John (Jack) George Cornwell
(3rd January 1894 - 29th June 1916.)
Our interest in "Jack" Cornwell and his war started in October 2005 when we managed to obtain his victory medal online. We have pieced together his life prior to his enlistment in 1915 and his tragic death two days before the Battle of the Somme. We have spent many hours in the main library in Bedford going through the newspapers of the time and also engaged a genealogist who filled in many of the gaps for us. We have also spent many hours online, which at times has been more problematic due to him having a similar name as "Jack Travers Cornwell", the boy sailor who won a Victoria cross. This is a tribute to Jack and the thousands like him who went "to do their bit" and were tragically killed, maimed psychologically or physically during that terrible conflict.
The biography has many photographs, but unfortunately we have been unable to locate a picture of Jack. There is a picture of Hitchin Boys School circa 1910 and he is probably in that photograph somewhere.
John (Jack) George Cornwell was born on the 03/01/1894 at 4 Fishpond Road, Hitchin, Hertfordshire. He was the second son of William John Cornwell and Lizzie Cornwell nee Haddow. Jack had one older brother, Archibald William Cornwell who was born in 1890.
The family lived at Wrest Park Farm which was adjacent to Wrest Park near Silsoe in Bedfordshire. Wrest Park is a large stately home and was owned by the wealthy de Grey family. Lord Lucas was the owner during the early part of the twentieth century but he was killed during the Great War and the estate was subsequently sold. Jack's Grandfather Archibald Haddow was employed as the Estate Manager until 1914 when Jack succeeded him at the age of 20 years.
We have very little information of Jack during his early years, though we do know that he was given a prize at St. James church in Silsoe when he was eight years old along with his brother Archibald. The next time his name appears was on the attendance register at Hitchin boys school. The register revealed that although Jack's name first appears as an addition in pencil at the bottom of the page for 1907, he did not actually start school until 16th Jan 1908. His last entry occurs in September 1910, so he was educated at the school for two and a half years. His attendance was quite good but we understand that in one term he was absent for over fifty days which possibly suggests a long illness, but sadly the records do not provide the reason for his absence.
In June 1916, before the Somme offensive, the ground North of the cemetery was chosen for a concentration of Field Ambulances, which became the XIV Corps Main Dressing Station.
A small wood close by, under the Bray-Corbie road, was known as Dive Copse, after the name of the officer commanding the Main Dressing Station; and the cemetery was made by these medical units.
Hitchin Boys School Circa 1906
Hitchin Boys School Circa 1908
Hitchin Boys School Chronicle Roll of Honour
Memorial Window, Hitchin Boys School Library
Hitchin Boys School Register
The first image is from 1907 and shows Jack's name entered in pencil at the bottom of the attendance roll. The second image on is from 1910 and shows Jack's name entered at no 11 of the attendance roll
Pictures of the various Public Schools battalions of the Royal Fusiliers in training
On the 02/09/1914 Jack's brother Archibald married Mabel Wilson at Clifton Baptist chapel and Jack was the best man at the wedding. In May 1915 Jack joined the 21st Public Schools Battalion, Royal Fusiliers and went to France in the November. The battalion disembarked on the 14/11/1915 at Calais via Folkestone on the S.S. Princess Victoria. They then went by train to Boulogne where they rested for a couple of days before marching to Bethune. The rest of the war diaries for the next couple of months shows the battalion in the Bethune and Festubert area and being involved in a few isolated skirmishes. The 21st Battalion was disbanded in April 1916 and Jack was drafted into the 11th Battalion Royal Fusiliers. The battalion was moved up to just behind the lines in Chipilly in readiness for the Somme battle on the 01/07/1916. On June 25th 1916 the battalion moved into support trenches at Carnoy, where the allied forces had already commenced their bombardment of the German lines. During the German retaliation which took place between the 25th and 30th, Jack's battalion lost eight men and forty six wounded, three men were also found to be suffering from shell shock. Jack was one of the casualties, he had been wounded in the right arm and left leg by shrapnel. He was taken to the XIV Corps Main Dressing Station and he died one day later. The local paper reported the following:
" The death of Private John George (Jack) Cornwell reported on Tuesday caused the deepest regret in Silsoe. He had lived with his Mother and Grandfather (Mr A.G. Haddow) in Wrest Park from infancy. In May 1915, he joined the Public Schools Battalion Royal Fusiliers and went to France in the following November. He was wounded by shrapnel in the right arm and left leg on June 28th, and was taken to a field dressing station but died on the following day. He succeeded his Grandfather at the Wrest Park Estate Office in May 1914 but when war broke out he was most eager to do his bit. His last letter home said he was waiting to take part in the "great push" but had a presentiment that he would not live to return to his friends. He was 22 years of age. The greatest sympathy is felt for his sorrowing Mother and heart-broken Grandfather".
Another tribute was also reported in the paper
"In connection with the death of Private John (Jack) George Cornwell, Public Schools Battalion Royal Fusiliers, who from infancy made his home with his Mother and Grandfather (Mr A.G. Haddow) at Wrest Park. The summer number of the Hitchin Grammar School Chronicle contains the following tribute: Jack had a lovable disposition and when at school it did one good to see his frank and open face and cheerful smile. Well, we remember how at one of our prize distributions, Jack went up to receive the special prize for public spirit, for which he had been selected by his fellow scholars. The overwhelming majority by which he was chosen was a revelation of the affection with which he inspired the whole school and if there had been any doubts on that score, the ringing cheers with which he was greeted would have been sufficient to dispel them. But Jack Cornwell felt the call of his country as clearly and unmistakably as five or six years before he had felt that of the school, and he carried his public spirit with him to the end. That must be the consolation for the sorrowing Mother and brother, to whom we tender our deepest sympathy".
We have recently managed to obtain his will that he wrote just before his death. In his own writing it stated "In the event of my death I give the whole of my personal property and effects to my dear mother - (Mrs. L. Cornwell of Wrest Park Farm, Silsoe, Ampthill, Bedfordshire) to be at her disposal absolutely".
Jack is buried at Dive Copse Cemetery pictures and details below.
Jack was awarded three medals, the Victory Medal, 14/15 Star and the British War Medal. His regimental number was PS/6930, the prefix refers to Public Schools.
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