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The Cornwell Award - The Badge of Courage

Cornwell Award

The Cornwell Award, often known as 'the Scout V.C.', takes the form of a bronze badge in the shape of a letter 'C' encircling the Fleur-de-Lys. The 'C' stands for Cornwell but is also the first letter of the word 'Courage'.

John Travers Cornwell
Postcard showing Jack Cornwell in his Scout uniform with his medals - the V.C. (top right) and Scouting Bronze Cross (top left)

John Travers Cornwell, V.C.

KNOWN throughout his life as 'Jack', Cornwell was born in Clyde Cottage, Clyde Place in Leyton, Essex - now Greater London and only 7½ miles south of Gilwell Park - on January 8th 1900. Baden-Powell was besieged in Mafeking at the time. Jack's father Eli, originally from Cambridge, was an ex-soldier who had served in Egypt and South Africa and, after his service, became a tram driver. Jack's birth certificate shows that his mother's name was Lily, née King. She was born in Bedfordshire. At five Jack was sent to Farmer Road School, an imposing three story building less than 100yds from his home. The family moved to Alverstone Road, Little Ilford, London in 1910, and from there Jack attended Walton Road School. At the outbreak of the Great War, Eli Cornwell joined up again and fought in France as a Private in the 57th Coy. Royal Defence Corps. Jack had an elder half-sister Alice, born in 1890, an older brother Ernest Edward, a younger sister Lily, born in 1905 and younger brothers George and Arthur Frederick. At least one of these brothers were to become 'stand-ins' for Jack in pictures of him painted in 1916.

Jack Cornwell became a keen Boy Scout in the St Mary's Mission, Little Ilford Troop. His Scoutmaster J F Avery remembered:

"Nothing was too hard for him ... he would attempt any task ... After passing his Tenderfoot he worked for his Second Class which he eventually won, and kept the pot boiling by passing his Missioner's Badge. This is as far as he got, as at the outbreak of war the officers of his troop enlisted and the Troop was dissolved."

CORNWELL left school at the end of 1913 and became a delivery van boy for Brooke, Bond and Co., and the following year worked as a dray boy for Whitbread's Brewery Depot, Manor Park.

The Royal Navy had always appealed to Jack but his parents refused to allow him join up until the outbreak of the First World War. He was 15 when he walked into a local recruiting office, armed with good references from his Headmaster and his employer, and enlisted. His basic training took place at the Keyham Naval Barracks, Devonport, Plymouth and, identified as a willing and smartly turned-out boy, he had the honour of acting as a messenger for the Keyham Sea School Commander. He was a regular churchgoer and was confirmed at this time at Plymouth by the Company Padre. Jack remained throughout his six-month's training with his 'mess' of nineteen other recruits, all officially known as 'Boys Second Class', earning sixpence a week. He undertook further training as a Sight Setter, a highly responsible position on a warship and one which, in the past, was the post of an experienced sailor. With help and guidance Jack, on July 27th, 1915, passed out as Boy Seaman, First Class, J T Cornwell J/42563, proudly drawing his one shilling a week pay. His mother thought that he adapted well to Navy training because of his previous service in the Boy Scouts. She wrote:- "He was so attached to the Scouts, and so proud of his badges when he brought them home."

ON Easter Monday, 1916, Jack was ordered to join his new ship at Rosyth. HMS Chester was a new light cruiser on its maiden voyage, to be part of 3rd Cruiser Squadron. By 31st May, Chester was on station ahead of the fleet in the North Sea.

Cornwell on radio watch

The Battle of Jutland, fought in the North Sea, off Denmark, was about to begin. It was a battle that was to change the face of sea warfare. It was fought at high speed with guns firing at targets barely visible to the naked eye.

Distant gunfire was heard by the lookouts and the ship was put at 'Action Stations', setting off at full speed (29 knots) towards the battle. Jack's job was to stand by his gun and take orders relayed through his headphones from the Gunnery Officer on the bridge. By means of a calibrated brass wheel, he alone was responsible for the setting the gun's sights, according to his instructions, so the gun could be brought to bear. Whether the shells undershot, overshot, or hit their target, was decided by the promptness and precision with which Jack carried out his orders.

Cornwell at his gun (1)

From out of the mist four enemy cruisers appeared and concentrated their fire on Chester. In all she was hit 17 times by large-calibre shells. Only one gun was left operational. Jack's forward gun was one of the first to be knocked out before it could be brought into action. Jack was surrounded by devastation, the dead and the dying. He himself had received a mortal wound but stood by his weapon, although it could not possibly have been fired, until the ship was eventually relieved by the rest of the fleet. First Aid parties found him still standing by the gun.

