We will remember them…

John_Travers_Cornwell,_Boy_1st_class_(1900-1916),_by_Ambrose_McEvoy

Do you remember the story of Jack Cornwell? He was the sixteen-year-old boy from Manor Park, in East London, who died in the Battle of Jutland in 1916 and was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry. As a member of a gun crew on HMS Chester, he had seen most of his comrades perish, but remained at his post under heavy fire, despite his wounds. His story, recounted by Vice-Admiral Beatty, caught the nation’s imagination, with stories of his heroism widely told.

Although Jack was buried at first in a simple grave, as his fame grew, it was decided that he should be reinterred with all the pomp of a national hero’s funeral. That service, at Manor Park Cemetery, was led by the Bishop of Barking and attended by the great and the good, with a military band, a firing party, and the coffin on a gun-carriage decorated with the Union flag. In the years that followed, Cornwell’s name was remembered in many ways, not least in the re-naming in his honour of the school that he had attended. To this day, the Scout movement still awards the Cornwell Scout Badge to those who have shown particular courage and devotion to duty, and we still have a street named after him in Little Ilford.

Clearly, there is no-one alive who knew Jack. No-one actually remembers him in person. And yet every Remembrance Sunday, in Newham, we mark his passing with pride and gratitude, just as we remember all those who have perished in conflicts, whether at the Somme, or in Helmand, or on our own streets. We remember, and go on remembering, because it matters.

For many centuries, this time of year has been a time for giving thanks for those who are no longer with us – and not those who have served in the forces or died in conflicts, but our own loved-ones, too. In doing so, we who are left are inspired to live our lives in a way that honours them and the sacrifices they made for us.   May that be true in 2014, just as it was in 1916.

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