Family grave and war memorial, 1920.
Reasons for Designation
The John Travers Cornwell VC Memorial and Family Grave Marker, which stands in Manor Park Cemetery, Newham, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: as an eloquent witness to the tragic impact of world events on a family, and the response of both the local community and the nation to the sacrifice made in the First World War;
* Architectural interest: for the sensitive adaptation of a conventional grave marker with naval symbols, signifying John Travers Cornwell’s connection with the Royal Navy.
John “Jack” Travers Cornwell was born on 8 January 1900 in Leyton, Essex. His family moved to Manor Park, Newham, where he was a Scout in the St Mary’s Mission Troop and at the outbreak of the First World War he tried to join the Royal Navy. Having been turned down aged 14, he was accepted when he reapplied in October 1915. In 1916 he was posted to HMS Chester, a Town-class light cruiser commanded by Captain Robert Lawson in the Third Battle Cruiser Squadron of the British Grand Fleet. Jack was sight-setter on the forecastle gun, with the rank of Boy First Class. On 30 May the Fleet sailed with orders to assemble at the Horn Reefs by early afternoon on 31 May, expecting to engage the German High Seas Fleet in the eastern waters of the North Sea in an action that would become to be known as the Battle of Jutland.
Forming a spearhead lead by Rear-Admiral Hood, during the afternoon of 31 May 1916 the Third Battle Cruiser Squadron was sailing south-south-east in order to stop any part of the High Seas Fleet escaping back into the Skagerrak, the channel between Norway and Denmark leading back to Germany. At 5.30pm HMS Chester sighted a group of four light cruisers to the south-west and quickly engaged the German Second Scouting Group lead by Rear-Admiral Bödicker in the Frankfurt. Very quickly all of HMS Chester’s gun crews and communications were put out of action as the ship received 18 direct hits. Jack, mortally wounded, remained at his post awaiting orders.
The heavily damaged ship sailed for Immingham on the north-east coast of Lincolnshire. Casualties were taken to Grimsby General Hospital, where Jack died of his wounds on 2 June. Following Captain Lawson’s description of Jack’s action, and a national campaign led by the Daily Sketch, Admiral Beatty recommended Cornwell for recognition and he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross on 15 September 1916; his mother was presented with the medal on 16 November.
Jack had been buried in a common grave in Manor Park Cemetery in Newham. Presumably as a consequence of the Daily Sketch's campaign, his body was exhumed and on 29 July 1916 he was reburied with full military honours in a prominently-placed plot close to the cemetery entrance. Having lain in the East Ham mortuary, a procession carried his body on a gun carriage drawn by a gun crew, the coffin draped in the Union Flag, and escorted by the Band of the Royal Naval Division, the Bishop of Barking, the Mayor and Councillors of East Ham and numerous other dignitaries, and a large group of local school-boys, scouts, cadets and other attendants. A wreath was sent by Admiral Beatty.
Jack's story caught the public imagination and as the “boy hero of the Jutland Bank Battle” he was celebrated nationwide. A memorial fund established in his name rapidly raised some £35,000 (it is said that over 7 million children of the Empire contributed a penny each) and, although his impoverished family saw little benefit, a number of social initiatives were supported including the Jack Cornwell ward of the Royal Star and Garter Home (Grade II) and the Royal Naval Benevolent Trust’s John Cornwell Victoria Cross National Memorial housing in Hornchurch.
On 25 October 1916 Jack’s father Eli, who was serving as a Private in the Royal Defence Corps, died of bronchitis and was buried with his son in the new plot on 31 October. On 28 August 1918 Jack’s half-brother, Arthur, was killed in action whilst serving with the London Regiment (13th Kensington Battalion). He was buried in the Honourable Artillery Corps cemetery at Ecoust St Mein and commemorated at the new family grave. Jack’s mother died on 31 October 1919 and was buried with her husband. Local school-children fundraised for the grave marker to be erected in the cemetery, unveiled on 22 December 1920 by Dr Macnamara MP.
MATERIALS: white marble, metal lettering.
DESCRIPTION: the Cornwell family grave is at plot 13, section 55, of the Manor Park Cemetery. It stands at the junction of Centre Drive and Cornwell Crescent, facing the main entrance from Sebert Road. The monument comprises a large white marble plinth, square on plan with a carved rope ornament to the front arrises, dying back via an offset to the representation of a rock from which rises a plain Latin cross. A large anchor with a chain is carved on the front face of the rock. The plot is surrounded by a moulded kerb with corner posts, also in white marble, raised on a sandstone base. The inscriptions, in applied metal letters, are recorded on the faces of the plinth.
(north face) ARTHUR FREDERICK/ CORNWELL./ BORN ON 30TH DECEMBER 1887./ KILLED IN ACTION IN FRANCE/ ON 29TH AUGUST 1918.
(west face) IN MEMORIAM/ FIRST CLASS BOY JOHN TRAVERS/ CORNWELL. V.C./ BORN 8TH JANUARY 1900/ DIED OF WOUNDS RECEIVED AT/ THE BATTLE OF JUTLAND/ 2ND JUNE 1916./ THIS STONE WAS ERECTED/ BY SCHOLARS AND EX-SCHOLARS/ OF SCHOOLS IN EAST HAM./ “IT IS NOT WEALTH OR ANCESTRY/ BUT HONOURABLE CONDUCT AND A NOBLE/ DISPOSITION THAT MAKE MEN GREAT.” OVID.
(south face) ELI CORNWELL. FATHER OF/ JOHN TRAVERS CORNWELL. V.C./ DIED ON 25TH OCTOBER 1916./ AGED 63 YEARS./ ALICE CORNWELL./ WIFE OF THE ABOVE/ DIED ON 31ST OCTOBER 1919./ AGED 54 YEARS.
This List entry has been amended to add the source for War Memorials Register. This source was not used in the compilation of this List entry but is added here as a guide for further reading, 17 February 2017.