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Our Committee is raising funds to create a lasting legacy telling the story of Lemnos' link to Gallipoli and Australia's Anzac story. Our projects include the Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial in Albert Park, the publication of a major new historical and pictorial publication and more. To make a donation you can also deposit directly by direct debit into the Committee's bank account: Account Name: Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee Inc; Bank: Delphi Bank; Account No: 204299-020 BSB No: 941300; Include your surname in the reference section. For further information on our legacy projects or to make a donation please contact either Lee Tarlamis 0411553009 or Jim Claven 0409402388M

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Lemnos Hero - Queensland's Sister Greta Norman Towner

Sister Greta Towner (2nd from Left) in Killarney, Ireland, 1918. Source: Sister Effie Looker

Over the last few months, I have been corresponding with Ms Avril Fazel of Blackall State School on their Anzac centenary project - Sister Greta Norman Towner. They have undertaken amazing work and it has been a pleasure to both share infromation and to see the fruits of their research. This week they released their video on thier very own Lemnos nurse. Congratulations to Ms Fazel and the students of Blackall State School - they are an example of what can be achieved through historical research and thus bringing to life the stories and experiences of those who have gone before us. What follows is a brief outline of Sister Towner's life and I thank Ms Fazael for sharing this with me and our Committee.

Queensland and the Lemnos Nurses
My own research shows that Sister Greta Towner was one of 15 Queensland-born nurses who served on Lemnos in 1915. These include the Matron of the 3rd Australian General Hospital on Lemnos, Matron Grace Wilson of Brisbane. The other Queensland-born nurses were:
Sister Margaret Aitken, born Brisbane
Sister Dorothy Brown, born Brisbane
Sister Elsie Grieg, born Charters Towers
Sister Florence James-Wallace, born St Lawrence
Sister Liliian Lietch, born Brisbane
Sister Flora McDonald, born Gladstone
Staff Nurse Elizabeth Parker, born Rockhampton
Staff Nurse Ada Pollard, born Charters Towers
Sister  Nita Selwyn-Smith, born Charters Towers
Sister Eleanor Simpson, born Maryborough
Staff Nurse Florence Tilley, born Warwick
Matron Grace Wilson, born Brisbane
Sister Agnes Webb, born Beaudesert
Sister Elsie Pollock, born Grantham

Sister Greta Norman Towner
Greta Norman Towner was born at Glencoe station, Blackall in 1891.She was educated at Blackall State School and in Rockhampton. She received her nursing training at the Children's Hospital in Rockhampton.
She was 24 years old when she enlisted on 22nd July 1915 into the 1st Australian General Hospital.
Her address on embarkation for overseas was that of her father, Mr E.T. Towner, of Yabelroi, Queensland Central Railway. She sailed for Egypt from Sydney on 31st July 1915 aboard the RMS Orontes.
RMS Orontes, photographed in March 1916, leaving Port Melbourne. AWM image

It is recorded in the Unit Diary of the 2nd Australian Stationary Hospital (2ASH), that  the On 17 September, Greta arrived along with 24 other Australian nurses arrived at West Mudros on Lemnos on the 17th September to staff the 2ASH. Along with the nurses of the 3rd Australian General Hospital - located a few hundred metres away from the 2ASH on the Turks Head Peninsula, Greta would be one of over 130 Australian nurses who served on Lemnos in 1915. Three other Queensland-born nurses served with Greta at the 2ASH - Sisters Agnes Webb and Flora McDonald as well Staff Nurse Elsie Pollock.
2nd Australian Stationary Hospital on the Turks Head Peninsula, West Mudros. AWM

Under difficult medical and environmental conditions - exposed in tents on a peninsula swept by summer heat and winter rains and wind -  Greta and her fellow nurses would be commended for their amazing medical care in treating the wounded and sick who came in hundreds from Gallipoli.
In January 1916, following the evacuation of Gallipoli, the nurses on Lemnos departed for Egypt. Greta sailed from Lemnos aboard the Dunvegan Castle, arfviing at Alexandria on 21st Janusry 1916.
On 19th March 1916, Greta embarked for Australia abard the Demosthenes
Om 17th November 1916, Greta sailed again to war, leaving Brisbane aboard the Kyarra. She arrived in England on 30th January 1917, disembarking at Plymouth. In England she served at the 2nd Australian Auxiliary Hospital at Southall. later she would serve in France with the 8th Stationary Hospitral at Wimereux and then the 1st Australian General Hospital at Rouen.
1st Australian General Hospital, Rouen - where Greta served. AWM

She was promoted to Sister on 1st October 1918. It was during 1918 that Greta contracted influenza - as many soldiers and nurses did.This was an epidemic that spread across the world at the time. Fortunately, Greta recovered. It was also in 1918 that Greta enjoyed some leave and was photographed riding in Killarney, Ireland, accompanied by other Australian soldiers and a nurse. Ireland was the birthplace of her mother.
She arrived  back in Australia on 5th January 1919 and was discharged on 4th July 1919.
Sister Greta Towner. Sunday Times (Sydney), Sunday 29th June 1919 p.11

For her service, Greta was awarded the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. Her medals are now held in the collection of the State Library of Queensland. 
Lieutenant Edgar Towner, VC, MC. AWM

Her brother - Edgar Towner also served in the First World War. Lieutenant Edgar Towner was awarded the Victoria Cross and Military Cross.  The Australian War Memorial records that Edgar enlisted in 1915 and soon established himself as an outstanding soldier. Fighting in France, he was commissioned, won the Military Cross and was twice Mentioned in Despatches before receiving the Victoria Cross for the attack on Mont St Quentin. In the battle, constantly under fire, he undertook dangerous reconnaissance and bravely led his machine-gunners. At one point he personally captured a machine-gun and turned it on the enemy. After 30 hours' fighting he was evacuated, wounded and exhausted. 
Both Edgar and Great were given "a rousing reception" in Blackall on their return to Australia in July 1919, according to a report in The Western Champion and General Advertiser for the Central Western Districts, 26th July 1919.
Ms Fazel's research has revealed that upon her return to Australia, Sister Towner took on pharmacy study at the University of Sydney, emigrating to the United States of America where she married twice and held various positions as nurse in veteran hospitals.  Sister Greta passed away in the US in 1961 and shares a headstone with her second husband, Harry Maloney. 
Blackall State School Students Research Greta

Over last few months, the students of Blackall State School have been researching Greta's story. Some of the students were undertaking this study as part of their participation in the Queensland Premier's Anzac Student Prize. Assisted by Ms Avril Fazel, Head of the Curriculum Department at the School, and the local historical society, the students have been able to collect an amazing amount of material to document the story of this amazing woman.

Discovering Greta - Video

As part of their research and the State Library of Queensland's History Pin project (part of the Q Anzac 100 - Memories for a New Generation project), they have produced a great video on Greta Towner. I commend it to you all to watch. To watch the video created by the students of Blackall State School in Queensland, click here.

An Example to Others

This is a great example of what school's can do to encourage their students to engage with the Aznac story, by focusing on these impotant local stories and finding new insights on the past.

Thanks to Avril Fazel and the students and teachers of Blackall State School

Jim Claven 
Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee


  1. What a wonderful tribute! Congratulations to the students at Blackall State School. I was so moved by one of those young students, when he talked about seeing the nurses uniforms, and how it had affected him. What a fantastic project!

    1. Indeed, Trish. Well done to the students and the school community.

    2. Indeed, Trish. Well done to the students and the school community.