First World War - War in the Air

Naval BL 5.5 in Mk I Gun with Mk I pedestal mount

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Catalogue number
  • ORD 115
Display status
IWM London
Production date
1915
Materials
  • metal
Dimensions
  • general: Diameter 5.5 in
  • general: Weight 13635 kg
Alternative Names
  • FULL NAME: Naval BL 5.5 in Mk I Gun with Mk I pedestal mount
  • SIMPLE NAME: gun : British
Creator
Object Type
gun
Category
weapons and ammunition

Label

This gun was manned by Jack Cornwell when he won his Victoria Cross during the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916, the largest naval engagement fought by the British Grand Fleet (Royal Navy) during the First World War. Boy 1st Class John Cornwell was a member of the crew attached to the forward 5.5in gun on the forecastle of the light cruiser HMS Chester. His duties included transmitting the gunnery control officer's orders to his gun captain and adjusting the brass sight-setting disc on the left side of the gun. During the Battle of Jutland HMS Chester fired just one salvo before being badly damaged by German gunfire: the forecastle received a direct hit, killing or wounding every member of Cornwell's gun crew. Cornwell was hit in the chest by a shell fragment but he remained at his post, awaiting orders from the bridge, until the Chester was disengaged from the action and his wounds were treated. Two days after the battle, on 2 June 1916, Cornwell died in hospital aged only sixteen and was buried at Grimsby. When the full story of his last hours became known his body was exhumed and re-buried with full naval honours at Manor Park Cemetery in July 1916. The announcement of the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross to Jack Cornwell was made in the London Gazette of 16 September 1916. His medal (OMD 2406) can be seen in the Museum's Victoria Cross and George Cross gallery. Boy 1st Class John Travers Cornwell was born in East London on 8 January 1900. A keen Boy Scout he longed to be a sailor and joined the Royal Navy in 1915. After training in seamanship and gunnery he joined the light cruiser HMS Chester, as a Boy 1st Class in 1916. He became the sight setter of the crew of the 5.5-inch gun on the forecastle, receiving instructions over a headset from the gunnery control officer. This type of 5.5in gun was designed by Coventry Ordnance Works for the light cruisers HMS Birkenhead and HMS Chester, both originally built for the Greek Navy, but purchased after the outbreak of the First World War. It was the only gun taken over in such a manner, and was adopted for further manufacture, being fitted at one point to HMS Hood.

History note

Boy 1st Class John Travers Cornwell was born in east London on 8 January 1900. Jack Cornwell, a keen Boy Scout, longed to be a sailor. He joined the Royal Navy in 1915 and, after training in seamanship and gunnery, joined the light cruiser HMS Chester, as a boy first class in 1916. He became the sight setter of the crew of the 5.5-inch gun on the forecastle, receiving instructions over a headset from the gunnery control officer. On 31 May 1916, HMS Chester went into action at the Battle of Jutland. After firing just one salvo the ship was badly damaged by German gunfire. The forecastle received a direct hit, killing or wounding every member of Cornwell's gun crew. Cornwell was hit in the chest by a shell fragment but he remained at his post, awaiting orders from the bridge, until HMS Chester was disengaged from the action and his wounds were treated. Two days after the battle, on 2 June 1916, Cornwell died in hospital aged only sixteen and was buried at Grimsby. When the full story of his last hours became known his body was exhumed and re-buried with full naval honours at Manor Park Cemetery in July 1916. The announcement of the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross to Jack Cornwell was made in the London Gazette of 16 September 1916. The colour of the ribbon on all Naval VCs was blue until the Order of 1 April 1918 decreed that the colour for all VCs should be red, irrespective of service. The change was made because the RAF was established as an independent service on that date.

Physical description

gun, pedestal 5.5in forecastle gun from HMS Chester, comprising gun and pedestal mount (minus shield), showing damage inflicted during the Battle of Jutland. The 5.5in calibre breech-loading gun, with a wire wound barrel, could fire a 82lb high explosive or shrapnel shell a distance of 18,500 yards. This is the gun that Boy 1st Class John Travers Cornwell was manning during the Battle of Jutland

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