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John Travers Cornwell (1900–1916), Boy 1st class

Photo credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

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This painting was part of an intended series of portraits of Victoria Cross holders commissioned from McEvoy, a fashionable society portrait painter who was also a war artist. He worked from photographs but found the task daunting and it was never completed. Cornwell was a 16-year-old gun sight-setter on HMS ‘Chester’. When the ship went into action at the Battle of Jutland (31 May 1916) all his gun crew were killed or wounded but Cornwell remained at his post despite fatal injuries. His portrait became the icon for this complex and ambiguous battle which, on balance, the British won but of which Churchill remarked that Admiral Jellicoe could also ‘have lost the war in an afternoon’. Cornwell was a perfect example to small boys on how to serve their country, and to those adults who had failed to recognize the importance of duty and self sacrifice at a time of mass unionization, strikes and suffragette protest.

National Maritime Museum

London


Medium

oil on canvas

Measurements

H 50.8 x W 40.6 cm

Accession number

BHC2635

Work type

Painting


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National Maritime Museum

Romney Road, Greenwich, London, Greater London SE10 9NF England

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