The British lost 14 ships and 6,784 men in this the first and only full-scale engagement of the British and German fleets in the First World War. The Germans lost 11 mainly smaller ships and 3,058 men. HMS Chester alone, hopelessly outclassed by the German Battleships, lost 35 souls, six of them listed as 'boys'. Naturally, both sides claimed a victory, but the tremendous loss of life, especially on the British side, could not be justified for what is today generally accepted as an inconclusive battle. As news of the scale of the losses began to trickle through, morale was at last beginning to sag, particularly coupled with the continuing heavy toll being exacted in the trenches of the Somme, and despite the fine words of the First Sea Lord, Sir Winston Churchill that this was "The culminating manifestation of naval force in the history of the world". If ever there was a time when a hero was needed, this was it.

Cornwell at his gun (2)

HMS Chester was unable to continue fighting and was ordered to make for the Humber and the port of Immingham. On entering the estuary, she was met by tugs, which took off the wounded, including Jack.

Cornwell lived long enough to be taken ashore to the hospital in Grimsby, where he was attended by Admiralty Surgeon, Dr. C S Stephenson, who found the boy to be wonderfully brave when told that nothing could be done for him. Jack Cornwell died of his wounds on June 2nd, 1916. His mother had been informed by Admiralty telegraph that her son was seriously wounded, but it arrived after Jack had died. His last words were a message for his mother. He was only 16 years and 6 months old. Grimsby and District Hospital has since been demolished and replaced by the Diana, Princess of Wales Hospital which has a 'Jack Cornwell' ward.

What happened next was quite hard to unravel and I am indebted to my Friend in Scouting, Roy Masini, who pointed me towards the truth. The Imperial War Museum, where Jack's V.C. is displayed (see below), has a card alongside the medals which reads:

"Two days after the battle, Cornwell died in hospital and was buried in Grimsby aged 16. When the full story of his last hours became known his body was exhumed and reburied with full honours at Manor Park Cemetery."

'Daily Sketch'

This, however, was definitely not the case. What actually happened is quite tragic and may be the reason why the truth had become 'obscured'. In August 2003 I visited the National Newspaper Archive at Hendon, London, and was able to read reports of Jack's death and funeral in the daily newspapers of the time.

The Daily Sketch broke the news of 'The Boy Hero' with a stunning front-page photo-montage on Friday, July 7th, 1916 (see image opposite) and followed this up the next day with the revelation that Jack had been buried without a headstone in a 'common grave', already occupied by occupied by other bodies. The article was sub-headlined "Last Resting Place Marked by a Post Numbered 323." It stated that Jack's body had been brought down to his parents' home in London for burial in a coffin provided by the Navy, accompanied by an officer who explained to his parents and friends the heroic circumstances of Jack's death. An undertaker was contacted and the article goes on to say that "the humble members of the bereaved family did not wish to trouble the Admiralty . . . and so the cost of the carriages, the grave and incidental expenses fell on their own slender purse." Jack was buried in Manor Park Cemetery, East Ham, London, with ". . . only a little group of grief-stricken members of his family and a few friends present, in a 'public grave'." The paper explained that public graves, very common at the time, were often only marked by numbered posts and that each grave contained a number of coffins, being dug to a depth of 25 feet with coffins being placed one on top of the other. The communal grave was numbered '323'. The newspaper resolved to start a campaign to ensure that this situation was remedied and that a grave 'fit for a hero' should be provided. The column heading ran: "MISTAKE MUST BE RECTIFIED". Fortunately, because Jack's body was the last to be interred in the common grave it could be exhumed without disturbance to the other coffins.

Jack's image on the front page of the paper was not in fact Jack! Jack was dead but his brother George was a convenient stand in and clothed in an approximate uniform (unfortunately with a 'Lancaster' and not 'Chester' tallyband - Jack never served on the Lancaster, I have a copy of his service record) was photographed and appeared not just on in the paper but on countless postcards and cigarette cards, causing later collectors and historians, including me, some head scratching until the truth finally dawned!

THANKS to the newspaper coverage Jack became a national hero. His body was exhumed and re-buried in Manor Park with full naval honours on Saturday July 29th, 1916. The marble memorial grave in the picture shown here was provided by funds subscribed by scholars and ex-scholars from East Ham, the district of London where Jack went to school.

