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William Wells GREER, M.C., M.D., F.R.C.S.ED.

(1876 1933)
illiam Wells Greer was born on 25th April 1876 at Chester, England the first born of William Buchanan Greer of Ireland and Emily Wells of Sheffield who were married on 6th July 1875 in Ecclesall Church, Ecclesall Bierlow, Derbyshire, West Riding of Yorkshire, England. His father, also called William was born at Leaffoney, near the small town of Kilglass in County Sligo, Ireland on 3 December 1852 and had moved to England after training as a certified school teacher where he met and married his wife Emily. William Buchanan Greer in turn was one of the eleven children of William Greer and Mary Ann (nee Buchanan), five boys: James, John, William, Acheson, Alexander and six girls: Alicia, Mary-Jane, Margaret, Matilda, Deborah and Anna. The Greer family had a farm of 90 acres near the small town of Kilglass on the coast of County Sligo in north-west Ireland that had been in the family for several generations, and is currently (2011) owned by Alan and Ruth Greer. The 1881 census of England and Wales records the seven year old William living with his parents and younger sister Kathleen age one and a 12 year old servant girl at 15 Church Lane, School House, Nailsea, Somerset, England, where his father was school master at the National Old Church School, and his wife Emily Greer was sewing mistress. Nailsea is approximately 13 km (8 miles) to the southwest of Bristol and about 18 km (11 miles) to the northeast of the seaside resort of Westonsuper-Mare. In 1885 or thereabouts William and Emily immigrated with their three young children (a third child Emily May was born in Nailsea in 1883) to Queensland, Australia, probably to Townsville. By this time at least four of William seniors brothers and sisters had already emigrated from Ireland: John and Acheson had gone to farm in New Zealand and his two older sisters Alicia and Mary-Jane were married and living in Victoria, Australia. The oldest child James had taken over the family farm at Leaffoney. In Australia William senior initially worked as a teacher at Townsville and Brisbane. Later he moved to Southport on the Gold Coast south of Brisbane where he was the principal of the Southport State School. After his retirement from the state school system in 1914 at the age of 61 he took a position with The Southport School, a private Anglican day and boarding school founded in 1901, where he continued working until he died suddenly on the 1st of July 1923 at the age of 70. He was obviously highly regarded at the school and the school news letter of 1923 published a touching obituary about his service to the school and teaching. There is a stained glass window in the schools chapel dedicated to his memory, and another to his daughter Katherine who also served there as a music teacher. Initially the young William was taught by his father, then later he attended the Townsville Grammar School where he obtained a scholarship to attend the Brisbane Grammar School. He must have been clever enough as in 1899 age 24 he returned to the UK to study medicine at the Royal Infirmary at Edinburgh University in Scotland. The 1901 census of Scotland records him as boarding with the Badger family at St Bernards in Edinburgh. He was a medical student. 1

While he was studying in Edinburgh it is likely that he made a trip to Ireland to visit his Greer relatives for there is a family story that in the early 1900s a Dr. Greer came to visit who impressed them in quietening a frightened horse. The British Medical Journal of 2 July 1904 notes that WW Greer had passed final examination for a degree in medicine and surgery at Edinburgh University graduating M.B and Ch.B and he became a member of the British Medical Association.
The Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, 1890 Following his graduation Sir Byrom Bramwell, a noted physician and pathologist who taught in the University invited him to become his house-physician, a post he ultimately held for a year, but not until he had first served for six months as an assistant in general practice to a Dr. Carruthers in Congleton, Cheshire. It is said that the interruption of his hospital career at this stage was a great disappointment to him, but was brought about by financial considerations. He took up the hard apprenticeship of an assistant in order to save the means which enabled him later to accept a second invitation from his old teacher, whose clinical example and personal influence undoubtedly moulded to a large extent Williams own practical trend of thought.

After finishing his time at the Royal Infirmary he returned to Australia in July 1906, (working his passage as the medical officer on the ship), after an absence of seven years to practice medicine, and settled in Kyogle, Richmond River, northern NSW, 758 km north of Sydney near the Queensland border, directly west of Byron Bay. Kyogle is a small town established in the 1830s as a lumber camp to exploit the expansive forestry resources in the area, situated on the main Sydney Brisbane railway line. This is where he built and organized his own private hospital and established a welldeserved reputation as a surgeon. This photograph of him was taken on 31st July 1906 in Sydney, when recently arrived from the UK a few months after he turned 30 he applied for registration as a doctor with the NSW medical board. He has the sloping shoulders, dark hair typical of some of us Greers, a suggestion of exaggerated ears and a dimple in his chin. With the mischievous twinkle in his eyes and impressive moustache the photo says that he is a man who knows what he is about. 2

