Central Queensland soldier's heroic tale of survival
EDGAR Towner was born on April 19, 1890, at Glencoe Station near Blackall, Queensland, to Edgar Thomas Towner, a grazing farmer, and his Irish wife Greta (née Herley).
He was educated at Blackall State School and in Rockhampton, although he also received private instruction from his mother.
After leaving school Towner worked on his father's grazing property until 1912, when he acquired land of his own. He named the property "Valparaiso" and worked on its development until the outbreak of World War I.
HOW HE WON THE VICTORIA CROSS
The story of how Lieutenant ET Towner, son of Mr and Mrs ET Towner, of Yalleroi, won the Victoria Cross is given over the signature of Major General Charles Rosenthal, commanding the Second Australian Division.
It is as follows: "On the 1st of September, 1918, in the attack on Mont St. Quentin, near Peronne, this officer was in charge of four Vickers guns operating on a front of 1500 yards.
During the early stages of the advance an enemy machine gun was causing casualties to our advancing infantry.
Locating the gun, Lieutenant Towner dashed ahead alone and succeeded in killing the crew with his revolver, capturing the gun, and then, by turning it against the enemy, inflicted heavy casualties on them.
Advancing then past a copse, from which the enemy was firing, he brought his guns into action, placing his fire behind the enemy and cutting them off. On their attempting to retire before the advancing infantry, and finding they were prevented by this machine gun fire, the party of twenty-five Germans surrendered.
He then reconnoitred alone over open ground exposed to heavy machine gun and snipers' fire, and, by his energy and foresight and the promptitude with which he brought fire to bear on further enemy groups, enabled the infantry to reach a sunken road.
On moving his guns up to the sunken road he found himself short of ammunition, so went back across the open under heavy fire and obtained a German gun and brought it and boxes of ammunition into the sunken road.
Here he mounted and fired the gun in full view of the enemy, causing the enemy to retire further and enabling infantry on the flank, who were previously held up, to advance.
Enemy machine gunners having direct observation, flicked the earth round and under this gun and played a tattoo along the top of the bank.
Though one pellet went into his helmet and inflicted a gaping scalp wound, he continued firing.
Subsequently he refused to go out to have his wound attended to as the situation was critical and his place was with his men.
Later in the day the infantry were obliged to retire slightly, and one gun crew with the first wave having become casualties, the gun was left behind.
Lieutenant Towner, seeing this, dashed back over the open, carried the gun back in spite of terrific fire, and brought it into action again.
He continued to engage the enemy wherever they appeared and put an enemy machine gun out of action.
During the following night he insisted on doing his tour of duty along with the other officers, and his coolness and cheerfulness set an example which had a great effect on the men.
To steady and calm the men of a small detached outpost, he crawled out among the enemy outposts to investigate.
He remained out about an hour, though enemy machine guns fired continuously on the sector and the Germans were moving about him.
He moved one gun up in support of the infantry post and patrolled the communication saps which ran off this post into the German line during the remainder of the night.
Next morning, after his guns assisted in dispersing a large party of the enemy, he was led away, utterly exhausted, thirty hours after being wounded.
The resourcefulness and courage of this officer undoubtedly saved a very difficult situation and was a very large factor in the success of the attack.
General Sir William Birdwood, writing to Lieutenant Towner from the headquarters of the Australian Imperial Forces, France, on the 8th of January last, said: "Dear Towner, I am indeed pleased to see that you have been awarded the Victoria Cross in recognition of your most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during the attack on Mont St. Quentin on the 1st of September.
During the early statics of the advance you most gallantly rushed and captured single-handed an enemy machine gun which was causing heavy casualties and then promptly brought it to bear with great effect on the enemy.
Throughout the whole operation you handled your guns with great skill and daring, and, although wounded while keeping your guns in action in full view of the enemy, you remained with your men for some thirty hours, when you collapsed owing to exhaustion and had to he evacuated.
At no time did you spare yourself, but you were always in the thick of the fighting, keeping your men under excellent control and inspiring them to greater efforts by your magnificent example of bravery, coolness, and cheerfulness.
I thank you very much for the fine soldier's qualities which you displayed and which fully deserved this much coveted distinction conferred upon you."