During the First World War over a thousand Russian-born servicemen enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). They were the largest national group in the AIF after British, New Zealand and Canadian born servicemen. Besides ethnic Russians, these Anzacs included members of a score of different ethnic groups born within the borders of the Russian Empire. Their story is told in my book:
Elena Govor, Russian Anzacs in Australian History, Sydney, UNSW Press in association with NAA, 2005, 310 p., 44 ills
This site provides additional information about each of the Russian Anzacs, as well as statistical and other data. There is a page for each of these servicemen, containing biographical and service details, as well as links to further materials such as archival documents, newspaper articles, photographs, and quotes from books. In many cases these sources have been digitised and are available to view online.
This site was updated in 2014, and from early 2015 all old versions of the site will redirect to this main page. We apologise for any broken links, and advise to update old links to the new address (http://russiananzacs.net).
Centenary of the First World War
To mark the Centenary of the First World War, this site will, in a weekly blog post, celebrate the Russian Anzacs who enlisted in the AIF that week. Their pages on this new site will be updated with the latest available sources and materials.
July 28, 2015
John Elias Anderson
- John Elias Anderson was a carpenter from Abo (Turku) in Finland.
- He enlisted in the AIF in Sydney, but was discharged for ‘disorderly conduct’.
- He disappears from Australian records after that.
- Onnie Backman from ‘Yarkup’ in Finland was farming in Bunbury in Western Australia before the war.
- He came to the Western Front with the 28th Battalion and was killed during the battle at Pozieres in July 1916.
- All attempts to find the non-existant ‘Yarkup’, and Backman’s relatives in Finland, were unsuccessful.
Waldemar Franz von Kroeber
- Waldemar Franz von Kroeber was born in a Russianised German family in St Petersburg. He came to Western Australia as a sailor in 1909 and worked on Bunbury jetty as a lumper.
- He served with the 16th battalion on the Western Front. In August 1916 he was gassed and suffered shell shock at Mouquet Farm, but recovered and returned to the trenches. He fought to the end of the war, being several times in hospital with different diseases.
- After the war he lived in Fremantle working as a labourer. In 1933 he married an Australian, Eva May Cook. In 1925 he joined the Communist Party of Australia, but although he later left it, he and his family were under observation of the Australian security forces.
- Victor Ahl, a Finn from Borga (Porvoo) came to Australia in 1889. He lived in New South Wales and Queensland, working in Kingaroy in Queensland by the time of his enlistment in the AIF.
- In spite of his age (he was 45 years old in 1915), he was accepted into the AIF and sailed to the front with the 31st Battalion. However in Egypt he became sick, was returned to Australia and discharged.
- After the war he lived in Queensland, occasionally getting into trouble with police for his drinking problems. In 1924 he succumbed to sickness and died in Roma Hospital.
Vaino Armos Balhorn
July 26, 2015
- Vaino Armos Balhorn was born in Finland and, emigrating to Australia, lived in Sydney and Muswellbrook, New South Wales, working on the railway.
- Enlisting in the AIF, he served on the Western Front in artillery detachments as a gunner. In January 1917 he remained ‘in telephone dugout to maintain communication whilst their battery was being shelled, after the detachment has been ordered to a flank owing to no cover being available’, as wrote his commander. The dugout was blown up by a direct hit, killing Balhorn’s comrade, while Balhorn sustained a fracture of the base of the skull. He was saved by the gunner Kelly, who dug him out. While Balhorn was in hospital in England came the announcement that he was mentioned in despatches ‘for devotion to duty by remaining’ on his post ‘under heavy fire’.
- Repatriated to Australia as medically unfit, Balhorn married an Australian girl, Gladys Louisa Smith, had a family, and worked in the Naval Store department on Garden Island in Sydney. Both his sons served in the Army during the WWII and he himself was awarded the Imperial Service Medal in 1954 ‘for marked devotion in his 35 years service with his department’.
