Maritime Hero

21st January 2008, 08:09
Maritime Hero

In writing my childhood story last year I was reminded of when I was a nine year old living near Kaitaia in the far north of New Zealand in 1943 and recovering from a serious case of pneumonia. The treatment was weeks in bed, hot kaolin poultices to the chest and stay warm in those days before the advent of wonder drugs. At the same time my father had done a job for a local farmer who was unable to pay the ten pounds fee and as an alternative he offered Dad an ‘as new’ set of Arthur Mee’s Children’s encyclopedia which was willingly accepted. These books, first published in 1908 and later packaged as ten volumes in a small oak book case, were sold throughout the British Empire and particularly by weary door to door salesmen trying to earn a living during the great depression years which was when our farmer friend had been persuaded to buy.
They certainly took a lot of the boredom out of my days of convalescence, ones without TV, radio, videos or even many books and I rapidly sorted out the sections that entertained me at that age.

One particular story I remember taking to heart was the account of a young Jack Cornwell who was awarded the Victoria Cross at the age of 16 years, the youngest ever Royal Navy recipient.

John Travers Cornwell was born in London in1900 and with his father’s permission joined the Royal Navy at 15 years of age as a seaman boy. After training at Keyham Naval Barracks in Plymouth as a sight setter and gun layer he was posted to the light cruiser HMS ‘Chester’ to serve in the battle of Jutland.
An attack on HMS Chester by four German warships saw Jack’s gun turret receive a direct hit killing most of the gun crew and mortally wounding the boy but he remained at his post awaiting further orders from the Gunnery Officer on Chester’s bridge. The severity of the damage to HMS Chester prevented continuing the battle and the ship was ordered to make for the Humber and the Port of Immingham where the wounded were taken off and admitted to the Grimsby hospital.
There Jack was attended by an Admiralty surgeon but he died of his wounds and was buried in Grimsby
When the full story of his last hours and his devotion to duty became known he was hailed as a hero, awarded the Victoria Cross and his body exhumed and re interred with full honours at Manor Park Cemetery London where a monument dedicated by the scholars and ex scholars of the schools of East Ham exists today.
.A war artist painted a graphic and now famed painting of Jack at his post using his young brother as a model.
His Mother was presented with her son’s Victoria Cross by King George the 5th

My own father was born in Romford Road Manor Park in 1901 and although he moved to Warrington Crescent Maida Vale as a young lad he was able to recall and tell me all about the young hero when I discovered the story in the children’s encyclopedia.

Google search and Google image search give several full accounts of this Lad’s bravery and photographs of the war artist’s impressions.
‘John Cornwell – wikipedia’ web site gives a good account.

It was only a few weeks after discovering this story of the First World War that I was back at school and we were told that an ex pupil Flying officer Lloyd Trigg had been awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross after an encounter with a German U Boat, a story which I recounted in my WW2-the safer fringe Thread.

To a small boy at the time Heroes were “in”

Bob Jenkins

21st January 2008, 11:18
I remember spending hours ploughing through a Collins encyclopedia when I was a kid, one entry leading to another and I especially loved the maps. It was a bit like "the Internet with clothes on".

Nice story, Bob, it would have been especially exciting for you to come across that story and then finding your father knew young Jack.

John T.