Preparatory Sketch Frank Salisbury, Jack Cornwell. Preparatory Sketch

On May 31 1916 Jack, a boy of only 16, was a sight setter aboard the HMS Chester, a link ship between the armored cruiser screen of the battle fleet and three ships of the 3BCS. His task was to take orders from Fire Control and apply any necessary range corrections to the gun. The gun mounting took a direct hit killing or severely injuring the entire crew.

Cornwell, who was mortally wounded, remained awaiting further orders until the end of the action. Reports include him volunteering to go to the top of the turret to wipe the glass so that the rangefinder could line the target, another report says that he managed to ram home one last projectile causing damage which led to the German ship Wiesbaden sinking. Upon return Cornwell was transferred to Grimsby General Hospital where he died of his wounds s couple days later on 2 June.

 

Frank Salisbury, John Cornwell. Painting. Frank Salisbury, John Cornwell. Painting.

 

The Court painter Frank Salisbury (1874-1962) executed a portrait of Cornwell using Jack's brother Ernest as a model. The inspirational picture hangs in the chapel of the Royal Navy Training establishment HMS Raleigh in Cornwell. One of the preparatory sketches for the dramatic work is being sold at Bonham's.

Cornwell was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross. The epitaph on his grave reads, "It is not wealth or ancestry but honorable conduct and a noble disposition that maketh men great.' The bravery of Jack Cornwell lives on in public memory as numerous buildings are named after him and one of the highest awards in the Scout movement is named after the young hero.

See more lots pertaining to the First World War on Barnebys here.

 

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