This family portrait has long been a favourite amongst the Te Papa History team. It stands out amongst the many Berry & Co soldier portraits due to the sitters’ magnificent winter dress. Draped in heavy woollen coats and luxurious furs, it is the one portrait in the collection that powerfully conveys a season. The portrait is simply inscribed ‘Brown’. As over 600 men with the surname Brown served in World War I, we did not think we would have much luck identifying this well dressed group. However, last August, just after we launched the Berry Boys book, a descendent identified the soldier as George Onslow Browne with an ‘e’ . He is photographed with his wife Daisy (seated), and his two sisters, Louisa and Mary.
A postal clerk from Invercargill, George Browne (b. 1888) enlisted in November 1917, and embarked for England from Wellington in July 1918. It is likely that George’s wife and sisters travelled up to Wellington from the far south to give him a loving send off. Their itinerary obviously included a trip to Berry & Co. in Cuba Street for a group portrait. The group may have also popped into a local jeweller, as Daisy proudly wears a New Zealand Expeditionary Force brooch in support of her husband.
George began his training with ‘E’ Company of the 41st Reinforcements in May 1918, and by 25 July had risen to the position of Acting Sergeant. This promotion allows us to date the portrait very accurately, for George is wearing his sergeant stripes on his great coat and we know his troopship left Wellington on 27 July. It is highly probable that the portrait was taken on 26 July, George’s last full day in Wellington. Hopefully, he sailed on a day like today – bracing but calm.
To find out more about George’s war experiences, and that of his family, read Michael Fitzgerald’s full biographical essay on Collections Online.