Jack's memorial reads:-

"In Memoriam

First Class Boy JOHN TRAVERS
Born 8th January 1900
Died of wounds received at
The Battle of Jutland
2nd June 1916

This Stone was erected
by Scholars and ex-Scholars
of Schools in East Ham

'It is not wealth or ancestry
but honourable conduct and a noble
disposition that makes men great' D. M."
Cornwell's memorial

The funeral route was lined by Boy Scouts and attended by tremendous crowds including hundreds of members of the armed forces, particularly sailors, including another young naval hero Randolph Vincent who had lost a leg at the Dardanelles. The cortege left West Ham Town Hall at 3 p.m., led by mounted police. There followed a Naval band, a firing party and gun carriage bearing the coffin, draped with the Union Flag and surmounted by Jack's naval cap, together with many floral tributes including one from Admiral Sir David Beatty, who had recommended Jack for the V.C.

The day of the funeral had dawned with clear blue skies and temperatures rose into the eighties. Baden-Powell described the scene in a special commemorative edition of The Scout published August 19th, 1916. He noted that several volunteers were overcome by the heat, "but not a Scout or Wolf Cub fell out of rank."

The Mayor of East Ham, Mr Martin Banks, Sir John Bethel, the Member of Parliament for the area and Dr Macnamara, M.P., representing the Admiralty, followed the coffin on foot, as did the Bishop of Barking, local clergy, members of the committee formed for raising money for Jack's memorial and other dignitaries. The St Nicholas Boys' School Band from East Ham led 80 boys from Jack's own school, Walton Road, in the procession. There then followed local military units including six boy sailors from Jack's ship, HMS Chester, the 2nd Cadet Battalion of the Essex Regiment and local Boy Scout Troops including the 2nd Ilford, Jack's old Troop.

The cortege wound its way through the district to Alverstone Road, home of Jack's parents. Close relatives and friends joined the procession including another boy from HMS Chester, who had been wounded in the Battle of Jutland. He later recalled: "He was my chum, and no fellow could wish for a better; in fact he was a real Scout. We often used to sit down under one of the guns in the evening chatting about Scouting." Memoriam CardAt the committal the Mayor read a passage of scripture and the local M.P. delivered a short address. Dr Macnamara spoke on behalf of the Royal Navy saying: "First Class Boy John Travers will be enshrined in British hearts as long as faithful unflinching duty shall be esteemed a virtue amongst us." Shots from the firing party rang out, the last post was sounded and Jack's shipmates from the Chester came forward to place a final floral tribute in the shape of an anchor on the grave. The thousands present sang with feeling the hymn O God our help in ages past and then the first verse of The National Anthem.

The East End of London had rarely witnessed such scenes and they left a deep impression on all who had attended and on the numerous reporters, whose newspapers carried photographs and banner headlines the next day.

One month later Jack's father was buried on the same site.

PART of a letter received by Jack Cornwell's mother from the Captain of HMS Chester read:-

Jack's Family
Jack's family read his Citation. To his mother's right stands George or Arthur, Ernest is at the back and Lily to the front
"I know you would wish to hear of the splendid fortitude and courage shown by your boy during the action of May 31. His devotion to duty was an example for all of us. The wounds which resulted in his death within a short time were received in the first few minutes of the action. He remained steady at his most exposed post at the gun, waiting for orders.
"His gun would not bear on the enemy, all but two of the ten of the crew were killed or wounded, and he was the only one who was in such an exposed position. But 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. I cannot express to you my admiration of the son you have lost from this world. No other comfort would I attempt to give to the mother of so brave a lad, but to assure her of what he was and what he did, and what an example he gave. I hope to place in the boys' mess a plate with his name on and the date, and the words "Faithful unto death." I hope some day you may be able to come and see it there."

The future Chief Sea Scout, Admiral Lord Beresford wrote at the time in Boy's Own Paper,

"Cornwell has set an example of devotion to duty which will be an inspiration to British boys for all time."

JACK was nominated for a posthumous award of the Victoria Cross. The official citation reads:

Naval Victoria Cross
Cornwell's was a Naval V.C. and has a blue ribbon, not the standard maroon shown on some of the postcards on this Page
"The King has been graciously pleased to approve the grant of the Victoria Cross to Boy, First Class, John Travers Cornwell ONJ 42563 (died 2 June 1916), for the conspicuous act of bravery specified below:
"Mortally wounded early in the action, Boy, First Class, John Travers Cornwell remained standing alone at a most exposed post, quietly awaiting orders, until the end of the action, with the gun's crew dead and wounded all around him. His age was under sixteen and a half years."

London Gazette, 15 September 1916.

The Daily Sketch was able to report the award on September 15th and recall yet again the part it played in bringing about Cornwell's funeral with full military honours. It should be emphasised that Jack was not buried a V.C. This honour came nearly two months after his funeral had taken place, and three-and-half months after his heroic deed. As 'gung-ho' as The Daily Sketch was about their part in the funeral, they knew better than to claim that they had had any part in the nomination of Jack for his Victoria Cross. As their first report of July 7th confirms, Admiral Beatty's account on the Battle of Jutland included the words - "I recommend his case for special recognition in justice to his memory and as an acknowledgement of the example set by him." The Sketch's report on the award of the V.C. contained the news that The Grimsby and District Hospital had decided "to have a special cot in his memory with a tablet recording his deed of glory."

