The Cemetery Keeper

Lieutenant Colonel J. M. Prower, D.S.O.
8th (90th Winnipeg Rifles) BattalionPrower

I am pretty well all right but am scared of my nerves going, as I seem to be getting confoundedly jumpy. I suppose my “blow up” at Festubert and having been buried by Johnsons five times since, is what is worrying me, though why I cannot say, as it happens to most people.

(Prower to Aunt, July 1915)

John Mervyn Prower was born on 8 March 1885 in Quebec but grew up in England. After serving for seven years in the British Army, Prower returned to Canada and settled in British Columbia, where he joined the 31st Horse. In September 1914, he was selected captain of “H” Company in the 8th Battalion under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Louis Lipsett. He quickly gained a promotion to major in summer 1915 and later assumed command of the 8th on 3 August 1916.

Prower had distinguished himself at Second Ypres and Festubert but found himself on edge and likely suffered shell shock. Sir Max Aiken praised: “The conduct of Captain J. M. Prower also calls for mention. He was wounded, but returned to his command as soon as his wounds were dressed, and though again buried under the parapet, continued to do his duty.”

After taking command in August 1916, Prower led the battalion through the battle of Vimy Ridge, Hill 70 and Passchendaele. On 20 April 1918, command passed to Major Thomas Raddall when Prower left to take a position with the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Camp. On 12 May 1918, Prower suffered a broken jaw in a car accident near Aubin-Saint-Vaast. The side car which he was riding collided with an RAF tender. Prower recovered one month later and was back on duty. By the end of the war he had received the D.S.O. and bar and was four times mentioned in dispatches.

After the war, he served with the Indian Army, was promoted to brigadier general and appointed to the Imperial War Graves commission in 1938. He was the chief administration officer in France and Belgium on the eve of the Second World War. During the Nazi invasion of the Low Countries in summer 1940, he assumed responsibility for organizing the evacuation of IWGC employees and their families.

In anticipation of the invasion, a subordinate had warned IWGC head Major General Fabien Ware of Prower’s “callous attitude.” Ware ignored the criticism, arguing, “This is going to be a war of nerves and any such personal friction among ourselves is mere defeatism.” However, within several months, Prower had been dismissed. Allegations that he had abandoned some IWGC employees and families made his position untenable. He later commanded the 214th (British) Independent Brigade before returning to Canada in charge of the Quebec Military District.

He died on 8 September 1968.

Digitized Service File (LAC):
http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/cef/8001-9000/8010-30.pdf

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