Joseph’s family is not known for certain but his surname is relatively uncommon and only one boy, aged 10, of this name was living in Stockport at the time of the 1901 Census. Assuming this is, indeed, the future soldier, then his father was Thomas Cornell, a plasterer by trade. His mother’s name is not known and is believed to have died in the mid 1890s. He was the only son and had four sisters – Mary and Jane were older than him and Margaret and Agnes younger. In 1898, Thomas had remarried, to Phoebe Figg, and they had a child together, Edward – just 8 months old at the Census. At the time, the family was living at 4 Gyles Court in the Heaton Lane area of Stockport. Thomas is believed to have died in 1907
In about 1912, Joseph joined the army as a regular soldier. When War was declared in August 1914, 36th Brigade was among the first to deploy in France. He probably had time for a short leave back to Stockport and probably said goodbye to his sweetheart, Elsie Howarth, who lived at Nebraska Street, Bolton. Joseph will have first gone into action at the Battle of Mons on 23 August. His early service means he was one of what became known as the “Old Contemptibles”.
Later, he will have again seen major action at the Battle of Loos in September 1915 and throughout the summer and autumn of 1916, he will have fought during the Battle of the Somme. However, by the beginning of 1917, there was a lull in the fighting. It was so quiet that the Brigade’s War Diary entry covering 6 – 11 January reads only “Generally speaking, there was not much doing, batteries were engaged in registration, the weather was not good for observation.” In the days before modern technology, registration was the process whereby the artillery would fire test shots at enemy targets, adjusting the direction of the gun and the elevation of the barrel after seeing where each shot landed.
It would seem that the enemy artillery was also active Joseph was reported to have been struck in the head by shrapnel. His major wrote saying he had died instantly and that he had been an exceptionally keen and smart soldier. The chaplain also wrote “After the service, I talked to a few of his pals and they said that he was always cheerful and never down-hearted. I buried him – the Colonel was present – at a place some way from his battery where his grave will be tended and will be safe from shellfire.”
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records that his mother, presumably meaning his stepmother, was living at 10 Newbridge Lane in the early 1920s. She died in 1925 aged 65.