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Sketch for famous painting of Victoria Cross boy hero from World War I for sale at Bonhams
The Court painter Frank Salisbury executed a portrait of Cornwell using Jack’s brother Ernest as a model and it is one of the preparatory sketches for the work which is being sold. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- A large preparatory sketch by Frank Salisbury for his famous portrait of First World War boy hero, Jack Cornwell VC, is to be sold at Bonhams First World War Centenary Sale in London on 1 October. It is estimated at £10,000-15,000.

John Travers Cornwell, known as Jack, was just 16 when on 31 May 1916 he found himself the last man standing on a gun mounting on HMS Chester as the Battle of Jutland raged around him. The gun mounting had taken a direct hit killing or severely injuring the entire gun crew with the exception of Cornwell who despite severe chest wounds stuck to his post awaiting orders until the stricken Chester withdrew from the action.

The ship returned to the port of Immingham and Jack Cornwell was transferred to Grimsby General Hospital where he died of his wounds on 2 June.

In September, Cornwell was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross as – in the words of the Admiralty’s recommendation – ‘an acknowledgment of the high example set by him.’

Earlier, at the end of July 1916, Jack’s body had been exhumed and he was reburied with full military honours, hundreds of people attending the funeral. The epitaph on his grave reads, “It is not wealth or ancestry but honourable conduct and a noble disposition that maketh men great.’

The Court painter Frank Salisbury executed a portrait of Cornwell using Jack’s brother Ernest as a model and it is one of the preparatory sketches for the work which is being sold. The finished picture now hangs in the chapel of HMS Raleigh, a Royal Navy training establishment in Cornwall as an inspiration to young people starting out on their naval careers.

The memory of Jack Cornwell lives on. One of the highest awards in the Scout movement is called the Cornwell Scout Badge and is only given to those who display, “pre-eminently high character and devotion to duty, together with great courage and endurance.” Numerous buildings are named after him including the John Cornwell Victoria Cross National Memorial cottages for former sailors in need.

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