Object: Group portrait of George Onslow Browne, his wife Florence Daisy and sisters Louisa May and Annis Mary
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|Title||Group portrait of George Onslow Browne, his wife Florence Daisy and sisters Louisa May and Annis Mary|
Berry, William (photography studio), July 1918, Wellington
|Medium summary||gelatin glass negative|
|Materials||photographic gelatin, sheet glass, silver, photographic plates|
|Classification||gelatin dry plate negatives, black-and-white negatives, group portraits, studio portraits|
|Format||half plate (1/2)|
|Credit line||Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds|
The people depicted have been identified by Louisa' youngest son and her granddaughter as George Onslow Browne, service number 81004, his wife Daisy and his sisters Louisa (standing left ) and Mary standing right).
George Onslow Browne was born at Invercargill on 1 April 1888, his birth being registered under the name ‘Brown’.
George joined the New Zealand Post Office as a young man and apart from his war service, stayed with the Post Office until his retirement.
He married Florence Daisy Milligan at Invercargill on 19 August 1914, two weeks after the war began. George continued working for the Post Office as a clerk, not enlisting for military service until 12 November 1917.
On 22 May 1918 began his training with ‘E’ Company of the 41st Reinforcements. He was promoted a Temporary Lance-Corporal on 18 June. The Army decided to make use of his civilian expertise, and appointed him a ‘Postal Sorter’, with the rank of Acting Sergeant on 25 July.
This promotion allows us to date the sitting of this portrait very closely, as his troopship sailed from Wellington on 27 July. It seems likely that the photograph was taken on 26 July, George’s last full day in Wellington before departing for the war.
Florence, Louisa and Mary must have travelled all the way up to Wellington from Invercargill to farewell George. It is interesting to note the quality of the clothes they are wearing, as well as their expensive furs. Florence in particular is very well-dressed, reflecting her status as the wife of a respected postal official. She is also wearing a ‘sweetheart’ brooch made from a New Zealand Expeditionary Force badge just above the top button of her coat. “Sweetheart’ badges could be readily purchased from local jewellers for soldiers to gift to family members and sweethearts. Worn publicly, such insignia declared that the owner had a loved one at war.
In the portrait, the Browne women are putting a brave face on things, knowing that George is leaving them very soon, perhaps for ever.
George very nearly did not come back – the state of his health meant that he should never have been accepted for overseas service. He marched into Sling training camp in England on 4 October, when he was transferred to the 3rd Battalion, Otago Infantry Regiment as a Private.
It was now autumn in England, and the worldwide influenza epidemic was at its height. As his medical file notes, George had had a cough in winter ‘for many years.’ On 12 October, he was admitted to Tidworth Hospital with ‘Infectious Pneumonia’ and placed on the ‘seriously ill’ list.
George was at Tidworth for 5 ½ weeks, then at Hornchurch Hospital for 24 days until 11 December. At Codford Hospital on 18 December, a Medical Board reported his condition as a ‘Constitutional’ disability aggravated ‘ By influenza and pneumonia on active service.’
George was assessed as having a disability of 100% for three months, and the Board recommended he be returned to New Zealand for discharge as permanently unfit for active service.
He was discharged from the NZEF on 26 February 1919 and resumed work with the Post Office in Invercargill. Despite the pessimism of the Army doctors, George was to live another 46 years, until his death on 13 March 1965. He is buried in Invercargill’s Eastern Cemetery, together with Florence who died on 12 June 1981.
George’s sister Louisa, born in 1892 married William Miller in 1923 and died in 1965. His other sister, Mary (Annis Mary Frances ) was born in 1890. She never married, living all her life in Invercargill. She died in 1963.
Daisy Browne wears a 'sweetheart' brooch made from an NZEF badge, just above her top button. Adapted military badges could be readily purchased from local jewellers for soldiers to gift to family members and sweethearts. Worn publicly, such insignia declared that the wearer had a loved one at war.
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