Monday, 12 January 2015

Percy Cornwell of Cornwell's Pottery

Lieutenant Percy Vernon Reginald Cornwell, Armoured Car Section, taken c. 8 May 1916. Image courtesy AWM. Image DACS0119.

Percy Cornwell, proprietor of the Cornwell Pottery Works in Brunswick, was another resident of The Grove, Coburg who enlisted in the 1st AIF.  At the time of enlistment in March 1916, he was 33 years old and living at 35 The Grove with his brother Frederick, who was his next of kin. Their sister lived there with them.
Cornwell’s Pottery was founded by Percy’s father Alfred in 1861. It prospered for some time, but in the years after WW1 its fortunes waned. It struggled on until 1959 when it finally closed.
Percy Cornwell married Adele Sleeman in 1920 and moved to Ivanhoe. He died at Armadale in 1962 aged 85.
Before he left for the war in June 1916, Members of the Victorian Stoneware Pipe, Tile and Pottery Manufacturers' Association entertained Percy Cornwell at a dinner at the Cafe Francais where he was presented  with a portable typewriter. (Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 2 June 1916) 

Argus, 26 Oct 1916, p.6

I can't help wondering if he wrote letters home on that typewriter, and if he did so, whether they are sitting in an archive somewhere.  I would be delighted if anyone can enlighten me!

The same newspaper article revealed that Percy Cornwell presented an armoured motor car to the Defence Department, and was put in charge of the car. (Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 2 June 1916) If this was the case, it must have been one of the cars in the following photograph. 

Group portrait of the men and vehicles of the 1st Armoured Car Section prior to their embarkation. Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial. Image P09255.001.

The fact that the Armoured Car Section was made up of only three cars is a reminder of how cutting edge this technology was. Looking at the cars, it’s a wonder they protected anyone from anything and if Percy Cornwell donated the car he was in charge of, it makes me wonder whether the other two cars were also donations. It seems I have another aspect of WW1 to research!
According to the website of the Australian War Memorial, the 1st Australian Armoured Car Section was formed in Melbourne during 1916 and was also known as the 1st Armoured Car Battery. It was equipped with three armoured cars built at the Vulcan Engineering Works in South Melbourne, a 50 HP Daimler, a 60 HP Mercedes and a 50 HP Minerva. All were armoured and the Daimler and Mercedes were armed with Colt machine guns. The unit fought against the Senussi in the Sudan and Western Desert. 

The 1st Armoured Car Section became the 1st Light Car Section on 3rd December 1916. As their original three vehicles became worn out from hard use in the Western Desert and were irreparable due to shortages of spare parts, the unit was re-equipped with six Ford light cars. Extra drivers and motorcycles were provided. The cars were given names: Anzac, Billzac, Osatal, Silent Sue, Imshi and Bung. These were traded in for six new Fords on 11th December 1917. In May 1917 the unit was redeployed to Palestine by rail, and served throughout the campaign there.

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