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Armistice Centenary

The eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 has been commemorated this week on its hundredth anniversary. This week's post takes a look at some of the most notable burials in our collection from the First World War.

Silvertown Explosion 1917 (West Ham Cemetery, London E7)
The Millennium Mills in the aftermath of the Silvertown explosion - Avery, John, 1917-01-25 (By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28065575)
One of the worst non-military disasters of the First World War took place near the cemetery in Silvertown, East London. On 19 January 1917, the largest explosion ever to occur in the UK ripped through the former Brunner Mond factory in Silvertown. It had been turned over to munitions production near the beginning of the war, and now manufactured highly unstable TNT. The blast was heard as far away as Southampton and Norwich. A devastating firestorm spread beyond the factory into neighbouring streets, destroying or damaging more than 900 homes.

The human cost was high, with over 70 deaths. 390 people were injured. Several of the 73 victims of the Silvertown disaster, including firemen Sub-Officer Henry Vickers and Frederick Charles Sell, 24 year old Hugh McMarth, David Earl Taylor, Rosa Patrick, Ruby Patrick, and William Patrick, are buried in West Ham. Amongst the victims were children, including 2 year old Roydon Stanley Patrick and Winifred Sell, a 15 year old scholarship pupil at the Central Secondary School. The database reveals that Winifred and her father Frederick Sell are buried in the same grave. 

The community of Silvertown deeply mourned those who were killed. When the firemen were buried, so many mourners gathered into the funeral procession that it grew to a quarter of mile long. In 1920, a memorial was erected in Newham to all 73 victims of the explosion.

The Royal Victoria Military Hospital, Netley, Hampshire (The National Archives Military Collection)
Netley Hospital was built in response to the high number of ill and injured of the Crimea War. Located near the port of Southampton, it was ideal for ships bringing soldiers from the Western Front and across the British Empire. Both physical and psychiatric conditions were treated, with the first official army asylum opening in the grounds in 1870.

During the First World War, Netley retained a prominent role in caring for the sick and injured. Not only was it a major base for military nurses, including members of the Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS), QAIMNS Reserve, Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs), and Territorial Army Nursing Service (TANS), but it was a pioneering centre for the treatment of shell shock. In 1914, a Welsh Hospital was established in the north of the grounds to treat military personnel from Wales. Among those treated here for shell shock was the poet Wilfred Owen (1893-1918).

Netley's burial records on Deceased Online include entries for soldiers from across the Empire. The image below is an extract from the burial register for October 1915. It shows 26 year old Raymond Cresswell, who was serving with the Canterbury Regiment of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. At the top of this extract is an entry for 'British Soldier Name Unknown' who was later identified as Private F. R. Morris of the 7th Lincolnshire Regiment.


The entries below are for two German soldiers who died at Netley in October 1914.


John "Jack" Travers Cornwell (1900-1916; Manor Park Cemetery, London E7
John Travers Cornwell, Boy 1st class (1900–1916) by Ambrose McEvoy
2016 marks the centenary of the Battle of Jutland, the devastating Great War naval conflict of 31st May-1st June 1916, that led to the loss of 6,094 British and 2,551 German personnel.

One of those lost souls was John "Jack" Travers Cornwell (1900-1916), who had enlisted as a young teenager in 1915. Jack Cornwell was just 16 years old when he was fatally wounded during the Battle of Jutland aboard the HMS Chester. He died two days later in hospital at Grimsby, Lincolnshire. 

On the day of the 31st May, HMS Chester came under heavy fire from four German ships. Despite being hit by shrapnel, Cornwell remained at his post awaiting orders. As a result of his bravery, Cornwell became celebrated across Great Britain as the "boy hero" of Jutland. However, it was only three months later that he was recommended for the Victoria Cross. King George V presented the award to Jack's mother, Alice Cornwell on 16th November 1916.

The burial entry for John Travers Cornwell (copyright Deceased Online)
Cornwell had been born in Leyton, east London and his body was taken home to be buried in nearby Manor Park. At first, Cornwell was buried in communal grave number 323 as his family was too poor to afford a private burial. After a public outcry at this treatment of the boy war hero, Cornwell's body was exhumed on the 29th July 1916 and he was reburied with full military honours. The altered burial entry (above) can be seen in full as part of the Manor Park Cemetery collection in the Deceased Online database.

Monument to Jack Cornwell VC in Manor Park Cemetery
A large monument was erected above this new grave. Appropriately sculpted with a large naval anchor, the memorial also provides details on the tragedy that went on to envelop Cornwell's surviving family. Just 6 months after Jack Cornwell's death, his father, Eli, passed away from bronchitis while serving at home with the Royal Defence Corps. Arthur Frederick Cornwell, Jack's stepbrother, was killed in action in August 1918. Alice Cornwell, the mother who had rushed to the bedside of her dying son in 1916, only to arrive too late, seems to have been unable to cope with the losses she endured and died in October 1919. Even more sadly, Alice died in poverty after the memorial fund set up in her son's name refused to contribute to her living expenses.


Cornwell's epitaph on the monument reads:

It is not wealth or ancestry
but honourable conduct and a noble 
disposition that maketh men great.
Ovid.


Have you found any of your family members from the First World War in the burial records in the Deceased Online database? Please do get in touch in the Comments Box below or via or Facebook and Twitter portals. We love to hear from you!

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