, Chief Reporter
Monday, June 2, 2014
Young cadets stood shoulder to shoulder with war veterans as they took part in an annual parade to honour WWI teenage hero John “Jack” Cornwell.
They assembled on Sunday at the Cornwell VC Centre in Vicarage Lane before marching to St Bartholomew’s Church in Barking Road, East Ham. The event, which was organised by the East Ham branch of the Royal British Legion, included a service led by Rev Fred Ashford-Oki at the church.
There were readings by Deputy Lord Lieutenant John Barber and Bob Strong, RBL Manor Park Branch.
Ken Hill, secretary of the East Ham branch of the RBL, said a special thanks to Stuart White for being the parade Marshall and to Bob Stokes for all his hard work in arranging the parade. He also paid tribute to Adam Mendrys from the Sea Cadets (Bugler) who played the Last Post and Reveille.
The parade honours the teenager war hero who died on June 2 1916 and has been held almost every year since 1948.
Jack, who lived with his family in Manor Park, enlisted with the Royal Navy aged just 15. After finishing his training, he was ordered to join the fleet at Rosyth in Scotland and on May 2 1916 he joined HMS Chester.
The ship sustained severe damage in the Battle of Jutland, which began on May 31. She was hit 17 times by German cruisers before she was ordered back to port.
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.
A report from the Commanding Officer of HMS Chester said: “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”.
Jack was taken to hospital in Grimsby but died from his wounds on June 2 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.
When the story of Jack’s heroism and humble burial was publicised, it was decided that he should have a burial fit for a hero. On July 29 1916, his 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.
Jack was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross by King George V.