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JOHN TRAVERS CORNWELL  V.C. Boy, First Class, Royal Navy.

 

 

    
    CORNWELL, JOHN TRAVERS,
Boy, First Class, Royal Navy, was born on 8 Jan. 1900, at Leyton, son of Eli and Alice Cornwell. He was educated at Walton Road School, Manor Park. He wished to be a sailor when he left school, but his parents could not bear the thought of losing him so soon so he bravely turned to the work that lay to his hand, and became a boy on a Brook Bond's tea van. He was also a keen Boy Scout, and held two certificates. When the European War broke out his father promptly joined the Army, and Jack Cornwell was given his chance to join the Navy. He went through preliminary training at Devonport from 27 July, 1915 and became a First Class Boy on HMS Chester for active service in Admiral Beatty's North Sea Squadron. A few months after Jack Cornwell joined his ship, Admiral Beatty came to grips with the German High Seas Fleet near Jutland 31st May 1916;  he was mortally wounded in action, and died two days later in Grimsby hospital. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross [London Gazette, 15 Sept. 1916] : " John Travers Cornwell, Boy (First Class), O.N. J.42563: Mortally wounded early in the action, Boy, First Class, John Travers Cornwell remained standing alone at a most exposed post, quietly awaiting orders, until the end of the action, with the gun's crew dead and wounded around him. His age was under sixteen and half years."

The story of his brave deed was told in the following letter, written to his mother by the Captain of his ship :

" I know you would wish to hear of the splendid fortitude and courage shown by your son during the action of 31 May. His devotion to duty was an example for all of us. The wounds which resulted in his death within a short time were received in the first few minutes of the action He remained steady at his most exposed post at the gun, waiting for orders. His gun would not bear on the enemy ; all but two of the ten crew were killed or wounded, and he was the only one who was in such an exposed position. But he felt he might be needed, and, indeed, he might have been ; so he stayed there, standing and waiting, under heavy fire, with just his own brave heart and God's help to support him. I cannot express to you my admiration of the son you have lost from this world. No other comfort would I attempt to give to the mother of so brave a lad, but to assure her of what he was, and what he did, and what an example he gave, I hope to place in the boys' mess a plate with his name on and the date and the words, ' Faithful unto Death.' I hope some day you may able to come and see it there. I have not failed to bring his name prominently before my Admiral."

Admiral Sir David Beatty himself, in his official Despatch describing the battle, wrote :

" Boy (First Class) John Travers Cornwell, of the Chester, was mortally wounded early in the action. He, nevertheless, remained standing alone at a most exposed post, quietly awaiting orders till the end of the action, with the gun's crew dead and wounded all round him. His age was under sixteen and a half years. I regret that he has since died, but I recommend his case for special recognition in justice to his memory, and as an acknowledgment of the high example set by him."

The " Times History of the War " says, in Vol. II., page 189, of Jack Cornwell:

" He was only a boy, under sixteen and a half years of age; yet no record of the Cross was more impressive than that of his behaviour in the Jutland battle : Mortally wounded early in the action, he remained standing alone at a most exposed post, quietly awaiting orders, until the end of the action, with the gun's crew dead and wounded all round him. Some time elapsed before the steadfast courage of the boy was made known. Meanwhile he had been brought ashore, he had died at Grimsby of his wounds, and through one of the stupid blunders which are inseparable from officialdom he had been buried in what was no better than a pauper's grave. No sooner was the truth known of the lad's last hours of life and the manner of his death than public opinion demanded a befitting reinterment. Accordingly the body was exhumed, and there was an impressive funeral in Manor Park Cemetery. A few months afterwards the boy's father, Eli Cornwell, who had joined the Army, was buried in the same grave." . . . A committee was formed to organize a national memorial to Jack Cornwell. and 21,849 13s. 111/2d. was raised. " A picture of the boy, standing by his gun, with Admiral Sir David Beatty's report of the incident, occupies a position of honour in more than 12,000 schools. At Buckingham Palace, on 9 February, 1917, the Queen received the members of the Jack Cornwell Memorial Fund Committee, who presented to her the first instalment of the proceeds of the appeal. Admiral Lord Beresford presented an address explaining the objects of the fund and the means adopted to carry them out. One form of the memorial was a contribution of 18,000 collected in the schools and by scholars of the United Kingdom to the ' Star and Garter' Fund, and it was proposed as another part of the scheme to place a portrait of Cornwell in each of the contributing schools. In accepting a cheque for 18,000, the Queen said : ' I am glad to know that in every school where the scholars have contributed to this memorial a picture of Jack Cornwell will be placed, which will serve to remind future generations of scholars in those schools of the lasting glory that attaches to the performance of duty.' On 23 March, 1917, a large company witnessed at the Mansion House the presentation to the Board of Admiralty of Mr. Frank O. Salisbury's picture, ' John Cornwell, V.C., on H.M.S. Chester.' Sir Edward Carson, the First Lord, received the picture on behalf of the Admiralty. The picture showed the lad standing by the side of a gun, which had just been fired. The inscription gave the official details of Cornwall's act. The artist unveiled the picture, and in formally presenting it to the Admiralty, said that the studies were taken on board the Chester. Cornwell's brother sat for the portrait. The captain, on being asked for a title for the picture, replied that he knew of none which was more appropriate than this : ' Thou hast set my feet in a large place.' In accepting the gift on behalf of the Admiralty, Sir Edward Carson paid a high tribute to the dead lad's courage and example. ' I ask people who grumble' he said, ' if they ever heard the story of John Travers Cornwell. ... I feel that this boy, who died at the post of duty, sends this message through me as First Lord of the Admiralty for the moment to the people of the Empire:  "Obey your orders, cling to your post, don't grumble, stick it out."