The 16 year old Boy Sailor stood by his shattered gun, his crew mates around him dead and dying. Despite continuing enemy fire and the exposed position he was in he stood quietly, awaiting further orders. His devotion to his duty compelled him to remain at his position “just in case he was called upon for further action.” Many would have sought shelter from the onslaught, but John Travers Cornwell stood firm in the face of the enemy.
John Travers Cornwell was born on the 8th of January 1900 in West Ham, London. He was the second child of Eli, a tram driver originally from Cambridgeshire, and Lily, a native of London. The family lived on Clyde Place, Low Leyton in West Ham. Eli’s Job as a tram driver was the family’s sole source of income, and the family just had enough to make ends meet.
John joined the Navy aged 15 on the 31 July 1915; less than a year later in May 1916 he found himself in action aboard HMS Chester at the Battle of Jutland aged just 16. HMS Chester was a Town Class Light Cruiser, originally ordered by the Greek Navy but pressed into service by the Royal Navy at the outbreak of hostilities. John was part of the gun crew on one of the ship’s 5.5 inch guns.
During the battle John’s position took heavy fire, and the ship sustained significant damage. John’s gun was put out of action as the men around him were killed or seriously injured. Despite the exposed position, and the carnage all around him John felt that he may be called upon for other duties, and that he should remain at his post.
Quietly standing by, despite suffering shrapnel wounds to the abdomen, John remained at his position until the ship withdrew from the battle. He was landed in Grimsby with the rest of the wounded but sadly died of his wounds just 24 hours later in Grimsby Hospital.
Following his Fathers death on military service in Essex, the family had fallen on hard times, and his mother’s poverty meant that John was buried in a common grave. Upon discovering his fate, and with the permission of his mother, John’s body was exhumed at the cost of the Admiralty and buried with full military honours. The tributes included a wreath from Admiral Sir David Beatty, and a floral anchor from his ship mates.