Sister Greta Towner: enlistment and Egypt

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

Greta Towner's attestation papers

Greta Towner's attestation papers

Why Greta Towner enlisted is not known,  but she was one of over 2,000 nurses who volunteered in the Australian Army Nursing Service (A.A.N.S.) during the First World War, serving here in Australia and overseas in England, India, Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Persia and Palestine as well as throughout Europe in France, England, Belgium, Germany and Italy. Perhaps they volunteered for adventure and travel, for pay, out of a sense of duty – or a combination of reasons.  For whatever the reason, Greta and the other well-educated women heard the call to care for the sick and wounded volunteering to nurse.

2nd Australian General Hospital, 8th Reinforcements embarkation roll

2nd Australian General Hospital, 8th Reinforcements embarkation roll

On the 31st July 1915 Greta embarked from Sydney, Australia on the RMS Orontes. Her embarkation record has her assigned to the 2nd Australian General Hospital – 1-16 and Special Reinforcements however, her war record from Heliopolis, Egypt on 8th September 1915 records her assigned to the 1st Australian General Hospital (1st A.G.H) and on duty with 1st A.G.H on 11th September 1915.   Greta Towner’s uniform, which survives to this day, shows a chocolate star with a green stripe representing her service being associated with the 1st A.G.H.

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

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

The 1st A.G.H was established on January 14th 1915 at Heliopolis, a suburb of Cairo, in the Heliopolis Palace Hotel.  Soon the hospital was overrun with patients and a variety of locations were sought to deal with the sick and injured including - an Aerodrome, the Luna Park fun park; the Atelier; the Sporting Club buildings and grounds at Heliopolis, and the Artillery Barracks at Abbassia Depots.

Infectious diseases tents at the Military Hospital in Heliopolis Egypt ca. 1916

Once Greta embarked from Australia, she became part of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and was subject to military law under the Army Act as though they were commissioned officers.  Thus, on the voyage, she would have spent time learning army procedures and nursing as required.

Heliopolis, Egypt, c.1915. The interior of the auxiliary hospital which formed part of the No.1 Australian General Hospital (1AGH), located in the former Heliopolis Palace Hotel, Australian War Memorial, H18510

Heliopolis, Egypt, c.1915. The interior of the auxiliary hospital which formed part of the No.1 Australian General Hospital (1AGH), located in the former Heliopolis Palace Hotel, Australian War Memorial, H18510

Greta began her service as a nurse in Egypt, dealing with the sick and injured transported from the Gallipoli campaign and those serving in Egypt and the Middle East. Perhaps she went to see the Pyramids, rode a camel and shopped at the bazaar or visited the famous Cairo Zoological Gardens.

Staff Nurse Greta had started her army service in Egypt, but she was not to stay there...

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