Sister Greta Towner: sea transport nursing

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

After the December 1915 evacuation of the Gallipoli Peninsula by the allied forces, Greta Towner departed Lemnos Island on the 24 January 1916.  Greta’s war service record states: ‘embarked for Australia per Demosthenes ex Suez under instructions from D.M.S’. (Director of Medical Services) The ship, Demosthenes, was bound for Australia.

Demosthenes leaving Sydney, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg. 67449

Demosthenes leaving Sydney, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg. 67449

Conflicting in some way with the war service record, The “Cairns Post” reported in June 1916:  “Sister Greta, Towner, after spending several months at Lemnos Island, was granted three months' furlough, returning to Brisbane, but was only in Brisbane a fortnight when she was recalled for duty.” Greta was assigned to Sea Transport duties.  A role that would have seen her caring for injured and sick ANZAC soldiers on ships returning to Australia and New Zealand from the hospitals in Egypt.

Departure of the Kyarra

Greta’s embarkation records at the Australian War Memorial have her embarking on the ship, HMAT Kyarra A55 in June 1916 out of Brisbane as part of the Sea Transport nursing staff.  She is then listed as embarking on the HMAT Kyarra on 17 November 1916 out of Sydney, arriving in London in January 1917.

Unidentified staff with patients in a ward at the No. 2 Australian Auxiliary Hospital. Australian War Memorial D00569

Unidentified staff with patients in a ward at the No. 2 Australian Auxiliary Hospital. Australian War Memorial D00569

Greta was assigned for duty at the No 2 Australian Auxiliary Hospital in Southall, England.  This hospital specialised in amputations. The hospital also pioneered the development of artificial limbs.

Page 21 of the Queenslander Pictorial supplement 21 September 1918. The Second A.A. Hospital at Southall

The numbers in the unit diary can only lead one to imagine what Greta encountered at the Southall hospital, which was set up in two local schools.  The official unit dairy shows that over the period January to August 1917, the No 2 AAH cared for 4,436 patients in its 486 beds, performed 611 amputations and supplied 344 artificial legs and 91 artificial arms.

Fitting an artificial limb in the limb fitting department at No. 2 Australian Auxiliary Hospital. Southall, England. 22 May 1919. Australian War Memorial D00571

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