After practicing for a short time at Kyogle, William returned to Scotland, to claim his bride for he married Miss Roberta (Berta) Campbell Waldie on 16th August 1907 in Bornington United Free Church, Leith North, Edinburgh. She was the daughter of a coal merchant James Alexander Waldie and his wife Catherine, and born on 31st March 1885, the youngest of a family of five (four girls and one boy). At the time of her marriage she was living at The Grove, Laverack Bank, Trinity, Leith, Scotland. The witnesses to their wedding were her sister Sarah Maracella Waldie, father James Waldie, and James Adamson. (We know this as Scotland has very good records of births deaths and marriages). Following their marriage William and his new bride retuned to his medical practice in Kyogle, Australia where he lived and worked for the next six years. In September 1910 he was joined by his younger sister Emily May Greer, a trained nurse and member of the Australasian Trained Nurses Association (1908) and trained in obstetrics at the Royal Hospital for Women in Sydney (1910). In 1912, Dr William and Berta travelled back to the UK via Japan, China, and the trans-Siberia railway across Europe to Edinburgh to study for the Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (F.R.C.S.). This must have been a fairly adventurous and unusual journey for those days taking several months. They intended to return to Australia after he had completed his training as a surgeon two years later, but the First World War intervened and it would be a further five years before they were to return to Australia. With Britains declaration of war of 4 August 1914 it is said that Dr William offered his services on the day war was declared. He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and was appointed to the 3rd Lowland Field Ambulance attached to the 52nd (Lowland) Division, of the British Expeditionary Force. The division was a self-contained formation of around 20,000 men (similar to the New Zealand Division of WW2) that had been formed after 1908 as part of the British peacetime Territorial Force. A Field Ambulance was not an actual vehicle but a unit composed of several hundred men and officers that had responsibility for dealing with casualties from the fighting. 1 In April 1915 the Division was prepared to go on overseas service; the destination being Gallipoli. The units embarked by ship at Liverpool and Devonport in May/June. However disaster struck before they left on 22 May when a troop train carrying men from the division crashed in an accident at Quntinshill near Gretna south of Edinburgh resulting in the death of over 200 men (most being burnt to death) and many injuries. This accident still remains as Britains worse train disaster. The first units landed on Gallipoli at Cape Helles on the southern end of the peninsula on 6 June 1915, six weeks after the initial landings on 25 April. The Division was then involved in several

The Field Ambulance was a mobile front line medical unit. Most came under command of a Division, and had special

responsibility for the care of casualties of one of the Brigades in the Division. Each Division had three Field Ambulances. The theoretical capacity of the Field Ambulance was 150 casualties, but in battle many would simply be overwhelmed by numbers. The Ambulance was responsible for establishing and operating a number of points along the casualty evacuation chain, from the Bearer Relay Posts which were up to 600 yards behind the Regimental Aid Posts, through the Advanced Dressing Station (ADS), to the Main Dressing Station (MDS). It also provided a Walking Wounded Collecting Station, as well as various rest areas and local sick rooms. The Ambulances would usually establish 1 ADS per Brigade, and 1 MDS for the Division.

important moves and engagements in this area suffering severely until the successful evacuation on 7/8 January 1916 when the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign came to an end. Dr William served with the division throughout the war in Gallipoli, Egypt, Sinai, Palestine, and France. His medal card records that he first went on active service in the Gallipoli theatre of war in September 1915, so he must not have been with the forward units that went to Gallipoli. Initially he had the rank on Captain then he was a temporary major in command of a Field Ambulance. In the supplement to the London gazette of 20 November 1917 it is mentioned that he relinquished his temporary rank of Major on ceasing to command a Field Ambulance on 22 Mar 1916. At the time of the evacuation of Gallipoli in January 1916 he was acting A.D.M.S (senior officer) for the division with all field ambulances under his command. As far as I know he is the only member of the extended Greer family that served in Gallipoli. Following its evacuation from Gallipoli the Division moved to Egypt and concentrated at Abbassia near Cairo and in March moved to take over part of the Suez Canal defences. During 1916 and 1917 it was involved in several battles of the Palestine and Egyptian campaign, in which Australian and New Zealand forces were also involved. It is recorded that Major Williams medical convoy was on four occasions lent to the Anzacs and he saw service with the Australians at Romani, Ber-el-abd, Magdhaba, and Rafa and received through his General the personal thanks of Sir Harry Chauvel for services rendered to the Australian forces.

