It started with a vintage picture postcard of Elland I bought on eBay for 99 pence. Elland is just down the road and I always try to keep a watch for cheap vintage postcards of local scenes. It was a picture of Elland Town Hall and I thought it might be interesting to compare the view in 1908 (the year the card was used) with the view now. When the card arrived through the post, I flipped it over and read the message on the reverse.
The message reads as follows:
To: Miss Eva Poingdestre, Navy Cottage, Millbank, Island of Jersey, Europe
Dear Eva, Hoping you are all still living. You seem to think I'm dead. I have not heard from you for a long time. Write seen, Weather very cold. Kind regards to all. From your loving Cousin Jack.
I spend a short time trying to work out why Jack Poingdestre might come to be in Elland before I noticed the postage stamps which were not British, but Canadian. So here we have a lad with a somewhat unusual name, whose family live in the Channel Islands sending a picture postcard of Elland, West Yorkshire from Canada. There must be a story there somewhere for someone with a vivid imagination. The story I came up with - based on a relatively brief internet search - turns out to be much more unusual than anything my vivid imagination could have invented.
John Thomas "Jack" Poingdestre was born on the Isle of Jersey in 1878, one of twelve children. He left home at an early age and went to sea where he served as an Able Seaman on the trans-Atlantic liners (this is perhaps why he was sending postcards from Canada although it does not explain why it was a picture postcard of Elland). In 1912 he was serving on board the Oceana when it sank off Newhaven. He survived the ordeal, and immediately signed up to go to sea again on another ship. Unfortunately he chose the Titanic which was about to make its maiden voyage from Southampton. When the Titanic started sinking he was put in charge of lifeboat 12, one of the last lifeboats to escape the sinking ship. He had managed to collect some 70 survivors of the disaster in his boat before eventually being picked up by the Carpathia.
You would think such an experience would put anyone off the sea for life, but not Jack. A few years later he was on active service during World War I on board the Titanic's sister ship, the Britannic which was serving as a hospital ship in the Mediterranean. With Jack on board, her fate was sealed : she was sunk after striking a mine off the Greek coast in November 1916. Jack survived once again and little else is known of his life or when he died. With luck like his you half expect him to still be alive now.
There is no definite evidence that the Jack Poingdestre of my postcard is the same John Thomas "Jack" Poingdestre of the Titanic, but it would seem likely. However, his incredible story does nothing to explain why he was sending picture postcards of Elland (which is at least 50 miles from the sea).
If you want to see what the view of Elland Town Hall looks like today, take a look at my latest Picture Post entry.