John Travers Cornwell was not the youngest ever V.C., as is often supposed, but the youngest in the Royal Navy and the youngest person to be awarded a V.C. in the First World War. The joint honours for 'youngest V.C.' go to Drummer Thomas Flinn, who won his medal in 1857, the year Baden-Powell was born, and Apprentice Andrew Fitzgibbon, who was awarded his in 1860. Both were gained in India, both boys were Irish, in their 15th years and both lived to tell the tale.

THE Great War and its aftermath decimated the Cornwell family: Jack had died in June, 1916; his father Eli in August, 1916 and his younger brother Arthur Frederick was killed in action in France in 1918. His mother lived little longer, dying, aged only 54, in 1919. Of Jack Cornwell's four surviving brothers and sisters George became a steward on a liner and emigrated to Canada, where he was joined by his sister Lily in 1923 when she was 18. Only two of the family remained in England, Jack's older brother Ernest Edward, who himself saw service in the Royal Navy during the War and Alice, who married a Mr Payne, who had been disabled in the War. It was Alice Payne who, in 1968, presented Jack's medals, on loan, to the Imperial War Museum.

Bronze Cross
1st Issue Bronze Cross 1909-1919

IT might be supposed that nothing could outshine the V.C. but Baden-Powell did award the Bronze Cross, then Scouting's highest decoration for heroism, posthumously to Cornwell.

Paper 'Flag'
Paper 'Flag' sold to generate funds for the Lord Mayor of London's Appeal

In August 1916 the Scout Association's Headquarters Gazette announced the foundation of the 'Cornwell Memorial Fund' to endow Scholarships or Apprenticeships for Boy Scouts who qualify as 'Cornwell Scouts', a penny subscription was invited from all Scouts. This was followed on September 14th, when the Lord Mayor of London announced a national appeal which would endow in perpetuity a Jack Cornwell Ward to be reserved for disabled sailors in the Star and Garter Home at Richmond, Surrey, and make provision for Jack Cornwell Cottage Homes for disabled and invalided sailors and their families. Naval scholarships were to be endowed for deserving boys and some of the funds raised were used to help Jack's brothers and sisters, including the two who emigrated to Canada. Jack's ornate grave, however, was solely funded by contributions from school children and ex-scholars from East Ham.

Also on September 14th, Headquarters Gazette announced the introduction of the 'Cornwell Badge', and listed the criteria for the award. There was no prerequisite for committing an act of great valour, though saving a life or already holding an award for bravery was accepted as one way of gaining the badge. It was possible to gain the award by "passing a test of physical courage" such as boxing or high diving. The recipient had to be a First Class Scout and have passed the Missioner's Badge (as Jack had) and two other proficiency badges from a prescribed list. There were then other criteria that seem to have very little to do with courage. I wonder if the instigators realised that Jack himself could not have won the award that bears his name, as he did not have a First Class Badge!Cloth Cornwell Badge

Several correspondents wrote to the Headquarters Gazette to point out that the criteria discriminated against boys who may have shown real valour but could not match the other criteria. They were given very short shrift! The Cornwell Badge was to be a badge that would only be awarded to proficient and worthy Scouts who had also been brave or courageous. Baden-Powell, in the August edition of the Headquarters Gazette, wrote of Commissioners encouraging lads to work at useful occupations in their spare time such as "the tests for the Cornwell Badge" as though it was a proficiency badge that could be worked for!

A fund was started with a gift from an anonymous donor, and was to be used to endow scholarships or apprenticeships for those who won the award. Troop and Patrol Leaders were encouraged "to put their thinking caps on" and come up with ways for all Scouts to be involved in raising contributions.

The First Cornwell Award

AN article in Headquarters Gazette, December 6th, 1916, debates a new award in the form of a dialogue between C H West, C.I.E., Acting Secretary at Scout Headquarters in London and Mr Elwes, an official for the Scout Association in Newcastle.Commemorative Post Card

'"I must have a Badge for courage", I said to Mr West at Headquarters a few weeks ago.
"I am sorry Mr Elwes", Mr West replied, "but they are not for grown-up officers!"
"Oh, it's not for myself", I replied laughing."I am sure I would never be entitled to one, but it's like this. The Chief Scout is coming to Middlesborough to address a mass meeting of boys in connection with the National Mission. He has promised me that before the meeting he will examine Patrol Leader Shepherd of the 8th Middlesborough Troop. Shepherd holds First Class, Missioner's, and Coast Watching Badges, and the character reports from his Scoutmaster, Schoolmaster and employer are excellent. The only question now is as to the test of courage. The accounts which I have received of what he did at Whitby are fine, and I think the Chief will be satisfied when he has had a talk with the boy and his Scoutmaster - so I have got an idea. If only you will produce a badge Mr West, we will hand it to the Chief, then if he thinks fit he can present the badge in front of that great meeting of boys."

