Hero that is playing in Hamilton this evening and has been snapped-up by Netflix.

His son, Richard Finch, a war baby who never met his father until his forties, is in Bermuda to promote the movie.

Richard said: “During the war – Britain was losing the war – and they put a call out to the Commonwealth to come and help Britain.

“So, the Black guys from all over the West Indies came to England including my father, and at the end of the war they left – and they left behind 4,000 brown babies.

“I was a brown baby, but I was very lucky in a way.”

Describing his father’s bravery, Richard said: “He was made a squadron leader in a very elite squadron that was set up.

“Britain was losing, and 80 per cent of their bombs were missing their targets.

“So, the RAF set up a squadron called the Pathfinders Squadron, and the Pathfinders, they flew over the target and they dropped flares that lit-up the target and the bombers went right behind them – and they had ten seconds to get out of the way.

“Obviously, you light up the target, that also lights up you. My dad did 80 missions over Germany – nobody did as many as that.

“He was in a wooden plane – a Mosquito. Only one in eight Pathfinders came back alive.”

Richard Finch (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Richard is not directly featured in the film, but jokingly wonders if his conception may be depicted in one scene.

The former university lecturer chuckles, saying: “He is having it away with a lady on London Bridge.

“I have got a half sister who is two weeks younger than me – so, when he wasn’t dropping bombs, he was firing bullets.”

Ulric returned to the Caribbean, before coming back to London to work in the Colonial Office by day, while studying for a law degree by night.

After qualifying he could not get a job as a lawyer because he was Black.

He joined the BBC World Service and became an important figure as Africa threw-off the shackles of empire, writing the constitutions for newly independent Ghana and Cameroon.

He also drew-up the constitution for the doomed transcontinental United States of Africa project before moving to Tanzania as a High Court Judge, a position he also held when he returned to the Caribbean in the 1970s

The wartime hero was then made Trinidad and Tobago’s High Commissioner to London, a role which also saw him become ambassador to France and Germany.

Richard said: “He had a very dry sense of humour. He went to present his diplomatic credentials in Germany, and I don’t know if they had done their home work, but one of them said ‘so, Ulric have you been to Germany before?’ – and he said ‘well, I did fly over it a few times’.”

The story of Ulric, Richard and his half sister Sue is really a triple triumph over racism.

Abandoned in a children’s home, because his white mother was forbidden by her family to keep a mixed race baby, Richard was rescued by a caring Yorkshire woman.

Richard said: “I was put in a babies home, and all these babies that were kept in this home were kept in pillow cases tied with string, with just their heads sticking out – and I’m sure that many of them died. At the age of 18 months I couldn’t sit up.”

Richard said at the time very few mixed race babies found new families, but his adoptive mum, who was a nurse, had a chance meeting with the sister of his birth mother.

The woman told him no one would adopt her sister’s child.

The nurse said: “I’ll have him, to which the woman replied: ‘Oh, but I have to tell you. he’s coloured’.”

To which the nurse, who could not have children of her own, said: “I don’t care whether he’s purple or green.“

His adoptive mother meet Ulric once when Richard was a baby and described his father in a blunt Yorkshire accent as “very tall, very black and very handsome”.

After facing some racism at school, Richard rose to be a university lecturer.

It was only a chance encounter when he was 40 that led him to contact his father for the first time.

Richard was running a multicultural festival in Worcestershire, England, which was opened by the ambassador from Trinidad and Tobago.

He recalls: “The ambassador said ‘are you from Trinidad? I said ‘well, indirectly – my father was from Trinidad, but I was adopted, his name was Ulric Cross’.

“And the ambassador replied: ‘Ulric Cross? I was speaking to him on the phone last week’”.

Ulric then flew to London to meet his son, and Richard finally met his half sister.

While Richard had a loving adoptive family, the experience of his half sister was different.

Richard said: “Her story was much more traumatic than mine. We are writing a book together about our contrasting lives.

“She was told that she was an orphan, and adopted by a middle class white family in Surrey.

“Whenever anybody came to the house as a little girl they used to hide her under the stairs.

“They had a car, she had to lie on the floor of the car when they were driving.”

And then, in an incredible twist of fate, his half sister found out the truth.

Richard said: “When she was 24 and up in Manchester, her adoptive mother died.

“After the funeral her older sibling took her back to her flat, opened a bottle of wine, and said ‘that wasn’t your mother who has just died, that was your grandmother – I am your mother’.”

Sue became one of the first Black female presenters on British TV and ended up marrying Labour Party strategist Lord Hollick – making her Lady Hollick.

Richard is proud of the film, saying: “This young black guy from a small island achieving all these things, especially in Africa.

“It’s a wonderful film, most films featuring black protagonists, they are either spies or drug addicts, or something like that – in this he is truly a hero.“

Hero is playing at the Speciality Cinema at 6.30pm Thursday, April 21. Tickets are $10 and only available at the cinema.

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Published April 21, 2022 at 7:55 am (Updated April 21, 2022 at 8:04 am)

Film charting Black war hero Ulric Cross’s extraordinary life to be screened tonight

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