Axel Valentine Josephson
- Axel Valentine Josephson, a Finnish seaman from Abo, came to Australia in 1910 and worked in Victor Harbour in South Australia on railway construction.
- He served with the 27th Battalion on the Western Front until he was severely wounded in the right eye, arm and leg in March 1917. He was repatriated to Australia.
- After the war he married an Australian woman, Elizabeth Anne, had seven children and lived in Adelaide working as a carpenter.
- Louis Crook, a Jewish man from Belostok in Poland, moved to England with his family as a child. Migrating later to Australia, he lived in Townsville, working as a tailor.
- Enlisting in the AIF he served with the 9th Battalion on the Western Front. In July 1916 he was wounded at Pozieres and in August 1918 gassed during the advance at Chuignes.
- After the war he lived in Temora and then in Sydney working as a tailor.
- Vachalar Kovalsky (his correct first name must have been Viacheslav), was said to be from Moscow. He came to Queensland via the Russian Far East and worked as a labourer in Brisbane and Toowoomba.
- At the first attempt to enlist in the AIF he was rejected, but was accepted in July 1915. With the 9th Battalion he fought on the Western Front, but after Pozières his sight began to rapidly go; in the end he was taken to London. There, in November 1916, nearly blind, he was discharged. Three days after Christmas he poisoned himself: the police report stated he had ‘no known friends in this country’. No friends of his were found in Australia either.
- He is missing from the Australian Roll of Honour.
- Edmund Filip was born in Talsen in Latvia and came from Canada to Melbourne in 1909, probably as a seaman. Here he worked as a labourer in the agricultural settlements east of Melbourne.
- He served with the 12th Field Company Engineers on the Western Front as a sapper.
- After the war he returned to country Victoria, married an Australian girl, Ethel May, and lived in Orbost, working as a labourer.
Alexander Paul Sank
July 24, 2015
- Alexander Paul Sank came from a Jewish family in Aleksandrovsk (Zaporozhe) in Ukraine. In 1906, after the pogroms, his family moved to Harbin. In 1912 Alexander followed his brother to Australia. A motor mechanic by trade, he worked as a labourer and driver.
- Enlisting in the AIF, he came to the Western Front with reinforcements to the 9th Battalion in April 1916 and was wounded soon after that at Rouge de Bout in both arms. After treatment in a British hospital, he was evacuated to Australia and discharged, but reenlisted in the AIF and in 1917-1918 was on home service.
- After the war he lived in Queensland working as a motor driver and tram guard. In 1921 he returned to his mother in Harbin and in 1922 went to live in Khabarovsk in Russia where he worked as an interpreter on the Ussury Railway. Later he married, moved to Novosibirsk and worked as supply agent for industrial enterprises. In 1951 he was arrested and sent to GULAG for ‘espionage’ and ‘anti-Soviet agitation’.
- Walter Kalasnikoff, a Russian fireman from Ostrov near Pskov, came to Australia in August 1914 when the war had already broke out. He worked, probably as a miner, in Mount Morgan, where he enlisted in the AIF.
- He came to the Western Front with the 9th Battalion and was nearly blinded by an explosion in June 1916, soon after his arrival. He was returned to Australia and discharged as medically unfit. His brief war experience left him very bitter about the war.
- Upon his return he married Mary Rudovsky, a Ukrainian woman, and worked in Brisbane as a tramway employee until he succumbed to sickness. He died in December 1920 in hospital in Corinda.
- Walter Beroff, an Ossetian from Humalag village near Vladikavkaz, who identified himself as a Cossak as well, came to Australia in 1912 from the Russian Far East. Like many other Ossetians he worked at first in Port Pirie smelters and in Broken Hill mines, moving later to Queensland.
