Monday, November 13, 2006

John Player

I mentioned earlier (well, in July) that my Mum is into family history and has revealed delights from the past such as Yankee Jack Jepps hanged in Australia for armed robbery or some such harmless fun.

Thank goodness prisoner abuse ended so long agoSeeing as there have been no mobs at my door demanding a second installment I have waited until now to add another ancestor to the collection. This weekend seems an appropriate time to recall Able Seaman John Player, late of the HMS Nestor and killed as a result of the 14/18 war.

In fact we know quite a bit about John Player's death as it was mentioned a number of times in Parliament and was the subject of an inquiry. John was captured early in the war and so didn't get to write some of the incredibly dull letters home that all the rest of the male members of the family got to write before they were killed.

He spent most of the war in Belgium then Brandenburg, rotting in a prisoner of war camp. However, as the end of the war was approaching, the cell block that John was in caught fire. Although many prisoners escaped the blaze those who were too slow in getting out were were met by the camp guards who were under strict orders not to allow any detainee to leave the building. They forced the prisoners back into the cells on the points of their bayonettes.

John was one of those prisoners who were stabbed by a guard's bayonette as he tried to crawl out of a window and then burned to death.

The story does not end there though, because Italian soldiers at the same camp were horrified at what had happened. The next day the Italians led a large contingent of prisoners through the camp intent on demanding an audience with the boss and that the guards should be brought to justice.

Time and again they organised protests of this kind risking being killed just as John had been. Although no-one was brought to justice, as the post-war documents detail, the Italians are said to have won the camp prisoners better treatment and certainly respect.

I know very little about John's life before the war and what people thought of him, which is a shame. I don't claim to know much about the man apart from the abhorant circumstances of his death, but I do know that where there is force there are the seeds of resistance and that soldiers from all over Europe were willing to stand up and protest against the murder of a man they'd never met. That spirit lives on.

Update: Just had a chat with my Mum who filled in a few details. Like the fact that John was in a special punishment wing of the camp because, when they were being shipped to Brandenburg, he jumped off the boat and secured the mooring - as a sailor he was just being useful but the guards thought he was being uppity and punished him for it. All nine of the prisoners in the punishment cell died in the fire.


Renegade Eye said...

Good post. Very well written.

My descendants (not relatives), can be traced back to Trotsky's family.

Earthpal said...

Yes, interesting and inspiring story. Sad too. It must be strange to know that a member of your past family died in such cruel and awful circumstances.

My brother is currently delving into our family history and he says he has a few surprises for us. But at the moment, he's keeping us in suspense until he holds his next traditional family 'curry night' when he says he will reveal some interesting stuff.

Good blog Jim Jay...I'm a regular reader. Sorry I don't comment much. Bit shy that way. Lol.

Anyway, do keep us up to date. It's good stuff.

Graeme McIver said...

Yes, I found this interesting too. Possibly because I've being doing my own family research. Thing that suprised me was the large degree of social mobility in the 19th century (at least in lowland Scotland where I know most about my ancestry).

Jim Jay said...

Most of my tracable ancestors are from Essex/London or Cornwall and the 19th Century saw massive changes in their social position - all downwards unfortunately for them.

One branch were reasonably wealthy landowners in Essex at the beginning of the 19th C and were working the land for others by the end. Another branch became a diasporra across the country fleeing poverty and victims of the industrial revolution (I think).