First World War heroes’ stories remembered 100 years on
PUBLISHED: 14:00 09 November 2018
Terence Trimmer was born and raised in Manor Park. Here the 86-year-old tells the story of two Newham recipients of the country’s most prestigious military honour.
As we commemorate the end of the First World War one hundred years ago, I am reminded of the two young men from East Ham, as Newham was then known, who won the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for valour.
Although the actions in which our two Victoria Cross (VC) heroes were engaged were dissimilar, they both performed supreme acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under hazardous conditions.
The youngest and possibly the better known of the two, is boy Seaman 1st Class John Travers Cornwell, known as Jack.
He was mortally wounded aboard his ship, HMS Chester, at the battle of Jutland in the North Sea on May 31, 1916.
He was a member of a gun crew, and loyally and courageously remained at his post receiving orders until the end of the action.
Jack was very much in an exposed position, close to the deck mounted 5.5 inch gun. His ship had received many direct hits and he was enveloped by the fury of the battle.
However, he kept calm even though, no doubt, he felt overcome by the heat and smoke.
As an inexperienced boy Seaman he showed remarkable courage.
He died on June 2, 1916 aged only 16 years.
Jack was born in Manor Park in 1900, and his memory continues to live on. In recent years a school, street and sea cadet unit have been named in his memory.
I was at school in Manor Park during the Second World War and was often reminded of his bravery when gazing at a copy of a painting which portrayed the incident.
The original painting was by Sir Frank Salisbury and copies were hung in the borough’s schools and libraries.
I understand Salisbury used Jack’s brother for his model.
Jack’s gun is always a focus of interest at the Imperial War Museum where it is on show.
Jack was buried with full military honours in Manor Park Cemetery where, I believe, a short service is still held at the gravesdie on the anniversary of his death.
The elder of the two local First World War VC recipients is midshipman George Leslie Drewry.
He was born in 1894 and lived in Forest Gate with his parents and three brothers.
Having previously served in the Merchant Navy, which seems to have been a family tradition, he transferred to the Royal Naval Reserve in 1914.
He won his VC at Gallipoli, Turkey, on April 25, 1915, aged 20.
George assisted with the landings by sea of allied troops.
He formed a bridge of small boats, or lighters, from the transport ship, SS River Clyde, to the beach head.
This operation was performed under intense gun fire from the enemy positions sited above the cliff face.
Although wounded in the head, George continued with his work, even swimming through the water to secure some of the lighters, and to rescue the injured.
George was later promoted lieutenant and also given his own command.
Tragically, his life was to end within a few months before the war finally came to a close.
He died on August 2, 1918, aged 23 years following an accident aboard his ship.
It would seem that George could not help but be brave, and also prepared to tackle any task without a thought for his own safety.
His spirited cheerfulness saw him through many adventures.
He would certainly have enjoyed a great naval career had he survived.
A beautiful stained glass window dedicated to his memory, together with a family memorial plaque, may be seen in the chapel of All Saints Church, Hampton Road, Forest Gate.
I remember reading the inscriptions when attending services there.
George Drewry is buried in the City of London Cemetery in Manor Park.
The epitaph on his grave reads, “Life’s work, wel done”.
A fitting tribute, I think, to his acts of selfless courage.