'There was only one badge in existence at the time - the sample one and it had been sent back to the makers, but Mr West rose with energy to my idea - the sample badge was recovered in time from the makers and delivered to the Chief, and so it came about that on the following evening with the Archbishop of York in the Chair, the Chief presented Patrol Leader Shepherd with the first Cornwell Badge of courage. "And how those 3,000 boys cheered", said the Chief to me the next day, "I believe that every one of them wished that he was a Scout."

'And this is the test of courage as told by the Chief himself:-

'"When Rohilla was wrecked on the rocks at Whitby, Leader Shepherd was on coastwatching duty there with the Patrol.

"The Scouts turned out with the Coastguard in the dark in the early hours one morning, and they were hard at work, with only short intervals for rest, for the following three days and nights, with a gale blowing, trying to rescue drowning men and recovering bodies.

"At one time the Scouts waded into the surf with a life-line to get hold of drowning men. But the most dangerous part of the work in which Leader Shepherd took part, was going with messages for the Coastguard Officer, and bringing supplies of rockets from the Coastguard Station.

The first page in the Register of the Cornwell Badge, held in Scout Archives, Gilwell Park, with a photograph of P L Shepherd and the cutting from the Headquarters Gazette, from which this text is quoted

"In doing this he had to make his way along the face of the cliff by a very narrow and slippery ledge which overhung the sea and was washed by the waves. He had to do this alone with a gale blowing, and in the dark, when a false step or slip meant death. But he did it, and did it several times.

"And that was how he proved his pluck. But another test of it was given when a German man-of-war bombarded Whitby. The Scouts had just got back to their quarters from night coast-watching duty when the shells came flying in and bursting about the place.

"Instead of hiding away in the cellar, they at once ran back to the Coastguard Station to see if their services were needed. One Scout was hit and afterwards lost his leg, and the rest were described by the Coastguard Officer as so cool and brave 'that the Germans might have been firing at them with peashooters for all they cared.'

"And Leader Shepherd was one of these, plucky and ready to do any duty that he might be called upon to do, even under the most unexpected and dangerous fire of heavy guns.'

"Well don't you think he did fine work, and helped to bring honour on all Scouts?" concluded Baden-Powell.'

This was how H Geoffrey 'Uncle' Elwes, for many years the Editor of Headquarters Gazette, chose to report the matter in his avuncular style. In fact Baden-Powell had made the first presentation of the Cornwell Award to P.L. Shepherd in front of an audience of 4,000 - including Boys Brigade and Church Lads Brigade boys as well Scouts - in Middlesborough just a month before on November 1st, 1916. He spoke on Jack Cornwell as well as the heroism of Shepherd. The large audience were, reportedly, mesmerised by the Founder and followed his every word with rapt attention. Perhaps 'Uncle' Elwes' story of B-P's account were some of the words B-P used when making that address in Middlesborough.

YOUNG Scouts can be forgiven for not knowing the name of John Travers Cornwell or Arthur Shepherd. The word 'hero' now seems to be reserved for footballers. Jack's gesture would perhaps be seen as very futile by today's standards, and would perhaps be scorned by some. There is, however, something in the 'Mafeking Spirit', staying cool against all odds, which as nation we admire, and like to think is part of our national psyche. It seems to be found in each generation when tested in crisis. Only one generation later it was present at Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain. Fortunately, most serving Scouts and leaders have never the need to show valour under fire, and the Cornwell Badge is these days mainly awarded to Scouts who have shown exceptional courage in dealing with illnesses.

Cornwell Remembered

JACK Cornwell The Story of John Travers Cornwell, V.C. Boy - 1st Class must be the first book written specifically on the events leading to the award of Jack Cornwell's V.C. Published by Hodder and Stoughton in England, the book is undated. However, I have seen a copy inscribed "Best Birthday Wishes, March 15th 1918". As the book's title mentions Jack's Victoria Cross, it seems reasonable to assume that it must have been published in the nineteen months between the presentation of the V.C. and the birthday of the recipient of the book.

