Royal Naval Museum


Boy Cornwell on HMS Chester, Battle of Jutland 31 May- 1 June 1916


Biography: John "Jack" Cornwell, Boy VC


8th January 1900 - Born at Clyde Cottage, Clyde Place, Leyton (Essex).

May 1905 - July 1910 - Attended Farmer Road School (now George Mitchell School).

1910 - Moved to Alverstone Road, Manor Park and attended Walton Road School (renamed after Cornwell in 1929).

1913? - 1915 - Left school for work. Possibly as a van boy for Brooke Bond or dray boy for Whitbread brewery, Ilford. He was a Scout in the 11th East Ham Troop, gaining his Tenderfoot badge and +2nd class as well as the Missions badge. Also won a special Boy Scout award for freeing a girl from a drain.

August 1914 - Tried to volunteer for the Navy but was turned down on grounds of age.

27 July 1915 - Joined the Navy.

29 July 1915 - Began training as Boy 2nd Class (No: J/42563) at Keyham Naval Barracks, Devonport.

19 February 1916 - Boy 1st Class.

1 May 1916 - Completed training.

2 May 1916 - Joined the newly commissioned HMS Chester.

15 May 1916 - HMS Chester joined the battle fleet at Scapa Flow.

23 May 1916 - Cornwell wrote what was to be his final letter to is parents.

29 May 1916 - HMS Chester completed battle training.

31 May 1916 - Battle of Jutland. HMS Chester was attached to the 3rd Battle Cruiser Squadron, under the command of Rear Admiral Hon. Horace Hood (flagship HMS Invincible), who also lost his life in the battle. HMS Chester acted as link ship between the armoured cruiser screen of the battle fleet and three ships of the 3BCS to pass signals visually.

2.35pm - Enemy ships sighted.

3.48pm - Action commenced at 18,500 yard range.

5.30pm (approx.) - 3BCS was steaming in North Sea 25 miles ahead of the battle fleet with HMS Chester 5 miles further forward.

5.40pm (approx.) - 4 enemy light cruisers appeared in sight. HMS Chester turned to open fire but, being outnumbered, was hit by enemy shellfire 17 times in 3 minutes. 3 out of the 10 guns were disabled and 1/5th of the crew were either killed or wounded, including the entire crew of the forward 5.5" turret gun. This is where Cornwell was stationed as sight setter, to take orders from Fire Control and apply any necessary range corrections to the gun. Mortally wounded, he remained awaiting further orders until the end of the action. Other reports inclue him volunteering to go to the top of the turret to wipe the glass so that the rangefinder could line the target, and another report says that he managed to ram home one last projectile, close the breech and press the firing button and that this projectile exploded on the German ship Wiesbaden, causing damage which led to her sinking.

1 June 1916 - HMS Chester ordered to the Humber. On arrival, the wounded were transferred to Grimsby Hospital, Cornwell amongst them.

2 June 1916 - Cornwell died from his wounds, aged 16 years and 5 months. Later, his body was interred in Manor Park Cemetery with a wooden peg no. 323.

29 July 1916 - Following on from the publication of Admiral Beatty's dispatches, mentioning the courage of the Boy Cornwell, his mother was persuaded to have his body exhumed and re-interred following a state funeral.

15 September 1916 - Cornwell was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously - the youngest person in the Navy to receive the award. Publication of the award in the London Gazette.

16 November 1919 - His mother was presented with the award by King George V at Buckingham Palace. Other awards include the Bronze Cross, the highest Boy Scout award. Lord Baden-Powell institutes the Cornwell Badge.

July 1917 - Lady Jellicoe unveils a commemorative plaque at Walton Road School.

For more information on the Navy's People in the twentieth century, visit our Sea Your History website

© Royal Naval Museum Library, 2005
The information contained in this information sheet is correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for a bibliography of further reading materials, if available.

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