Hundreds mark bravery of 'Jack' Cornwell

6 June 2016 in Events
The unveiling of a special commemorative stone in East Ham marking the brave actions of one of the youngest ever people to receive a Victoria Cross, was witnessed by hundreds of people yesterday (5 June).
Victoria Cross stone
​John ‘Travers’ Cornwell (nicknamed Jack Cornwell) was just 16-years-old when he heroically stayed at his post on HMS Chester during the Battle of Jutland in May 1916 despite being severely wounded. He died in Grimsby Hospital on June 2, 1916.

Deputy Mayor of Newham, Councillor Lester Hudson, and 14-year-old Cadet Kacey-Leigh Jasper, from the Newham Cornwell VC Sea Cadets, unveiled the special stone marking Jack’s actions during a special ceremony at the Central Park Cenotaph.

The Victoria Cross (VC)  is the highest award for gallantry a member of the British and Commonwealth military services can achieve.

Five people from Newham received the VC during World War 1. Newham Council is honouring each of them by laying a special stone at the Cenotaph around the 100th anniversary of the act of bravery they received the award for.

At the outbreak of the war in 1914, Jack tried to join the Royal Navy but was turned down because at 14 he was too young. A year later in October 1915 he re-applied to join the Navy, without his father’s permission, and was accepted.

On 31 May, 1916 Boy, 1st Class, Cornwell was aboard HMS Chester during the Battle of Jutland. His ship came under fire from four German cruisers. The gun mounting where he was the sight setter was hit and the entire gun’s crew, except for him, were killed.

Jack was severely wounded by shards of metal embedded in his chest, but managed to stand up and remain at his post until the heavily damaged HMS Chester retired to the port of Immingham in Lincolnshire.

Councillor Hudson said: “It is an honour to mark the 100th anniversary of the bravery of Jack Cornwell. The inscription on his grave in Manor Park sums up Jack with the words ‘it is not wealth or ancestry, but honourable conduct and a noble disposition that make men great.’

“Jack should not have been in battle at all at his age, but in extraordinary circumstances he showed determination and bravery. It is right that we remember people who have died serving their country, and it’s right that Jack’s bravery is still remembered to this day.

“I hope that as a society we never again face the destruction and loss of life experienced in World War I. But we must continue to show our pride in those who have served in the armed forces and those who continue to serve.”

The annual parade by the Newham Cornwell VC Sea Cadets and The Royal British Legion in his honour preceded the unveiling of the stone. Before the ceremony they marched to the Cenotaph from the Cornwell VC Cadet Centre, while afterwards the parade headed to the nearby Newham Town Hall.

Lieutenant Commander, Mark Van Den Berg RNR provided the Victoria Cross citation at the ceremony and chaplain to the Royal British Legion, The Reverend Fred Ashford-Okai, blessed the stone. The ceremony was also attended by the Young Mayor of Newham, Alex Jarrett and members of Jack’s family.

Clare Wallace came with her 11-year-old daughter Angel. Clare said: “Our mum, Mary Cornwell, was John’s cousin, though everyone in the family called him Jack. His story has been handed down through the generations. We are all immensely proud of him. It is important that we keep telling his story, especially among the younger members of the family.

“We are honoured that Newham is keeping Jack’s name alive with the street and community centre named after him. This commemorative stone will also be a permanent memorial to him. We are lost for words by it, and it is somewhere else we can bring the family so that we can keep on remembering him.”

Clare’s sister Paula Keeling, who has researched the family’s history, said: “When we were young our mum used to take us to the Imperial War Museum and now we do the same. My ten-year-old grandson already knows the story well and so does Clare’s daughter Angel. We have many pictures which we will keep passing down.”

The Queen’s Representative, Deputy Lieutenant for Newham, John Barber Esq DL, carried out a reading and Cadet Jasper provided a Jutland epitaph. A number of wreathes were also be placed at the Cenotaph.

A special exhibition, entitled Newham in the Great War, was on display at the Town Hall between noon and 1pm on the day as well.

It is the third commemorative stone to be laid at the Central Park Cenotaph. Stones honouring Midshipman George L. Drewry from Forest Gate and Second Lieutenant Edgar K. Myles from East Ham were unveiled in April 2015 and April 2016 respectively.

The fourth stone will be laid in honour of Lance Corporal Harold Mugford in April 2017.