Discovering Sister Greta Norman Towner through Historical Enquiry
Guest blogger: Avril Fazel, Head of Department, Blackall State School.
During research into Blackall born and past student of Blackall State School, Major Edgar Towner VC MC FRGSA, a student from Blackall State School came across an article describing the return of Lieutenant Edgar Towner and his sister, nurse Greta Towner to their home town of Blackall in 1919.
In Blackall today, Edgar Thomas Towner is remembered through the statue “Towner’s Call”. Ronan Robinson, from Blackall State School wrote a letter to the “Barcoo Independent” in 2008, that saw the community galvanise to see “Towner’s Call” erected in 2009. Edgar Towner VC MC and twice mentioned in dispatches is also well documented in the public domain.
But… Who was Sister Greta Norman Towner? What did she do during the First World War? What was her life like after the war? The students knew about Edgar but what about Greta?
Initial research into Greta Towner online revealed her war record and a grainy image with a few words from an article that appeared in 1919 in the Sydney paper, “The Sunday Times”. These were the starting point to “Discovering this Sister Greta Towner” through historical enquiry.
Students from Blackall State School with support from Head of Department, Avril Fazel, and Christine Campbell from the Blackall Historical Society began the process of researching and enquiring. Seeking to find valid sources and supporting evidence about Greta Towner’s life.
Research to date has established Sister Greta Norman Towner as being born at “Glencoe” station, Blackall in 1891, she attended Blackall State School and continued her education in Rockhampton. Greta Towner trained as nurse at the Rockhampton Children’s Hospital, registering as a Nurse in August 1914 and enlisting in July, 1915. Sister Towner served with the AANS (Australian Army Nursing Service) in Egypt (Heliopolis, Cairo), Lemnos Island from September 1915 during the Gallipoli Campaign and on Sea Transport ships. In 1917 she saw service in England at the Southall Hospital which specialised in amputations and artificial limbs. In March 1917 she arrived in France and was posted to the 8th Stationary Hospital in Rouen. On 27 September 1917 she was posted to the 1 AGH (1st Australian General Hospital) in Rouen and served there for the remainder of the First World War. Sister Towner was officially discharged on 4 July 1919.
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 gravestone with her second husband, Harry Maloney.
During the enquiry process, Sister Towner’s uniform become known to the students of Blackall State School and a five students were able to view it and make connections with Greta Towner through this historically significant object. Similarly, through sharing their research, some Towner relatives offered images and insights into Sister Greta’s life to the students to further their research and connection with the past student.
Through the State Library of Queensland’s History Pin project as part of their Q ANZAC 100 – Memories for a New Generation project, students are making their own documentary on Sister Towner’s life and their connection to her story and the process of ‘Discovering Greta’. The video will be published on the “Blackall to Battle and Back” History Pin as part the SLQ Q ANZAC 100 project. They hope their research will see more objects relevant to this ANZAC from their school shared – so more people will come to know her story. The University of Sydney has already shown interest in recording Greta’s association with the university through their remembering of the First World War and it is hoped this research will see students of Blackall State School remember Sister Greta Norman Towner in the generations to come.
Enquiries, comments and contributions are most welcome.
Avril Fazel – firstname.lastname@example.org (Ph 042978819)