Edgar Towner : biography
The full citation for Towner’s Victoria Cross appeared in a supplement to the London Gazette on 14 December 1918, reading:
Later war service
Following his recuperation, Towner was granted three weeks leave to England from 14 September 1918. He rejoined his unit on 12 October and, for six days, was attached to the School of Instruction. Following thirteen days leave in France during late November, he returned again to the 2nd Machine Gun Battalion on 12 December.
On 10 April 1919, Towner attended an investiture ceremony in the ballroom of Buckingham Palace, during which he was decorated with his Victoria Cross and Military Cross by King George V. Three weeks later he boarded HT Karagola, bound for Australia. Disembarking at Sydney on 14 June 1919 he made his way to Brisbane, and was discharged from the Australian Imperial Force on 16 August 1919.
Towner resettled on his property, but was forced to sell Valparaiso in 1922 after he was unable to raise sufficient funds to purchase livestock. He spent the next three years working as a jackaroo, until he entered into a partnership on Kaloola station, a property located near Longreach, in 1925. Towner eventually bought out his partner and assumed another partnership with the Russleigh Pastoral Company, Isisford. He was later appointed a director of the company.
With the Second World War looming, Towner enlisted in the Citizens Military Force on 8 August 1939 and was appointed a captain to the 26th Battalion. After a period as a company commander he was promoted to temporary major and second-in-command of the battalion, under fellow Victoria Cross recipient Lieutenant Colonel Harry Murray. However, Towner retired from the army due to ill health on 21 February 1942, and returned to his property at Kaloola.
A keen geographer, Towner would often disappear into the bush for weeks on end, for study or exploration. As a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of Australia and member of the Royal Historical Society of New South Wales, he took a particular interest in researching the life of the explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell. In 1946, he successfully lobbied the Australian Government to issue a postage stamp commemorating the centenary of Mitchell’s discoveries in central Queensland. He addressed the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia in Brisbane in 1955, and was awarded the Dr Thomson Foundation Gold Medal for his geographical work the following year. Towner’s address was published in 1957, in a booklet entitled Lake Eyre and its Tributaries.
Towner never married, and on 18 August 1972 died at Longreach Base Hospital at the age of 82. His funeral took place three days later, with a large number of Longreach citizens lining the streets to see his coffin pass by atop a gun carriage. Following a service at St Andrew’s Church, he was buried with full military honours at the Longreach Town Cemetery. By the time of his death, Towner had amassed an farm containing 25,000 sheep. He remains the highest-decorated serviceman from Queensland. On 24 April 2009, a statue of Towner crafted by Melbourne sculptor William Eicholtz was unveiled in his birth town of Blackall. Inspired by an essay written by a local schoolboy, the community raised A$80,000 to commission a monument in Towner’s memory.