Lives Lost to Covid-19: James Cross once saw his death announced live on TV
British diplomat from Co Tipperary was a central figure in Canada’s October Crisis
Lives Lost: James Cross 1921-2021. Photograph: Jeff Goode/Toronto Star via Getty
This article is one of a series about people who have died with coronavirus in Ireland and among the diaspora. You can read more of them here. If you would like a friend or family member included in the series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
James Cross, who was from Nenagh, Co Tipperary, was a central figure in the October Crisis in 1970, one of the gravest political and constitutional moments in Canada’s history.
He was working as a British diplomat when he was captured by militant Quebecois separatists and held for 59 days.
Police feared the worst when a Quebec minister, who was captured at around the same time, was found dead in the boot of a car.
When another body was discovered, the Canadian media assumed it was Cross, and announced his death while he was watching television with his back to his captors.
“This was naturally an appalling piece of news since I feared that my wife might be watching. I wanted to get up and shake the television set and scream “I’m not dead! I’m not dead!” he recalled years later.
“Finally I think even my captors took pity on me and gave me some aspirin or something to calm me down. The following morning they allowed me to write a letter to my wife.”
James Cross was born on September 29th, 1921, but his mother died in childbirth. He grew up on a 100-acre farm and said of that time many years later: “Nobody starved, but there were no luxuries.”
He was almost killed in 1946 when the Irgun, a Jewish militant group, blew up Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, the headquarters of the British administration in Palestine.
After leaving the British army in 1947, Cross joined the British Board of Trade, which promotes British exports. It was in that capacity he found himself in Quebec at a time when the region’s separatist movement was at its height.
He was kidnapped from his Montreal home on October 5th, 1970. His captors, the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ), a left-wing, separatist organisation, also kidnapped the Quebec minister for labour Pierre Laporte.
In a detailed debrief he gave on arriving back in Britain, Cross recalled: “The FLQ found out about my Irish background when we watched some television programme about the disturbances then going on in Northern Ireland. I do not know whether it made any difference to their treatment of me. I suspect they thought even less of me for being an ‘imperialist lackey’.”
The FLQ agreed to release Cross in December 1970 in return for safe passage of some of its members to Cuba.
He returned to Britain after his release and resumed his career as a civil servant. He never served abroad again.
He retired to Seaford on England’s southern coast.
James Cross outlived both his wife and daughter and died on January 6th from complications arising from Covid-19, according to his son-in-law John Stringer.