Boy First Class Jack Cornwell VC, Royal Navy.

Jack Cornwell which is now thought to be his brother.

After war was declared in 1914 his father and older brother enlisted into the army and in October 1915, Jack Cornwell was 16-years-old when he enlisted into the Royal Navy without his father’s permission and after finishing training was sent to join HMS Chester with the rank of Boy 1st Class.

On 31 May 1916 Chester was part of the Battle Group of Jutland when the ship was ordered to investigate the sound of distant gunfire. At 17:00 hrs HMS Chester came under intense fire from four German cruisers during which Chester was hit eighteen times, most of her gun crews lost their lower limbs due to shrapnel passing under the shields of their guns and only one gun was serviceable. After medics searched the deck Jack Cornwell was the only member of his crew alive and was standing up, looking through the gunsight waiting for orders with shards of steel penetrating his chest and It was clear to the medics he would not survive such major injuries.  

Jack Corwell’s Gun (Imperial War Museum London)

Cornwell was still alive when he arrived at Grimsby hospital but died in the early hours of the morning on 2 June 1916 several hours before his mother arrived.

Three months later he was posthumously awarded the VC (Victoria Cross) and was buried in a common grave in Manor Park Cemetery London, but on 29 July 1916 his body was exhumed and buried in the same grave with full military honours. On 25 October his father died from bronchitis and was buried in the same grave.

Jack Cornwell became a national hero with his photograph appearing in national newspapers and posters throughout the country and everyone knew his name, but it is now believed there were no photographs of Jack Cornwell and his brother was used as a substitute.


Jack Cornwell’s mother and family reading about his Vitoria Cross being awarded.

After a memorial fund was formed in her sons name to support charitable causes his mother received no financial support from the Cornwell Memorial Fund and despite walking twenty miles to the Admiralty to beg for money she died in poverty.

Author: Alan Malcher

Military historian and defence commentator

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