Second Battle of Gaza, Palestine, April 1917

During the Egyptian and Palestine campaigns, Major Greer was three times mentioned in dispatches, and was awarded the Military Cross (MC) for services at the second battle of Gaza 17 to 19 April 1917. This battle which involved the use of tanks and poison gas by the British against the Turks was a disastrous defeat for the British resulting in almost 6,000 casualties of which 1,365 were from the 52nd (Lowland) division. 4

No information is available on the circumstances of Dr William being awarded the MC, but apparently during WWI they were awarded quite liberally. (Most of the personnel records from WW1 were destroyed during the blitz in London during WW2). The MC is the third highestlevel military decoration (after the Victoria Cross and the Distinguished Service Order) awarded during WWI to officers of the British Armed Forces; and also to officers of other Commonwealth countries. The MC award was created in 1914 for commissioned officers of the substantive rank of Captain or below and for Warrant Officers granted in recognition of "an act or acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land. The Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), a body of over 100,000 personnel, in which Dr William served, received 1,484 Military Crosses; 499 Distinguished Service Orders; and seven Victoria Crosses during WW1. When the Allies were hard pressed in France in March 1918 as a result of the Germans last ditch offensive before the Americans came into the war in numbers the 52nd Division was hurriedly sent to bolster the Western Front from Palestine travelling by ship from Alexandria in early April to Marseille in the south of France then by train and rushed to the front line. From that time until fighting ceased, Major Greer experienced all the hazards of trench life in France right to the end as Armistice Day on the 11th of November 1918 found him in action in the front line with his Battalion, which had been ordered to clear the Mons Road at all costs. It is said that he was severely gassed during the war, its not know if this was during his time in France in 1918, or in the Middle East where poison gas was also used. Is seems particularly ironic that someone who was dedicated to saving lives and patching up casualties should also be exposed to such an inhumane and horrible weapon. The demobilisation of the Division began in December and the service of the Division came to an end on 31 May 1919 when the final cadres left for home. It was recorded in the Supplement to the London Gazette Saturday 23 August 1919 that Captain (acting Major) W.W. Greer ceased to be employed on 12th January 1919 and went back to civilian life. In 1919, it is noted that Major Greer refused a good appointment in London to return to Australia, where be desired to be near his parents. Subsequently he purchased a doctors practice at Southport, on the Gold Coast south of Brisbane. (The Australian Electoral Rolls records them as living at Bonnie Brae, Scarborough Street in the Moreton district of Southport). He settled there very much a part of the local community involved with the Boy Scouts, the tennis club, Masonic Lodge etc. A year after his fathers death in 1923, he sold the practice to return to England, the land of his birth, travelling via America. Their details are recorded in the manifest of alien passengers leaving Honolulu on the SS City of Los Angeles for Wilmington, California on 30th August 1924 as Dr William age 48 and his wife Roberta (39), with their last place of residence being Queensland, New Zealand (sic!). They most probably travelled across the US by train continuing by ship to England from the east coast. On their return to England, they purchased a medical practise and settled in Bedfont, 5