Cornwell Story

The spine of the book notes that it was written by "The Author of Where's Master?". This book was published in 1910, but I have been frustrated in my endeavors to learn the name of the author, as Where's Master? purports to have been written by Edward VII's dog! The Cornwell book, though written for a young audience, is most interesting - it has the bones of the story related above, though heavily laid about with the jingoism and morality of the period.

Some of the more obscure facts in the narrative above come from this book and it is the only publication seen during research that uses the provenance of a letter from Jack to his father which confirms that he was a Sight Setter. The author goes on to explain that a Sight Setter receives instructions from the bridge via his 'telepad' about the target and so is responsible for the setting of the elevation of the gun. "In front of him was a brass disk pinned through the centre like a wheel. A touch, a turn of this disk and the muzzle of the gun was raised or lowered." This information is important as many sources give the impression that Jack's rôle was merely to relay instructions.

The book is also helpful in that it has a black and white illustration of the painting by Frank Salisbury RA, mentioned below, and also one painted by F Matania, commissioned by The Sphere magazine.

As the book was published whilst the country was still at war and because the target readership was children, it is not surprising that it does not mention the sad story of Jack's first burial. But it is less easy to forgive the assertion the author makes that Jack Cornwell had been awarded his V.C. by the time he was buried with full military honours:- "John Travers Cornwell, V.C. was buried with all the honours that his country could pay him."

SOON after his military funeral, cigarette and trade cards started to be issued showing Jack (or, more likely, his younger brother George) and his heroic act. Because of the interest in holders of the Victoria Cross this continued, as far as is known at present, until 1971. The following list is of cards that are known to exist and have been illustrated in various sources. The standard reference from Murray's Guide to Cigarette and other Trade Cards has been used to try to identify which Series the cards are from but, not being expert in this field, I would welcome more information on the cards listed and, of course, any other cards depicting Jack Cornwell.

Manufacturer Issued Series Title
Weekly Welcome 1916 Lest we forget Boy Cornwell
Copes 1916 (?) V.C. Naval and Flying Heroes (?) J.T Cornwell Boy 1st Class, V.C.
Gallagher 1917 (?) The Great War V.C. Series (?) John Travers Cornwell V.C.
Godfrey Phillips 1924 Famous Boys Jack Cornwell
Nabisco 1971 Britain's Soldiers (?) Jack Cornwell Boy V.C.
Oxo (?) Feats of Endurance (?) (No Title)
Phillips (?) (?) John T. Cornwell V.C.

Salisbury painting

THE Jack Cornwell Fund, the national appeal started by the Lord Mayor of London (see above), raised sufficient money to fund the 'Jack Cornwell Ward' in The Star and Garter Home on Richmond Hill, Surrey. The establishment of the Home, which had previously been hastily converted from The Star and Garter Hotel in January, 1916 in time to receive its first 65 young residents - disabled sailors requiring long-term care - was instigated by Queen Mary. September 30th, 1916 had been declared 'Jack Cornwell Day' and the Navy League (an independent organisation set-up to raise awareness of naval issues, but which was, by this time, involved in sponsoring Sea Cadets, with even some Sea Scout Groups joining the League) was given permission to sell the stamp or 'flag' shown here through the nation's Elementary Schools.Star and Garter Over 12,000 schools sold more than one pound's worth of flags and they were rewarded with a print of a painting of Jack Cornwell standing by his gun. The painting, shown here, with a detail of 'Jack' shown above, was painted by Royal Academician Frank Salisbury, who had used Jack's younger brother George as a stand-in for Jack himself. Seven million children bought these flags, which must surely have been an unprecedented response by the youth of the nation to a single fund-raising campaign. It was this money that was used to fund the original Jack Cornwell Ward at the Star and Garter Home, as well as many other charitable works.

The old building soon became unsuitable and it was demolished and a new, purpose-built Star and Garter Home was opened on the site by King George V and Queen Mary in 1924. The Jack Cornwell Fund was able to make a significant contribution to the cost of the new Home. Now called The Royal Star and Garter Home, a recently re-furbished ward named the Jack Cornwell Suite, with 43 single rooms, 3 double rooms and special facilities for people with disabilities, consulting rooms, family rooms and even an ornamental fountain, was officially opened by HRH, The Duke of Edinburgh in April, 1999, by unveiling a plaque and portrait dedicated to the memory of Jack.

THE schools he attended wanted to honour Jack.Stone carving, Farmer Road School Farmer Road School had a memorial built into an external wall the school hall, on the top floor of their three-story building. The stone tablet commemorates all 48 ex-pupils who fell in the First World War. Jack's surname, unfortunately, was misspelt Cornwall (should of course be Cornwell) and only his initials were given, thus avoiding the dilemma of whether to use his real name of John or 'Jack' by which he commonly known. However spelt, it was the only name on the plaque to have the letters 'V.C.' after it.In the later conflict of the Second World War, another pupil, George Mitchell, was to receive this, the premier award for gallantry and it is after him that the school is now named. The school has the remarkable distinction, unique I feel sure in State education, of numbering amongst its ex-pupils two holders of the Victoria Cross.

