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.

William Jones VC Rorke’s Drift January 1879

William Jones served as a private soldier with B Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th Regimen of Foot, later known as The South Wales Borderers.

Private William Jones VC

During the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, also known as the Defence of Rorke’s Drift, which was an engagement during the Anglo-Zulu War which took place on 22 to 23 January 1879, William Jones was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in rescuing patients from a burning hospital which had also been overrun by Zulu warriors. During this engagement he was involved in hand-to-hand combat with a bayonet.

Actor Richard Davies in the film Zulu

In 1964 William Jones was portrayed by actor Richard Davies in the film ‘Zulu’.

After leaving the army Jones became a member of the Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show but sometime during the 1890’s he was unable to find work and was forced to pawn his VC and later sold the pawn ticket to buy food. He was later sent to a workhouse in Bridge Street Manchester and there is also anecdotal evidence of Jones wandering the streets of Manchester saying the Zulus were after him which resulted in him being confined to a mental hospital.  

On 15 April 1913 William Jones died and was buried in a pauper’s grave in Phillips Park Cemetery, Manchester and not until 2007, after a long campaign, was his grave given a headstone.   His VC is now on display at the Regimental Museum of the Royal Welsh in Brecon, Wales.  

Elaine Madden Special Operations Executive T Section (Belgium)

Elaine Madden

This section became operational in December 1940 as an independent offshoot of the French Section and was commanded by Grenadier Guards officer Claude Knight and later by Hardy Amies. When it comes to agent fatalities as a result of wireless deception by the Abwehr (German military intelligence) the methods used in Belgium have many similarities to those experienced by SOE’s N section (Netherland).

Belgium under occupation and the Special Operations Executive

Emile Tromme, thought to be the first T Section agent to arrive in Belgium.

Emile Tromme is widely said to be the first agent to arrive by parachute: some writers claim in May 1941 he landed inside a prisoner of war camp and it took him four months to escape and after escaping he continued his resistance work; It has also been claimed on 13 May 1941 he arrived safely by parachute north of Vielsalm and formed a group of saboteurs around Verviers. The only reliable record confirms he was executed by the Germans sometime in February 1942.

According to former T Section agent Jacques Doneux who arrived in Belgium by parachute in 1943, in October 1942 his headquarters in London were unaware out of the 45 agents and 18 wireless operators sent to Belgium only 13 had not been captured, most of their wirelesses and codes were in German hands and being ‘played back’ to London. This deception is sometimes referred to as the ‘wireless war’ which was also being successfully employed in the Netherlands and both sections found themselves dropping agents and weapons to the Germans, but for various reasons this ploy was less successful in France.   

  Due to the politics of the period not least the political rivalries between various groups of Belgium resisters, apart from published war memoirs of a non-political nature written by former T Section agents such as ‘They Arrived by Moonlight’, by Captain Jacques Doneux, and Elaine Madden’s ‘I heard my country Calling’, reliable information and official accounts on SOE operations in Belgium are difficult to find.

Elaine Madden

Elaine Madden was only 16 (some claim she was 17) when Belgium, France and the Netherland was invaded by Germany and Elaine and her aunt Simone Duponselle were making their way to the coast in the hope of avoiding the German advance and were later found by British troops hiding in a barn, another source said the soldiers passed them in a car and offered them a lift, Irrespective of which version is correct, the soldiers said they would attempt to get them on a boat leaving Dunkirk for England.    

When they arrived in Dunkirk British troops gave Elaine and her aunt greatcoats, helmets and gas masks to disguise them as soldiers and whilst climbing a rope ladder onto a trawler the captain noticed the two women but decided to turn a blind eye to his two stowaways.  After reaching England they were questioned by MI5 before being allowed to stay with an aunt living in Streatham London.    

On 7 May 1944 Elaine was twenty and apart from being of recruitment age MI5 had already marked her file as a potential agent and this information had been passed to SOE.   Elaine was discretely approach by an SOE recruiter and asked whether she was willing to volunteer for hazardous missions in Belgium and after being warned of the great risks she would face Elaine volunteered.

  Madden successfully passed the Students’ Assessment Board (SAB) in Cranleigh, Surrey before passing the comprehensive course on subversive warfare in Scotland and the mandatory trade craft at the Beaulieu finishing school on the edge of the New Forrest in Hampshire. She was then formally a member of SOE and given the cover name Elaine Meeus and provided with forged identity papers. She also had to remember back stories to support her fictitious life.

Sometime in 1944 she arrived in Belgium by parachute with instructions to act as a courier for circuit leader André Wendelen who was running a group of saboteurs and their wireless operator Jacques Van de Spiegel. As a courier Elaine Madden was responsible for the difficult and dangerous task of liaising and passing orders to scattered members of the resistance to ensure their activities supported the allied strategy: some targets such as bridges, railways and communications had to be destroyed whilst others were only disrupted and could easily be repaired and used by the allies.   

During her resistance work Madden was given a lift in a vehicle by a German officer whilst carrying a wireless transmitter in her suitcase and on several occasions was forced to use various counter-surveillance drills to lose members of the Abwehr and Gestapo she noticed following her.  

After the war Madden worked for an organisation responsible for tracing missing T Section agents and political prisoners during which she conducted investigations at Buchenwald, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen and Flossenberg Concentration Camps and after a long investigation she only found two survivors the remainder had been executed.

Although Madden was almost captured several times she always said, “I wasn’t a heroine… Just young and excited…  but I can still look in the mirror and feel proud.”

        

      

Agents of Influence: Britain’s Secret Intelligence War Against the IRA

Another very informative read from my good friend Aaron Edwards who also wrote ‘UVF: Under the Mask’.

Agents of Influence: Britain’s Secret Intelligence War Against the IRA – the explosive new book by Aaron Edwards

Why Did Germany Keep Fighting World War Two in 1944 – 1945?

Dutch historian explains: Why Germany fought till the end in 1945, why didn’t Germany surrender earlier in WW2; why wasn’t there a rebellion against the German leadership and why did WW2 end in 1945? This historian also discusses the July Plot (Operation Valkyrie) by the German resistance led by Claus von Stauffenberg; the harsh measures of a total war policy, like the German strongholds strategy and Germany’s last army, the Volkssturm. (A History Hustle Presentation)

How Did Germans React to the Outbreak of World War II? (1939)

Dutch historian explains: Why was there no euphoria when WWII started? What was the German perspective on the outbreak of the Second World War that started with the German invasion of Poland. The Polish Campaign (1939) resulted in a declaration of war from the British and the French to the Germans. How did the ordinary German react to this? Why was there no enthusiasm when WW2 started? Learn more about the German perspective of World War II. History Hustle presents: How Did Germans React to the Outbreak of World War II? (1939).

161 Special Duties Squadron RAF: Supporting Resistance in France During WW2

Contributors, Group Captain Hugh Verity (OC A Flight)

Squadron Leader Frank ‘Bunny’ Rymills

Air Chief Marshall Bob Hodges (OC B Flight and later CO No.161 Squadron)

Barbara Bertram (SOE safehouse hostess near RAF Tangmere)