Courageous Ron Cross died peacefully yesterday afternoon at Tudor Lodge Nursing Home, in Newgate Lane, Fareham, following a short illness.
The decorated war hero from Alverstoke was part of the 79th Armoured Division when he landed on Juno Beach at H-Hour on D-Day – two days before his 24th birthday.
As a demolitions non-commissioned officer assigned to an Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers Churchill tank it was his job to blow up anything in the way to make gaps for tanks.
Ron’s heroism during the June 6 invasion, in 1944, earned him France’s highest medal for valour, the Legion d’Honneur in 2016.
Tributes have now been paid in honour of the ‘wonderful’ grandfather of three.
His 70-year-old son, Martyn Cross, of Gosport, said: ‘My dad had a very active life. He really did love life. He was extraordinary.
‘He was unbelievably brave during the war – they all were. It was a job and they all got on with it. If they hadn’t, the world would have been a very different place.
‘But he didn’t talk about the war for a long time. It upset him too much talk about D-Day.’
Ron’s tearful daughter, Jane, said she was heartbroken by her dad’s death.
‘He always said he had a wonderful life,’ she added. ‘He was a marvellous dad. We loved him so much. He was incredible.’
Born in Milton Road, Milton, Portsmouth, on June 8, 1920, Ron was the second-youngest of five siblings.
He joined the Royal Engineers in August, 1940, before taking part in the invasion of mainland Europe four years later as a Corporal.
From Normandy, Ron fought with his battalion through France and towards Germany, where he stayed until the end of the war.
He witnessed the carnage at the Falaise gap, describing the scene as ‘horrible’.
Ron took part in three further landings in Holland and was mentioned in dispatches.
Mark Stevens, chairman of the Solent and District Branch Royal Engineers Association, said the retired Sapper’s legacy would never be forgotten.
‘New sappers and veterans like myself hold guys like Ron in absolute awe,’ he said. ‘It took incredible courage to do what they did and to clear mines and explosive traps while under direct enemy fire. Ron’s legacy will never be forgotten.’
Demobbed in 1946, Ron joined the Royal Navy Hospital, Haslar, as a woodwork instructor.
But soon his skills turned to patient care and rehabilitation and he trained as an occupational therapist, remaining at Haslar for 37 years.
His commitment to the hospital saw him being awarded an MBE 1980, which was presented to him during a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage said: ‘Ron was a local hero in every sense of the word.
‘He fought for our country at D-Day, where he was awarded the Legion d’Honneur for his courage. He served our community, earning an MBE for his work at the Royal Hospital Haslar. And he was a stalwart of Gosport Cricket Club.
‘There will be tears shed across Gosport today for a man who was, quite simply, a local legend.’
Active in the community, Ron was the chairman of the Gosport Stroke Club.
A lover of sport, Ron was a stalwart at Gosport Cricket Club, serving with distinction for more than half a century, initially as a decent opening batsman.
After retiring with a back injury, he became one of the best-known umpires on the circuit and officiated for more than 40 years.
His contribution to the game is marked by a commemorative seat alongside the pavilion at Privett Park.
Ron became ill over the festive period, spending a brief spell in Queen Alexandra Hospital.
Coronavirus restrictions meant his family was not able to see him before he died.
Martyn said it was ‘really upsetting’ not being able to say goodbye but added: ‘Dad didn’t like being as ill as he was. He wanted to go. He was ready to go.
‘In a way I was glad he could go while his nursing home, which was more homely. It was a relief.’
Ronald leaves behind his wife, Hazel, children Martyn and Jane, younger sister Joan, grandchildren Amy, Jamie and Sian and step-grandchildren Adrian and Phillip