Private Sidney Cornell, April 1944

Private Sidney Cornell


Unit : "B" Company, 7th Parachute Battalion

Service No. : 14635496

Awards : Distinguished Conduct Medal


Sidney Cornell was born in Portsmouth on the 26th December 1914. In James Daly's book, Portsmouth's World War Two Heroes, it says that his father was an African-American, and that Sidney, an amateur boxer before the War, established a reputation for as being "hard as nails" when he joined the Parachute Regiment. He was posted to the 7th Parachute Battalion, where he served as a runner in "B" Company.


In Normandy, on the 10th June 1944, units of the German 346th Division exploited the Bréville Gap and advanced towards Ranville, only to be halted by the withering fire of the 13th Parachute Battalion and, later, that of the 7th Battalion. The surviving elements of this attack fell back on the woodland around Le Mariquet, which the 7th Battalion was ordered to clear. Their attack was a great success, and Lieutenant-Colonel Pine-Coffin describes the following incident in which Cornell played a part: ""B" Company led off a few minutes after 4pm, followed by Advanced Battalion HQ, and found that the first wood was no more than an orchard and the second one not much thicker. They were ordered to take them both while "A" Company were moved onto the start line to tackle the displaced wood. "B" Company found nothing in the orchard, but encountered a bit of trouble from snipers in the thick hedges bordering the second wood. Major Neale, the Commander, very wisely ignored the snipers until he had reached, and secured, the limit of his objective. He could then afford to locate and deal with them one by one. He went after one of them himself, together with Private Cornell, his runner. The two worked themselves back inside the hedge until they got a view of the sniper, whom they promptly shot, but not before he got a lucky shot himself which hit Major Neale in the leg." Neale's wound proved to be a serious one that necessitated his evacuation from Normandy.


On the 10th July, "B" Company were ordered to undertake a difficult raid in the Bois de Bavent area, on a building known as "Bob's Farm". Strong resistance was met, and Lieutenant-Colonel Pine-Coffin again describes Cornell's involvement: "{Major} Keene decided to leave the gully and rush for the farm across the open using {Lieutenant} Pape's Platoon and his own HQ party with the object of getting a foothold in the farm as quickly as possible... Pape's Platoon, together with CSM Prentice, Private Cornell the runner and Private Butler, Major Keene's batman, rushed through the gate and into the farm. All hell was let loose for a few minutes, but soon it was in their hands with some valuable prisoners. These prisoners included four German stretcher bearers whose leader spoke English and immediately put himself and his men at the disposal of the attackers; they did extremely good work during the raid for wounded of both sides."


For his excellent conduct throughout the Normandy campaign, both as a runner and a soldier, Cornell was promoted to Sergeant and awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. His citation reads:


This soldier was one of the parachutists who landed behind the German lines in Normandy on the night of the 5th/6th June 1944. During the next five weeks he was in almost continuous action of a most trying and difficult nature. Cornell was a company runner and has repeatedly carried messages through the most heavy and accurate enemy mortar and Machine Gun fire. Four times wounded in action this soldier has never been evacuated and carries on with his job cheerfully and efficiently. Very many acts of gallantry have been performed by members of the battalion but for sustained courage nothing surpasses Cornell's effort. His courage and many wounds have made him a well known and admired character throughout not only his own battalion but also the whole brigade. Space does not permit a record of all his feats as he distinguished himself in practically every action and fighting took place daily.


On the 18th June 1944 his company carried out a raid on a strong enemy position in the Bois de Bavent area. The position was stronger than expected and the company was hard pressed and the wireless set destroyed. Cornell was sent back with a verbal message, he was wounded during the journey but carried on and delivered his message correctly and set off with the reply. He was wounded a second time on this return journey but again carried on and again delivered the message correctly. During the remainder of this raid, despite his two wounds, he was outstanding for his courage and dash. The courage and devotion to duty displayed by Cornell on this one occasion was an inspiration to all who witnessed it. He has performed similar runs on countless occasions and, as has been pointed out before, has been wounded twice more but is still the runner of his company and is as cheerful as before.


On the 10th July 1944 his company again carried out a raid on the same area and again and as usual, Cornell's complete disregard for his own safety became the chief topic of discussion amongst his fellow soldiers. He has never failed to deliver a message correctly despite the fact that he has usually carried it through a perfect hail of enemy mortar bombs and shells and very frequently aimed Machine Gun fire as well.


He is a truly magnificent parachutist and I cannot recommend him too strongly for a decoration.


On the 24th March 1945, the 7th Parachute Battalion took part in the Rhine Crossing and the advance into Germany. Sergeant Sidney Cornell was amongst the 25 men of "B" Company who were killed on the 7th April 1945, when the bridge at Neustadt was demolished beneath them as they were in the process of capturing it. He is buried at the Becklingen War Cemetery.


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