- Enlisting in the AIF in Rockhampton he served with the 49th Battalion and 31st Battalion on the Western Front. In spite of his hot nature, which brought him once to a court martial, he was a fine servicemen and by March 1917 he attained the rank of a Sergeant. While in hospital in England he met an English girl, Alice Ivy Betts, and they married in March 1917 before he was returned to the trenches. In September 1917 at the Polygon Wood Battle near Ypres he was severely wounded in the chest and head, losing sight in one eye.
- Returning to Australia with his wife he worked as a French polisher in Brisbane, but in the 1920s he moved to London.
- Alix Demetric was born in Yamburg near St Petersburg. He came to Australia in 1912 as a seaman from Brazil and worked in Queensland.
- Enlisting in the AIF in Rockhampton he sailed to Egypt with the 9th Battalion, but upon arrival he was diagnosed with trachoma and cataracts in both eyes and invalided to Australia.
- After the war he lived in Sydney, working as labourer.
- Tom Dombroski, a Pole from Warsaw, served for 4 years in the Russian Army before arriving in Queensland via the Russian Far East in 1913. He worked on the railway construction work at Yamba near Rockhampton and enlisted in the AIF with Beroff and Demetric.
- He served with the 49th Battalion on the Western Front. In April 1917 at the battle near Noreuil, he was wounded to the thigh and invalided to Australia. The wound made him permanently lame.
- After the war he lived in Cairns, working on the sugar mills there.
July 21, 2015
- Lavrrenty Rogojnekoff was born in Viatka Province. He was not a young man and ‘an old gun shot wound’ indicated that he might have fought in the Russo-Japanese war with the Russian Army. He came to Queensland from the Russian Far East in 1912.
- He served with the 25th Battalion on the Western Front, being wounded first at Armentieres in April 1916 and then, six weeks later, once again at Sally. On the second occasion he was wounded in the thigh and transferred to England. In March 1918 he was discharged as medically unfit in London.
- He did not come to Australia and most likely he returned to his native places in Russia where he had a wife, Maria, waiting for him.
- Boris Soans, an Estonian seaman from Revel (Tallinn), in 1906 graduated from the Nautical school there and toiled the sea. Before the war he lived in Port Adelaide in South Australia.
- He arrived with the 32nd Battalion at the Western Front in June 1916. A month later he was killed at the Sugarloaf Battle.
- His father was found after the war and received his medals.
Carl Edgar Collath
- Carl Edgar Collath from Talsen in Latvia came to Sydney in 1908, and worked there as a labourer and a painter.
- He served with the 54th Battalion on the Western Front suffering from a number of ailments and shell shock.
- After the war he married Alice Mary Penman, the girlfriend of his mate killed in action. He was probably Edgar Joseph Goodwin, in whose memory they would place an advertisement in the newspaper on the date of his death. The Collaths had a family in Sydney where Carl worked as a railway employee, occasionally suffering from memory loss caused by shell shock at Paschendale. Their son Lawrence Edgar served in the 2nd AIF in WWII.
Dr Michael Klatchko
- Dr Michael Klatchko, born in St Petersburg, came from a cultural Russian Jewish family. He was a dental surgeon and a specialist in plastic surgery of jaws and face.
- At the outbreak of the war he was stranded in Egypt and attached to the AIF working in Australian hospitals there. In September 1916 he accompanied wounded soldiers being repatriated on the Borda to Australia; upon arrival he was employed by the Russian consulate in recruiting Russians across the country.
- His career ended quite unexpectedly and suddenly: in 1917 he secretly married and left for Vladivostok with a girl, Phyllis Olga Duckett, from an upper-class Melbourne family. They had a daughter, Masha, and finally settled in Shanghai. Sadly his wife committed suicide in 1936, and Michael and Masha endured the Japanese occupation of Shanghai.
Tobias Oscar Richard Wirta
- Tobias Oscar Richard Wirta from Abo in Finland worked as a labourer in Kalgoorlie before the war.
- He came to the Western Front with the 48th Battalion in June 1916 and was killed in September 1916 at the battle for Mouquet Farm.
- His mother in Finland was found after the war and received Australian pension.
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