Jack Cornwell was born in January 1900, as a new century dawned. He was from a working class family in Essex, and left school at 13 to become a delivery boy.
At 15, he joined the Navy and became a Boy Seaman First Class on board the HMS Chester. It was Jack’s job to man one of the ship’s guns, receiving his orders through headphones.
In May 1916, he saw his first and only action at the Battle of Jutland. When the HMS Chester was attacked, Jack was the only member of his team to survive. Although he was mortally wounded, the ship’s captain said that “he remained steady at his most exposed post at the gun, waiting for orders… standing and waiting, under heavy fire, with just his own brave heart and God’s help to support him.”
He died from his injuries two days later, and became the youngest person to receive the Victoria Cross during the war.
Many other children also played a part in the war. Around 250,000 underage boys volunteered to fight. Girl Guides were employed to carry secret messages for MI5, as Boy Scouts were too noisy and unreliable. Others took jobs in factories that older men had left behind.
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The British Legion says thank you to some of the children of the First World War.
- Imagine another major war has broken out, and Britain is involved. How would it make you feel? Would you want to be involved? If so, how? Discuss as a class.
- Class debate: This house believes that all young people should do national service for at least one year.
- Write a script for a short play or TV show about children during the First World War. Be sure to think about their opinion of the war, what they do to help, and what other members of their family might be doing.