Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1916, Boy Seaman 1st Class John Travers “Jack” Cornwell V.C., the Royal Navy, died from wounds received earlier during the Battle of Jutland.
The son of Eli Cornwell who had served extensively in the Royal Army Medical Corps, he was educated at Walton Road School in Manor Park, which would later be re-named the Jack Cornwell Secondary Modern School. He then worked as a delivery boy on a Brooke Bond tea van, joined the 11th East Hall Scout Troops, and dreamed of joining the Royal Navy. At the outbreak of the Great War, he tried to join up but was rejected because of his age, and had to wait until July of 1915 when he was accepted and began his service on H.M.S. Chester.
On the 31st of May in 1916, during the Battle of Jutland, H.M.S. Chester came under intense fire from four Kaiserliche Marine cruisers – their approach had not been immediately apparent due to the haze and the smoke from the battle. Jack was serving as a sight-setter and was severely wounded, with the rest of the gun-crew either dead or dying. He remained at his post, waiting for orders, until H.M.S. Chester retired from the action over a quarter of an hour later; he was found to have steel shards in his chest.and was taken to Grimsby General Hospital, but could not be saved. He passed away before his mother arrived, and his father, who had joined the Home Guard, was to pass away three months later.
In July, 1916, Admiral of the Fleet David Beatty recommended that Jack be honoured, and in Parliament Lord Charles Beresford brought up the question of Jack receiving the Victoria Cross posthumously. Jack was given a funeral with full military honours after being exhumed from a common grave which was deemed unsuitable for such a hero. The Victoria Cross citation reads: “The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the grant of the Victoria Cross to Boy, First Class, John Travers Cornwell, O.N.J.42563 (died 2 June 1916), for the conspicuous act of bravery specified below. Mortally wounded early in the action, Boy, First Class, Jack 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 all round him.”
Jack, from Leyton in Essex, was 16 years old.