George Cross traveled to Normandy with us in June 2009 at the age of 100. He was the oldest veteran to return to France for the 65th Anniversary D-Day Commemorations, and so became quite a celebrity.
George was a very kind and happy man who, in later life, made quite a name for himself as an artist. He took up painting at the age of 67 and found he had quite a talent! His style of painting has been compared to Lowry and his many depictions of the City of Liverpool have become cherished works of art in the North West. His work has been exhibited in St. George’s Hall and also published in his own book ‘Seeing is Believing’.
George landed on Juno Beach on D-Day, 6th June 1944…
“65 years is a long time to go back. But for me it was like a Sunday School Treat!”
Before D-Day, George, like most men of his generation, had never traveled beyond his local area. In the pre-war world travel was expensive and relatively inaccessible to the masses. Indeed many couldn’t see the point. So for most the war brought opportunity for adventure.
“The Landing Craft I was on landed on what they called Juno Beach. Even before we got to the beach there were lots of soldiers’ bodies floating by. We had to disembark and wade through the water just over our knees and make our way to a sand dune.
About 30 of us made it across the beach and started looking for the rest of our Regiment. I began to look around and I could see people walking about, so I thought I’d go for a wander. I managed to find what seemed to be the main street and found a photographer’s shop open. So I went in and asked him if he had any pictures of the local area. He gave me three and I gave him a five franc note back, I don’t know whether I gave him too much or too little! We were issued with two five franc notes and a belgian note, I’d no idea how much they were worth.
The first night we slept in a ditch, having said that we got no sleep! We were still in our wet clothes. In the morning when I awoke I noticed there was a soldier just above the ditch with a bullet right through his steel helmet. One of our officers was passing so I told him and he said to go through his pockets and find out who he is and what Regiment he was in. I remember his name was John Head. He came from Andover, and at just 19 years of age had no parents but a sister who it seemed he used to live with. The Officer ordered us to bury him elsewhere, but we had no tools to bury him with so we had to use our hands. Four of us scraped some of the soil and sand away and covered him over as best we could. I’ll never forget it.
When we got back to camp where we’d found the soldier, the Officer was there and gave me down the banks. He shouted at me and said “You’re a maniac! You could’ve been killed there.” The next day they brought about 30 german prisoners of war from there, but you’d have never thought about that.”
George was a popular and highly-rated bombardier, but he turned down the offer of a stripe so he could stay as one of the lads. He was often confused by the strict army disciplines…
“The second night after we landed the Sergeant Major came along and told us to use what little water we had in our drinking flasks to get a shave. We were sleeping in ditches and trying to survive and he was worried about us shaving!”
George was very pleased to welcome HRH the Prince of Wales to St. George’s Hall where his exhibition was held.
After the war George returned to his job delivering flour for a bakery firm but his scope of interests and talents only grew. An excellent goal keeper, he played a high-level of football in the Army and took part in matches at Manchester City’s former Maine Road ground and Ayr United’s Summerfield Park.
George began painting after being asked to make a rummage sale sign for his church and spent the next 30 years painting Liverpool landmarks on bits of cupboard. Organisers of a community project stumbled across his work and persuaded him to share it with the world.
“Originally I was just asked to paint a sign with poster paints but I must have enjoyed doing it because I got in my car, parked up, and painted a picture of a church and it started from there. Then a neighbour gave me some old oil paints and I just kept going. People would tell me I should sell them, but I never really thought they were good enough. I was very proud of the exhibition. It was a wonderful experience.”
George moved from the Welsh Streets in Toxteth where he lived for 71 years with his late wife, Ivy, when the area was earmarked for demolition. Until his death in 2011, he lived in a new modern apartment which the housing firm named after him in a special ceremony which included children from St. Charles primary school, Aigburth who sang to him.
“I’m a happy person. You’ll often find me singing to myself and I’m out and about three nights a week!”
George returned to Juno beach where he landed 65 years ago and with the help of his old postcards and sketches, he and some of the D-Day Revisited team managed to track down the exact spot where he buried his comrade in the sand. It was an incredibly moving experience for those involved and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. George takes comfort in the knowledge that he has been able to keep the promise he made to that young man all those years ago…