Remembrance Day Service - 11 Nov 2016

Address by Cmdr S Dempsey RN

It is a privilege to be invited to speak to you this morning, for two reasons: the first is the occasion of remembrance itself, and the second is that as a witness to many of the Ballard school events I recognise that I am in the presence of so many accomplished speakers within this student community.  So I would like to thank you and the Head Master for the invitation to say few words.  There are three things I would like to address: I am going to start by telling you about a sailor, and then I will give you some thoughts about the men and women that serve and then try and draw out what responsibility that leaves to you.

World War One.  On 30 May 1916 the Royal Navy put out to sea in the water that sits between the United Kingdom and mainland Europe, while the next day Imperial German navy also sailed out into the North Sea. It was two o'clock in the afternoon when, off Jutland in Denmark, the two Fleets met. The first shots were fired 30 minutes later and The Battle of Jutland began; a 72-hour clash between the Royal and German Navies.

The Sailor was John Travis Cornwell, known to his shipmates as Jack.  He was only 15 when he joined the Royal Navy as a Boy Seaman and less than a year later he died for his country. It was 100 years ago at The Battle of Jutland that Jack Cornwell, of His Majesty's Ship Chester, was to have his first and last encounter with the enemy. This ordinary lad from London was the youngest recipient of the Victoria Cross in World War One; the highest military decoration awarded for valour in the face of the enemy.

The German ships bombarded the British fleet and after firing just one salvo HMS Chester was badly damaged. She had received a direct hit that killed or wounded every member of Jack's gun crew. Jack was left bleeding heavily from a bad injury to his chest where he'd been hit by a shard of hot shrapnel. Though mortally wounded and surrounded by dead and dying comrades, Jack put on his headphones and took orders from an officer on the bridge. Jack was faced with setting the gun's sights, and it would depend on his speed and precision as to whether Chester's guns would hit or miss their target. In the hellish conditions of incoming shells and with smoke and death all around him, he remained at his post. When he was found he was barely alive and sadly, two days later, Jack died.

Of course there have been many instances of courage and commitment in our history, right up to the present day.  The Government’s first responsibility to its people - you and me - is to protect its people - you and me. Today we remember those who have given everything to meet that responsibility.

I also joined the Royal Navy, as a junior.  I sensed something exciting that appealed to the values that had been formed through my years of education. Every day has been fascinating, interesting and challenging in its own way.  If you were to ask me to identify one single thing that stands out from my time in Service - my answer would be our people.  Every day I have had the greatest privilege of working alongside the most amazing men and woman – your Servicemen and Women.  They hold an enormous amount of respect and commitment to each other and function as a team. Those Servicemen and women tolerate discomfort, hardship, and separation from those who are close to them.  They will leave everything they love for the benefit of the greater good and do what they have been asked to do without complaint, to the highest standards, and for little in return. They risk their lives for each other and all that they believe in.  They are driven to win.  They each have something special, and to a person are exceptionally talented.  Their core values are those of Courage, Commitment, Discipline, Respect, Integrity and Loyalty. Values which the headmaster assures me reflect those of this school.

So what does that mean to you?  We remember the fallen but the future is yours.  They sacrificed, leaving you with a responsibility.  Your responsibility is simple – to enjoy, but make the most of your journey through life?

Bearing in mind our shared values, and our shared responsibilities, if I could, I would like to close with the words of a head teacher, who was very dear to me, words that centre on these values and here offered to that teacher’s pupils when I was your age, but they resonate today as they did then:

“Remember that each one of you has talent, talent that you must use and develop in order to get the best out of life for yourself, talent which is needed in the community in which you live - use it and enjoy it.  Remember too, the ideals which you have learnt at school - the ideals of self-discipline; of integrity - total truth, total dependability, devotion to duty, of courtesy which in its widest sense means civilisation and a caring consideration for others; and the effort which is necessary to all achievement.  With these ideals and the courage and joy of youth you have much to contribute and will be invincible in the struggle for good.”

Values that I believe Jack cherished – lest we forget.