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About John Edmund Commerell
Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Edmund Commerell VC GCB (13 January 1829 – 21 May 1901) was an English Royal Navy officer who was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He was a Conservative politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1885 to 1888.
Early life and career
Commerell was born in London, the son of J W Commerell of Stroud Park, Horsham Sussex. He entered the Royal Navy in 1842 and was present at all operations at the Parana from 1845 to 1846. At Punta Obligado he helped cut the chain that defended the river. He served in Gulf of Bothnia in 1854 (medal), at Sebastopol and in operations in Sea of Azov, (medal with two clasps Legion of Honour, and Medjidie), twice mentioned in despatches, and received the V.C. for hazardous service in the Putrid Sea.
Details of VC award
Commerell was 26 years old, and a Commander in the Royal Navy during the Crimean War when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC.
On 11 October 1855 in the Sea of Azov, Crimea, Commander Commerell of HMS Weser, with the Quartermaster (William Thomas Rickard) and a seaman, went to destroy large quantities of forage on the shore of the Putrid Sea. After a difficult and dangerous journey they reached their objective - a magazine of corn - and managed to ignite the stacks, but the guards were alerted and immediately opened fire and gave chase. The pursuit was so hot that the men had difficulty in escaping, but they finally reached their ship and the lookouts later reported that the fodder store had burned to the ground.
In 1859, Commerell commanded HMS Fury and a division of seamen in the Battle of Taku Forts (1859) when he was strongly mentioned in despatches. He served in HMS Magicienne during operations in China in 1860. In 1866, he commanded the frigate HMS Terrible assisting the Great Eastern to lay the fifth (and first successful) Atlantic cable. He was awarded the CB (military and civil) in 1866. From 1871 to 1873, he was Commander-in-Chief, Cape of Good Hope and West Coast of Africa Station. However in August 1873, when he was making a reconnoitre up the River Prah, he was wounded in the lung, and had to resign his command. He was a naval A.D.C. to Queen Victoria from 1872 to 1877. He was awarded K.C.B. in 1874 and was a Groom in Waiting to the Queen from 1874 to 1879. From 1879 to 1880 he was a Junior Naval Lord. He became Commander in Chief on the North America and West Indies Station in 1882 holding the post until 1885.
Commerel was a J.P. for Hampshire. In 1880 he stood unsuccessfully for parliament at Southampton. However at the 1885 general election he was elected Member of Parliament for the seat, which he held until he resigned from the House of Commons on 15 May 1888. In June 1888 he became Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth. He retired in 1891.
Personal and legacy
Commerell married Matilda M Bushby, daughter of Joseph Bushby of St. Croix, West Indies in 1853. He died at the age of 72 and was buried at Cheriton Road Cemetery, Folkestone.
Edmund Rock and Commerell Point in British Columbia, Canada, were named in his honour. His VC is on display in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum, London.