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  • Christina Drummond

Able Seaman John Player Genower, Royal Navy

Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1917, Able Seaman John Player Genower, Royal Navy, died as a prisoner-of-war at Germany.

He had joined the Royal Navy in 1910 and served on H.M.S. Hornet, transferring to the Admiralty M-class destroyer H.M.S. Nestor after its completion in March of 1916. During the Battle of Jutland, on the 31st of May in 1916, H.M.S. Nestor was sunk, losing six crew members, the remaining being rescued by the Germans and taken to the prisoner-of-war camp at Brandenburg Havel. The prisoners were reported to somewhat better fed than the guards and the local people, the camp rations being supplemented by parcels from the Red Cross and from prisoners’ families.

On the day of his death Able Seaman Genower was in the punishment hut. He had been assaulted by a German guard and had spent several days in the camp hospital, his injuries requiring extensive treatment, before being transferred to the punishment hut. With him were six other prisoners, five Russians and one Frenchman. There was a stove in the passage to their cell and one morning it caused a fire. Other prisoners and guards made their way there, one prisoner having a large hatchet which could have easily broken in the door (described as match-boarding) to let the men out, but the guards refused. A witness reported: “Not one of the naval ratings was allowed to go near the cells. They placed a cordon of German soldiers at a distance of sixty yards around the cells, with rifles loaded and fixed bayonets, so as we could not get near. During the meantime nothing was being done to get the prisoners out or put the fire out. I happened to make enquiries of the interpreter of the cells, who was a Russian. I asked him what was the reason the cell door was not opened when the fire was first noticed, and he told me that the sentry, who was a private soldier, dared not open any of the doors till the under-officer came and gave him orders to do so, consequently, the door leading to the cells was never opened, and we could hear the poor fellows inside screaming. It was heartrending, and all us chaps standing there helpless. Afterwards, I heard that the key of the cells was lost, also I heard that Genower tried to get out through the small square window, but was run through with the sentry’s bayonet. Five Russians, one French, and one Englishman were burnt to death.”

Able Seaman Genower is buried in the Berlin South Western Cemetery (Military), Landkreis Potsdam-Mittelmark, at Brandenburg in Germany.

John, from Pentonville, London, was 24 years old.

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