Edgar Towner

Edgar Towner bigraphy, stories - Australian Victoria Cross recipient

Edgar Towner : biography

19 April 1890 – 18 August 1972

Edgar Thomas Towner VC, MC (19 April 1890 – 18 August 1972) was an Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for gallantry "in the face of the enemy" that can be awarded to members of the British and Commonwealth armed forces. A lieutenant in the Australian Imperial Force during the First World War, Towner was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1918 for his actions during an attack on Mont St. Quentin on the Western Front.

Born in Queensland to a farming family, Towner enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in 1915. Posted to the transport section of the 25th Battalion, he served in Egypt until his unit was sent to the Western Front. He then transferred to the 2nd Machine Gun Battalion where he was commissioned as a lieutenant and twice Mentioned in Despatches for his leadership. During June 1918, Towner led a machine gun section in attack near Morlancourt and assisted the infantry in reaching its objectives under heavy fire, for which he was awarded the Military Cross. In September, again commanding a machine gun section, he was involved in the Allied counteroffensive that broke the German lines at Mont St. Quentin and Péronne. Fighting for thirty hours after being wounded, his "conspicuous bravery, initiative and devotion to duty" earned him the Victoria Cross, which was presented by King George V in April 1919.

Discharged in August, Towner returned to Australia. He was appointed a director of the Russleigh Pastoral Company, and briefly re-enlisted during the Second World War, when he was promoted to major. A keen geographer, he was awarded the Dr Thomson Foundation Gold Medal in 1956 for his geographical work. Unmarried, he died in 1972 at the age of 82.

Early life

Edgar Towner was born on 19 April 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 the First World War.

First World War

On 4 January 1915, Towner enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. Assigned to the transport section of the 25th Battalion as a private,

he embarked aboard HMAT Aeneas from Brisbane on 29 June, bound for Egypt. The troopship arrived in August, and the battalion spent the rest of the month training in the desert before transferring to the Gallipoli Peninsula. Towner, however, remained in Egypt with the army's transportation elements. 

Following the Allied evacuation of Gallipoli, the 25th Battalion returned to Egypt in December 1915, where Towner rejoined its ranks on 10 January 1916. He was promoted to sergeant on 1 February, before departing with the battalion at Alexandria the following month to join the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front. Disembarking at Marseilles, the unit was the first Australian battalion to arrive in France.

In July 1916, the 25th Battalion took part in its first major Western Front action at the Battle of Pozières, part of the Somme offensive. The battalion suffered 785 casualties between 25 July and 7 August. It was briefly transferred to a "quieter sector of the front in Belgium" before returning to action on the Somme in October. On 3 November, Towner was transferred to the 2nd Machine Gun Battalion of the 2nd Australian Division, and was allotted to the 7th Brigade’s Machine Gun Company. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant fifteen days later, and assumed command of the battalion’s transport section.

Promoted to lieutenant on 24 February 1917, Towner’s service with his transport section earned him praise for his "devotion to duty and consistent good work", and on 9 April he was Mentioned in the Despatches of Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig. Towner was granted leave to the United Kingdom in January 1918. He received a second Mention in Despatches on 7 April 1918, the notification of which was published in a supplement to the London Gazette on 28 May.