Sister Greta Towner: Post Card

Guest blogger: Avril Fazel, Head of Department, Blackall State School.

Postcard send by Greta while on the S.S. Orontes

Postcard send by Greta while on the S.S. Orontes

This post card was shared digitally by Susan Mayne, a niece of Sister Greta Towner, who has conserved many historical objects related to Greta.

Blackall State School year 7/8 students were the first to view the post card images and went through the process of inquiring into the historical and personal content that the post card offered.

With some assistance in reading a cursive hand, the script of the post card was interpreted to read as:

     “18.8.15

      We are still travelling expect to get in to Colombo tomorrow. Had a very smooth trip over. So

      we have been having a good time plenty of games, dancing etc. Hope to hear from you all

      soon. Tons of love to all from G.N.T”

The post card was addressed to “Mrs E.T Towner “Purtora” Yalleroi Queensland Australia”

Orontes postcard back

Orontes postcard back

Inquiring through looking at Sister Towner’s records known to date,  the postcard being from the ship  Orontes,  was match to the Australian War Memorial embarkation rolls for Sister Towner, as was the date.

The  phrases “hope to hear from you all soon” and   “tons of love to all”  -  were interpreted by the students that she might have been a bit home sick and loved her family.

Orontes (ship), John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg. 11471

Orontes (ship), John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg. 11471

The mention of ‘having a good time plenty of games and dancing’ and the photo of the dining saloon, was put in context with the postcard’s date 18th August – by the 17th September one month on Sister Towner’s war record shows she had gone from a luxury liner to the very primitive conditions of Lemnos Island off the coast of Gallipoli.

As one young man pointed out “well I’m glad she had a good time on the boat, because things certainly went worse for poor Greta”.

The student was not trying to make light  – he knew Greta Towner was about to experience  the horrific conditions on Lemnos Island that she could not have known about.

Lemnos Island, Page 22 of the Queenslander Pictorial, supplement to The Queenslander, 3 July, 1915, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Lemnos Island, Page 22 of the Queenslander Pictorial, supplement to The Queenslander, 3 July, 1915, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Students were able to revisit their understanding of the conditions on Lemnos Island and on Sister Towner's  later experience working in a hospital that specialised in amputations and  how awful that would have been.  It made them wonder, did she write home at other times during the war?  Or did she keep a diary?  Would her voice have changed?

In a modern age with social media, post cards for the young today could be seen as being like the Face Book entry of the time – the students thought this idea quite amusing when they understood how long the mail might have taken.

The students also marvelled at the hand writing – how do we read that?

Page 25 of the Queenslander Pictorial supplement to The Queenslander 10 July 1915

Page 25 of the Queenslander Pictorial supplement to The Queenslander 10 July 1915

The students couldn’t believe that such an item still existed nearly one hundred years on. They were thankful for Susan Mayne preserving this item and were quite thrilled that they got to read the post card.

They understood that there would not have been a great number of people in the past ninety odd years who would have read those words outside of family members.

Through discussion the students decided that whilst photos are valuable, personal items like a postcard that was actually written by Greta Towner and revealed something of her personality were essential to understanding the person and thus were important to conserve.

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