The Battle of Jutland began on 31 May 1916. It was the largest naval battle of the First World War, facilitated by 250 ships and over 100,000 men. One of those brave men was a young boy from Ilford, John ‘Jack’ Travers Cornwell.
At just 16 years of age, Jack joined the Royal Navy and served aboard H.M.S. Chester, in May 1916. He was injured early on in the battle but remained in post under bombardment even when all but two of his crew were injured. Jack died from the wounds he received, at Grimsby Hospital on 2 June 1916.
Commanding Officer of H.M.S. Chester, Captain Robert Lawson, described Jack’s heroism: “His devotion to duty was an example for all of us… He felt he might be needed, as 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.”
He was posthumously award the Victoria Cross by King George V in September 1916. In the same month The Royal Star & Garter Homes started The Jack Cornwell Memorial Fund to establish a ward for injured servicemen in his memory. The Navy League encouraged schoolchildren to donate their pennies, amounting to a total of £21,000. In return for the donations, children received commemorative stamps featuring Jack’s portrait.
A memorial cross in The Parish & Ward Church of St. Botolph-without-Bishopsgate, London, was erected 100 years ago, on 4 August 1916, as a memorial to Jack and other ‘brave dead’.
Vice Chairman of The Royal Star & Garter Homes, Malcolm Chapple, represented the Charity at a service to commemorate the unveiling of the war memorial at The Parish & Ward Church of St. Botolph-without-Bishopsgate on 4 August. He commented: “In the Charity’s centennial year it is important to commemorate all those who have laid down their lives for our nation, as well as those whose lives were shattered and who sought haven at The Royal Star & Garter Homes. In the centenary year also of the death of Jack Cornwell VC, The Royal Star & Garter Homes remembers and acknowledges the initial support and substantial funding which we received from the Jack Cornwell Memorial Fund.”