HL Deb 26 July 1916 vol 22 cc920-1

LORD BERESFORD rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether it is proposed to award the Victoria Cross posthumously to John Travers Cornwell, late Boy, 1st Class, of H.M.S. "Chester."

The noble and gallant Lord said: My Lords, this is a very important question. There must have been hundreds of similar cases to that of the boy Cornwell in the late action, but the fact that the Admiral specially mentioned this case shows that in his mind it was a special instance of heroic conduct. In asking that the family of this boy should receive the Victoria Cross I am not asking for anything which has not been done before. Only a few years since honours were posthumously awarded in six cases to the living representatives of officers and men who had distinguished themselves years ago. The families of a private and an ensign as far back as the Mutiny of 1859 received the Victoria Cross. A few years ago the families of Lieutenants Melville and Coghill, who saved the Colours at Isandlwanha in 1879, were awarded the same honour. Again in the case of Trooper Baxter, of the Bulawayo Field Force in 1897, the family were awarded the honour. Lieutenant MacLean won the Victoria Cross at Upper Swat in 1897, and Lieutenant Roberts, the only son of Lord Roberts, won the Victoria Gross in the South African War; and these Crosses were given to the families.

There are singularly few cases in the Navy where a man can get the Victoria Cross. Up to now nearly all the Victoria Crosses secured by the Navy have been won by heroic conduct when serving on shore with the Army. In peace time almost every week in the Navy officers and men do things that merit any honour that could be paid to them, particularly in the engine-room department. A steam pipe may burst or something happen that requires instant action and readiness of resource, and the man who has to undertake the duty often knows that it is almost certain death to himself. Here is a case in point. I saw in the Press that quite lately a young lieutenant was for two days clearing the mines from under the bottom of the "UC 5," which is now to be seen by the public Why keep that man's name anonymous? His was one of the most gallant actions that could possibly be conceived. I dare say this officer was rewarded. But why keep his name from the public? The publication of his name would be an encouragement to himself and only fair to his family. I submit that the names of the men who perform these gallant deeds should be known to their country.

To turn back to the case of the boy Cornwell, I ask your Lordships to consider what the effect would be on our schools if this boy was properly honoured by his family receiving the Victoria Cross. An honour paid to Cornwell's memory would be an example to the boys of the Empire at their most susceptible age. It would encourage that splendid specimen of humanity, the British boy. I therefore hope that my noble friend will give some encouragement to us to think that respect will be paid to the memory of this gallant lad, who was a credit to himself, to his family, and to the whole Naval Service.


My Lords, I am anxious to associate myself with all that my noble and gallant friend has said with respect to the heroism of the boy Cornwell. But no recommendations have yet been received from the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet, and it is not thought desirable to consider individual cases until this Report has been received.