In July 1917, Walton Road School had a bronze plaque built into one of its gateposts, which was unveiled by Lady Jellicoe, wife of Admiral Lord Jellicoe. At the opening ceremony the headmaster told the assembled dignitaries, parents and children that Jack was "a poor boy, a boy of the masses, who rose to heights of bravery and self-sacrifice."

The Mayor of East Ham Borough Council added that Jack's death was a grim illustration "of what was being done every day, but it came all the more forcibly to them because they knew the lad and grit that was in him. Their bronze tablet" he said, "would help to immortalise the connection of John Cornwell with Walton Road School, which had produced a hero whose name had resounded through the lands of the English-speaking race.."

This plaque, as was also the case with his grave in Manor Park Cemetery, honoured John Cornwell, which, though technically correct, was a name the school and Jack's family never used. However, when the school was renamed was renamed 1929, it became The Jack Cornwell School an acknowledgement, at long last, that this child of East London should be remembered by the name by which he was known.

A correspondent to Scouting Milestones, Brian Lincoln, who now lives in Canada, has fond memories of the Jack Cornwell School and, on a visit to England, took his wife to visit his old school only to find it had been demolished. He later found some lines of his old school song on an internet site that now seems to have vanished, but both he and Milestones are grateful to whoever took the trouble to upload it.

Walton Road School Plaque
The Jack Cornwell School Song
At Jutland when the battled raged and naval guns bayed loud,
Jack Cornwell on the Chester stood,
Firm till the end.
How proud, how mighty proud are we to bear his name,
God grant that in life's battles our courage be the same.

At home at work, at school, or play,
Whenever things look dim,
We'll settle where our duty lies and face it sink or swim,
And when school days are done,
We will remember yet,
Cornwell the boy, Cornwell the school,
We'll not forget, we'll not forget.
Cornwell's medals
Jack's Medals can be seen on display
in the Imperial War Museum, London

JOHN Cornwell, V.C. is commemorated in many places, including Chester Cathedral, along with others who were lost on HMS Chester ; three semi-detached houses at Hornchurch, administered by The John Cornwell V.C. National Memorial; a block of flats in Grantham Road, Little Ilford, called John Cornwell V.C. House (which was built on the site of Cornwell School in the late 1960's), along with the Victoria Cross public house in nearby Jack Cornwell Street, near to where he spent the last few years of his childhood and at Manor Park, on his memorial in the Cemetery. The hospital where he died, Grimsby and District, has since been demolished and replaced by the Diana, Princess of Wales Hospital which has a 'Jack Cornwell' ward. There is also a permanent Cornwell Display to be found in the Cadets' Building, HMS Dolphin, Gosport.

Cornwell Figurine

The following addresses seem to have some connection with J T Cornwell's History, or adjoin streets or roads named after other First World War heroes. I include in them in the hope that someone may have information that would enable these, or indeed any other addresses to be added to the above list of 'confirmed' Cornwell Memorial sites.

Clyde Cottage, Clyde Place, Leyton, Essex
Jack's birthplace is now marked by a commemorative 'Blue Plaque'.
Cornwell Avenue, Kings Farm, Gravesend
With its maritime associations and the fact that the Avenue is off Jellicoe Avenue and near Kitchener Avenue must make it a near-certainty.
Cornwell Crescent, Bedlington
- off Haig & Beatty, so must be likely.
Cornwell Close, Gosport
Another maritime location.
Cornwell Close, Grimsby
Is this near to the hospital where Jack died?

Jack's fame spread far beyond the shores of his native land - Mt Cornwell, on the border of Alberta and British Columbia, Canada was named in his honour by the Canadian Geographic Board. I am sure there will be other similar examples in the countries that made up the British Empire.

The figurine shown here, released in 2001, was based on the painting shown above, is evidence of the continuing interest in Jack Cornwell and is surely the only model of a named Scout ever produced. That it was made 85 years after his death is even more remarkable. This statuette, issued in a limited edition of 750 is, at the time of writing in 2003, available for purchase at the Scout Information Centre in the Trading Post at Gilwell Park.

THERE is no doubt that B-P himself was moved by the story of Jack Cornwell and he often used it as the basis for one of his 'yarns' when talking to Scouts and others. The Yorkshire Post of September 13th, 1919, reporting B-P's address to the British Association during their Bournemouth Conference, wrote that: "The leader of the Scout Movement was characteristically massive and direct, and he himself was more than ordinarily moved in telling the story of a boy who used to clean bottles in the East End and became a V.C."