Middlesex, which is near Hounslow and Heathrow Airport to the west of London where he lived in the Red House on Staines Road (no longer there) and practiced until his death in 1933. He was appointed the Police Surgeon almost immediately and became well established in the community. It is noted in the Brisbane Courier newspaper that his mother visited them in February 1928 and his sister Kathleen and her young daughter Kim from Australia visited them in Bedfont in 1931/32 when they had an extended 15 months tour of England and Scotland. Dr. Greer was seriously injured in a motor accident in Belgium in August 1927 when he was attending the Zeebrugge Memorial Inauguration Programme, 26 27 August 1927. The Zeebrugge Memorial commemorates a raid carried out by 75 ships and a volunteer force which planned to neutralise the key Belgian ports of Zeebrugge and Ostend, both used by the German Navy as a base for submarines and light shipping. The raid on Zeebrugge was launched early on the morning of 23 April 1918. Some 500 British casualties were incurred during the operation (of which approximately 200 were fatalities). A total of eight Victoria Crosses were awarded for the night's action. It is not know what interest in the event Dr William had to make him attend the memorial service almost 10 years after the event. Maybe he knew some of the soldiers and seamen who took part. As a result of his car accident he suffered a fractured skull and it took him 18 months to recuperate and it seems he never did regain his full health. Dr William died on Saturday 1 July 1933 at his residence the Red House on the Staines Road in Hounslow. (Exactly 10 years to the day since the death of his father). It is recorded that he had been had been laid low with the flu but went back to work early and the strain had been too much for him. He carried the effects of being gassed in WWI and his serious motor accident in 1927. He was aged 57. The local paper published his obituary; recording that his funeral was conducted in Tuesday 4 July at St Marys church in Bedfont following which his remains were cremated at the Brookwood Crematorium nearby in Woking. His obituary was published in the local papers in Bedfont and Southport and in the British Medical Journal. He was obviously widely admired and respected for his work as a doctor, his war service and involvement in the local community. A colleague had this to say about him at the time of his death: The combination of a rare imagination with an intensely practical attitude towards life gave to Greer an intellectual outlook which would have made him an ideal teacher of surgery had he remained in the academic world. Destiny, however, had marked him for the highways and byways of practice in a country in which distances were great and where many bricks had 'to be made without straw. Although precluded by the circumstances of his work from the opportunities for much reading or discussion of medical problems, he never lost the fine clinical instinct which, inherent from the beginning, had developed so strongly during his association with Bramwell. His knowledge of men was deep, his sympathy immense. The affection which he felt for his patients was blended with his intellectual gifts and his practical determination, and this gave his clinical work the character which it invariably showed, and which made his reputation among colleagues and patients one of which any man might well have been proud. Of this, however, Greer was largely unconscious, and the gentle and naive surprise that he would exhibit at any outside praise was as beautiful as it was unaffected. Truly he was a doctor of the old school, whose life and work, like those of so many whose 6

names are not writ large in the chronicles of men, will nevertheless remain an abiding example to the multitude of those who benefited by him, and still more to the smaller band of intimates to whom, by his strength and sweetness, he was so greatly endeared. On 18 August 1933 probate of his will was recorded with his estate valued at 8,331 10s. 4d., a considerable sum of money for those days. A similar notice was placed in Australian papers. His widow Berta lived another 39 years, and it is likely that she stayed in England for the rest of her life. Her death is recorded in Oct-Dec quarter of 1972 at Maidstone, Kent at the grand old age of 87. William and Berta did not have had any children. Presumably she had other family in the area that cared for her and provided company in her old age. What happened to his Military Cross? Maybe it was handed down to one of his nephews and nieces on his wifes side of the family. There is no information, and that remains a task for someone to decipher. William was obviously an educated and accomplished man so it is likely that he detailed his trials and tribulations during the war and his long absences from his wife and family in letters. Maybe in an attic somewhere there is a bundle of his yellowing letters waiting to see the light of day again. Dr Williams younger sister Emily May Greer (1883-1944) also had a distinguished and interesting medical career as a nurse. Born in England in 1883 she came to Australia with her family as a young girl and then trained as a nurse at the Brisbane Childrens Hospital graduating in August 1908. In June 1908 she had passed the examination for the Australasian Trained Nurses Association and became a member. From July 1910, she trained in obstetrics at the Royal Hospital for Women in Sydney then nursed at a private hospital in Kyogle from September 1910, (the hospital run by her older brother Dr. William Wells Greer). She was travelling in the East at the outbreak of WW1 and returned to Queensland by the first available boat to offer her services to the military authorities in Brisbane who accepted her as a trained nurse. Growing impatient of delays, and feeling, as she had considerable surgical experience, having gone through the Manchu Revolution in China in 1913, when she acted as sister-in-charge of the Red Cross Hospital in Shanghai, that her services were needed, in March 1915 she sailed to England, where she joined the Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNSR). She was attached to a Park Lane Officers hospital in London for the treatment of offices who had been gassed, then Bramshott Military Hospital during the winter of 1915/16 where she nursed Tommies at the hospital, where they arrived straight from the trenches in France within 24 hours of being wounded. On volunteering for foreign service she was sent to Salonica, Greece where she served for over two years, and was then invalided to England because of ill health. Subsequently, while nursing at Trent Bridge Military Hospital, several of the sisters died, and she nearly succumbed to a severe attack of pneumonic influenza. A long rest with friends in England and Scotland restored her health. She returned to Southport after the war, where in 1919 she was a nurse at the Southport State School (where her father had been the headmaster) then on 19 July 1919 she married Andrew Armstrong a metallurgist, originally of Sydney in Capetown, South Africa. They spent most of their married life in Australia and had two children, the son of one who it seems is the last of this line of Greers. Ray Greer, Jan 2012 (ray@greer.co.nz) 7