Friday, April 29, 2016

Fullbore Friday

Earlier this week, I had one of my evergreen arguments over the use of, "kids" to describe those who serve.

I'm sorry, 18, 19, and even 25 year old men and women are just that, men and women. We all put our lives in their hands every day, I find the paternalistic "kid" a bit insulting and can cause some to expect less of them. 

Perhaps it is just me being pedantic, it probably is.

"Kids" is better than "boy" and "girl," I suspect - but maybe it isn't just me, maybe it is just "us." We don't expect much from our young men and women as a society compared to what was expected just a few generations ago.

Adult college graduates, especially the young men, still living at home. They have the car, clothes and the external trappings of an adult, but they live as small children. Waiting for the roast-duck of life to fly in their mouth, making excuses for their own timidity and poor decisions.

Don't even get me started with the men and women in their early-20s, smart and well educated, who can't even deal with different opinions or little words that seem to send them in to a spiral.

Do they behave as such because we let them, or do we encourage them to never rise to adulthood? Either way, it is mostly the fault of poor leadership from their elders.

Back to boys and girls - but in this case let's look at the term "boy" as it was used just 100 years ago. A first class boy, or as it were, a Boy First Class;
At the outbreak of war, Jack's father Eli, an ex-soldier, re-enlisted as a Private in the 57th Coy. Royal Defence Corps. It was The Royal Navy that appealed to Jack and at the age of 15 he took references from his Headmaster and his employer along to a local recruitment office and enlisted.

He was sent to Keyham Naval Barracks in Plymouth for his basic training where he earned sixpence a week as a "Boy Second Class". He passed out as Boy First Class J. T. Cornwell J/42563 and when he left Keyham, (referred to in naval terms as H.M.S. Vivid) he was posted to H.M.S. Lancaster which was moored at Chatham. Jack was later ordered to join the fleet at Rosyth in Scotland and on the 2nd of May 1916 he joined the newly commissioned H.M.S. Chester.

The Battle of Jutland began on the 31st of May 1916, the first shots being fired at 14.28. H.M.S. Chester was stationed ahead of the fleet in The North Sea. Lookouts reported distant gunfire and her Captain ordered "Action Stations" before setting off at full speed to investigate. Close ahead they encountered four German cruisers. Jack took orders via headphones from his Officer on the bridge. He was fully responsible for setting the gun's sights and his speed and precision would determine whether they were to hit or miss their target. The German cruisers opened fire and Jack's gun was one of the first to be hit before it could be brought into action and he suffered a serious wound to his chest. H.M.S. Chester simply could not match the firepower of the four enemy cruisers. 

A report from the Commanding Officer of H.M.S. Chester: "Boy (1st Class) John Travers Cornwell of the "Chester", was mortally wounded early in the action. He 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 all round him".

H.M.S. Chester sustained severe punishment, being hit seventeen times. She was ordered back to the port of Immingham on the Humber.

Jack was taken to hospital in Grimsby and attended by Dr. C. S. Stephenson, but he could not be saved and died of his wounds on June 2nd, 1916. His body was brought back to East Ham in a naval coffin and his family buried him in a private ceremony at Manor Park Cemetery, in a communal grave numbered 323.

When the story of Jack's heroism and somewhat humble burial was publicised, it was decided, due to strong public opinion that Jack should have a burial fit for a hero.

On the 29th of July 1916, Jack Cornwell's body was exhumed and carried by gun carriage from East Ham Town Hall to Manor Park Cemetery where he was reburied with full naval honours.

In the procession, along with members of the family were: Mr. R. Banks Martin the Mayor of East Ham, Sir John Bethell M.P.,The Bishop of Barking, boys from Walton Road School, local cadets and scouts and boy sailors from H.M.S. Chester. The Admiralty was represented by Dr. Macnamara M.P.

On the 15th of September 1916, the official citation appeared in The London Gazette stating that John Travers Cornwell had been posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross by King George V.
What about his mother?
On the 25th of October 1916 Jack's father Eli died whilst on active service. The following month, on the 16th of November 1916, Jack's mother received her son's V.C. from The King at Buckingham Palace.

By 1919, Jack's mother Lily, was living in reduced circumstances and working in a sailors' hostel to supplement a very small pension awarded for her son. She was found dead at her home in Commercial Road, Stepney, on the 31st of October 1919 aged 48 and never saw the memorial erected on her son's grave. She shares a grave with Jack and Eli at Manor Park Cemetery, although her name is recorded as Alice.

The memorial stone was unveiled on the 31st of December 1920, by Dr. Macnamara M.P. with members of the family present and A.H. Wiseman, the Mayor of East Ham. The Boy Scouts and Sea Scouts provided a guard of honour.
Finally, a little note for you next time you are in London. It's right across from Captain Bligh's house;
The gun that Jack manned from H.M.S. . Chester, was taken to the Imperial War Museum in March 1936 and is still on display today, along with Jack's medals which were deposited in the museum by Jack's stepsister Alice Payne on the 28th of November 1968.
Now I am mad at myself. When I was at the IWM, I walked right past his gun. When you get a chance, take up my slack and visit a bit of what a "boy" can do.


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