Jack Cornwell

The following awards have been approved in connection with the recommendations of the Commander-in-Chief for services rendered by petty officers and men of the Grand Fleet in the action in the North Sea on 31st May- 1st June 1916:-

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 2nd June, 1916), for the conspicuous act of bravery.

London Gazette – 15th September 1916

‘Jack’ Cornwell was only 16½ when he died. Like most working-class lads from the East End he left school at the age of 14 and found a job. He was a keen member of his local Scout Troop and was once praised for rescuing a girl stuck in a drain. Just like hundreds of thousands of other lads Jack had joined Baden-Powell’s newly established youth movement to find adventure and a direction for his life.

HMS Chester

He found both when in October 1915 he enlisted as Boy Seaman First Class in the Royal Navy. After training as a Gun Layer Jack was assigned to the light cruiser HMS Chester’, as part of the crew manning the ships’ main armament – a 5.5 inch Gun. His duties included transmitting the gunnery control officer’s orders to the gun captain and adjusting the gun sights.

Cornwell at gun

On 31 May 1916, HMS Chester’ was scouting ahead of the 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron at the Battle of Jutland when the ship was ordered to investigate gunfire in the distance. At 17:30 hours, HMS Chester’ came under intense fire from four German cruisers which had suddenly emerged from the haze. Jack Cornwell’s 5.5-inch gun mounting was hit at least four times, killing or wounding every member of the crew. Although badly wounded himself Jack remained at his post, awaiting orders from the bridge. Two days after the battle, on 2 June 1916, Jack died in hospital and was unceremoniously buried at Grimsby. He was only 16 years old. When the full story of his heroism became known Jack Cornwell was reburied with full military honours at Manor Park Cemetery. On his headstone the epitaph reads..

“It is not wealth or ancestry but honourable conduct and a noble disposition that make men great.”

In September 1916 Admiral Beatty recommended Jack for a posthumous V.C…

“John Travers Cornwell, who was mortally wounded early in the action, but 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 around him. He was under 16½ years old…. I recommend his case for special recognition in justice to his memory and as an acknowledgement of the high example set by him.”

cornwell as scout

Jack Cornwell is still remembered today – for his youth and courage but also for being a Boy Scout and an advocate of an often misunderstood promise about duty and honour and doing one’s best.

Although Scouting has changed almost beyond recognition since its foundation in 1907 – no more “Bob-A-Job Week”, no more “dyb, dyb, dob, dob”, no more wide brimmed hats or short trousers, no more training in how to stop a runaway horse or identify a spy from his boot studs, there are two aspects that remain the same – the Scout’s Promise to do one’s best and the continuing need to find men and women willing to take up the challenge of leadership. Even Baden-Powell felt compelled to write about the problem.

“A growing spirit of personal friendship and wide-minded goodwill among the future citizens of the world is not beyond the range of possibility if men and women come in to take their share in the promotion of the work… Every day we are turning away young people anxious to join the Movement because we have not the men or women willing to take them on.”

…and so it is with our own local group, the 1st St Margarets. As they approach their 100th anniversary and overwhelmed perhaps by their own success the leadership team are looking for new members to join them. It doesn’t require any experience, it doesn’t require religious faith, it doesn’t require much training. It doesn’t even require you to sleep under canvas or cook sausages on sticks! Apart from looking good on a C.V all scout leadership can promise is fun and a sense of worth. Open to men and women of all ages, from teenagers to pensioners, scout leadership is about helping young people, boys and girls from 6 years old to early adulthood, find a path for themselves through life and to become useful members of society.

There may be not many Jack Cornwells out there – and happily not too many deadly circumstances against which we can test our mettle as he did- but there is a hero lurking inside all of us, with the courage to be honourable and true and to cheerfully face the challenges that life throws at us. The leader’s job is to help find that hero. As Socrates once put it… “No person goeth about a more godly purpose than they who are mindful of not only their own but of other people’s children.”

If you would like to find out more please contact Donna Wilson on 07870 270444, Martyn on martyn@days.demon.co.uk … or drop into St Stephen’s School Hall between 5.00pm and 9.15pm on a Wednesday evening. If it is fun, noisy and challenging, you may have found yourself in a hall of heroes!

Cornwell Scout Badge

Boy Seaman First Class Jack Cornwell is still remembered. His name has been given to streets, flats, a mountain in Canada and a home for disadvantaged sailors. The Sea, Army and Air Training Corps all have units named after him and there is ‘The Cornwell VC Tri-Cadet Centre’ in East Ham.The Scouts commemorate his bravery with ‘The Cornwell Scout Badge’ awarded to members for “pre-eminently high character and devotion to duty, together with great courage and endurance”.

— from Martyn Day

Credit: The painting of Jack Cornwell by his gun is by Frank O Salisbury 1874-1962