In a letter to Rear Admiral Edward Charlton, dated March 12th, 1917, B-P thanked the Admiral for his promotion of the Boy Scout Movement in Cape Town and for his comments on the work of the Sea Scouts in connection with the Royal Navy, saying:

"This branch of our Movement is rapidly going ahead in numbers and efficiency, and the boys have already earned a name for themselves, as typified by Jack Cornwell in the Jutland fight and in the performance of their duties both in the Grand Fleet, mine-sweepers, on coast-watching duty, and on transports and hospital ships (notably the Britannic)."
B-P closes his letter with news of the Cornwell Memorial fund and that it
"has now reached the stage where it can supply scholarships for promising boys wishing to take up apprenticeships for the sea."
Cornwell Award

"The Cornwell Scout Badge is awarded in respect of pre-eminently high character and devotion to duty, together with great courage and endurance. It is reserved exclusively to members of the Association under eighteen years of age who have an outstanding record of service and efficiency." (Rule 71, Policy, Organisation and Rules.)
The Badge can be worn for life. On Scout uniform it is worn on the right breast above all other awards.

Cornwell Award Cornwell Award Cornwell Award

Other Versions of the Cornwell Award?

Other countries within the Empire, as it used to be called before the Second World War, followed the mother-country and instituted their own Cornwell Awards. The purple badge and medal with ribbon to the left are from Canada and in current use. Scouts Canada describe their issue, which is clearly a medal, as a 'decoration', a departure from the British convention of a Cornwell 'award'.

The 'badges' illustrated to the centre and right, both display the 'C of Courage', and would appear to be associated with Scouting and so possibly variations of the Cornwell Award - yet their origins are unknown (to us). If you can identify them or have information about early Canadian versions, or other variations of the Cornwell Award we would be pleased to hear from you.

JT Corwell VC and the Scouts' Badge of Courage

Since originally writing this Jack Cornwell VC Page in the year 2000, much new information has come to light. On every occasion up to 2006,the webpage was amended accordingly. In 2006 however it was felt that whilst the page should be kept factually up to date it was no longer possible to keep adding information. The number of images was causing a problem not allowing for the normal clear 'magazine' style associated with Scouting Milestones and to keep pace, the text would need to expand beyond article length into a book. Clearly Scouting Milestones is a collection of articles not books! The author, Colin Walker, then incorporated all the additional information into a professionally produced publication called JT Cornwell VC and the Scouts' Badge of Courage- the only book solely on Jack Cornwell since 1916! This publication can be supplied via this email link at a cost of £7.99 plus £1 post and packing if you live within the UK. Please use the link to enquire the postage rates to where you live. The stamps used to cover the postage will include two first class Jack Cornwell VC stamps issued in 2006 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Victoria Cross!


My particular thanks to:
Peter Ford, Badge Collector and Scout Historian, for his permission to use the image of the Cornwell crested pottery made by Savoy
John Ineson, Scout Historian and Collector, for his postcard image of Cornwell in naval uniform
Pauline Lee, for the loan of her rare book Jack Cornwell The Story of John Travers Cornwell, V.C. Boy - 1st Class
Roy Masini, Sea Scout Historian, to whom I am also indebted for the use of his research in discovering Cornwell's first grave
Martin Spafford, Humanities Coordinator, George Mitchell School, Leyton, London.
Printed Sources
JT Cornwell VC and the Scouts' Badge of Courage, Colin Walker, Write Books, 2006
John Travers Cornwell Birth Certificate
The Scout, August 19th, 1916 Scout Yarns: Jack Cornwell - A Scout Hero, Lieut-Gen Sir Robert Baden-Powell
The Story of Ian Spicer, Cornwell Scout, told by Laurence Thompson in the News Chronicle November 1954, but also printed as a small booklet with attribution
Monuments to Courage: Victoria Cross Headstones and Memorials by David Harvey, preface by Sir David Thompson KBE, Navy and Military Press Ltd., 1999
Internet Sources
Cornwell, John Travers
The Battle of Jutland
Royal Naval Museum Info Sheet 85 John (Jack) Cornwell - A Chronology
Peace Matters Issue 43 Autumn 2003, Appropriating the dead.
Commemorative Ware
Jack Cornwell, with HMS Chester tallyband,
featured on a rare piece of Savoy Crested China

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which is v 5.0 and was last updated in June, 2007.

This article, the text, the images (unless separately acknowledged) and the underlying coding are Copyright C R Walker©, 2003-7