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Moving events in London raise the curtain on a week of Jutland centenary commemorations

Jutland commemoration events in London
26 May 2016
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Britain's most senior sailor lays a wreath at a new memorial to one of its most junior – and most honoured. In a ceremony attended by around 100 sailors – including one of his descendants – a memorial paving stone was dedicated to Jack Cornwell, winner of the nation’s highest award for bravery a century ago at Jutland.

Jubilee Park in Leyton, about a mile from Jack’s first home, was chosen for the memorial stone – one of hundreds being laid across the land as part of centennial events marking the Great War.

The ceremony in Leyton raises the curtain on five days of events honouring the men of steel of Jutland, which will culminate in ceremonies in Orkney on Tuesday, 100 years to the day that the British and German navies clashed in the North Sea.

At the end of the day’s battle, 25 ships were sunk and more than 8,500 sailors were dead – over 6,000 of them British.

Among the fallen, 16-year-old Boy Sailor John ‘Jack’ Travers Cornwell, who remained at his gun on cruiser HMS Chester awaiting orders despite being mortally wounded.

In the aftermath of the battle, Boy Cornwell became by far the most famous teenager in Britain.

His portrait adorned posters, his name was attached to a badge issued by the Scouts (still awarded to this day), cadet units were renamed and his second funeral – his body was exhumed because the original family plot was deemed fitting for a hero – was one of the largest public events of the entire war, recorded by the cameras of Pathe News.

A century on, his story of heroism continues to inspire the modern generation of junior sailors; his portrait hangs at HMS Raleigh where trainees learn about his example.

As this year marks 100 years since the Battle of Jutland, all I would ask is, don’t forget Jack and those who fell alongside him.

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones

One 23-year-old who passed through the establishment last year didn’t need teaching; he’s a relative of the VC winner – Jack Cornwell’s blood, AB Alexander Saridis proudly says, courses through his veins.

He joined fellow sailors, Sea Cadets – Newham unit is named Cornwell VC – and civic dignitaries in Jubilee Park for the service.

“I feel Jack has set the bar high for the expectations I hold for myself during my own career,” said Alexander, who is a warfare specialist – the modern-day equivalent of his relative’s job.

“I can’t begin to imagine what it would have felt like in that battle, and I hope it’s something I never have to experience myself. But it makes me glad to see his sacrifice and courage is remembered all these years on.

“As this year marks 100 years since the Battle of Jutland, all I would ask is, don’t forget Jack and those who fell alongside him.”

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones said today’s Royal Navy continued to learn from Jack Cornwell’s example.

“Every sailor who joins the Royal Navy learns his story. We will always remember those who fought and died at Jutland,” he said.

“This nation still looks to the men and women of the Royal Navy to protect its interests at home and around the world. And although the world has moved on, the values of duty, courage and selflessness that Cornwell represents – our naval values – do not change from one generation to the next.”

Newham’s mayor Sir Robin Wales said of the five people in his borough to be remembered with a commemorative stone, Cornwell’s story was “the most amazing”.

He continued: “Not only did he try and sign up for the Royal Navy when he was under age, when he did go to sea he did not hide in the face of enemy fire despite being severely wounded. It is a totally inspiring story.”

As the stone was unveiled, the government announced that Jack’s grave – about four miles away in Manor Park Cemetery – would receive protected status as a Grade 2 listed monument.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has also decided the three principal naval memorials in Plymouth, Portsmouth and Chatham should be given the highest level of protection, Grade 1.

And the memorial to the military dead of both world wars in Portsmouth’s Guildhall Square – it lists the names of 4,500 fallen, including 500 local men killed at Jutland – is now a Grade 2* listed monument.

Just four miles away from proceedings in Leyton, HMS Duncan hosted a reception for Jutland descendants – among them the grandson of the RN’s commander in the battle, Admiral John Jellicoe – with the Duke of York as guest of honour.

The destroyer – which will be over the wreck sites on Tuesday for a service of thanksgiving and scattering of poppies – is spending a few days in London to highlight the centenary in the capital.

Prince Andrew inspected a guard of honour before meeting members of the ship's company, Sea Cadets and Jutland descendants, including Duncan’s own AB Thomas Cope, whose great-grandfather served aboard HMS Monarch during the battle.

The Duke saw artefacts from Jellicoe’s flagship, HMS Iron Duke, including a Union Flag and the Watch Bell and Ensign. Prince Andrew also submitted a personal message of Remembrance into the Jutland Capsule, a time capsule of messages created by the Royal British Legion to those who lost their lives in the battle.

“It’s great to honour those who fought in the First World War and it’s been really interesting to find out more about my great-grandfather. I am proud to be able to continue the tradition of naval service in the Cope family,” said AB Cope.
“Although my great-grandfather died 30 years before I was born, we have the same name and I was about the same age as he was when on HMS Monarch, so I feel a certain connection.”

While Duncan will be around 90 miles off the Jutland coast which gives the battle its name in the English-speaking world, the main focus on May 31 will be on the Orkney Islands, with services in Kirkwall Cathedral and Lyness Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery.

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