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).
New! We are developing a map which shows the locations associated with the lives of the Russian Anzacs. The map is under construction, and currently shows only birthplaces beginning with the letters A-O.
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.
August 22, 2015
John Hendrick Talus
- John Hendrick Talus from Uleaborg (Oulu) in Finland came to Western Australia in 1905 as a seaman and worked as a farmer.
- He served as a gunner of the 24th Howitzer Brigade on the Western Front.
- After the war he married an Australian girl, Lizzie Ethel Hodge, and was farming at Hayville Farm, Yarloop. Later they moved to Fremantle where John worked as a caretaker.
- Abraham Silverman, a Jewish man from Radom in Poland, came to Australia in 1914 and worked as a tailor, living in Sydney with his wife.
- With the 20th Battalion he served on the Western Front. In August 1916 he was wounded in the right leg at Pozieres and a year later, after recovery, returned to the trenches. In October 1917 he was killed at Passchendaele.
- August Martinson, an Estonian from Piarnu, spent four years in England and came to Australia in 1913, probably as a seaman. He worked as a labourer in Geelong and then moved to Roma in Queensland.
- He served on the Western Front with the 15th Battalion and the Anzac Salvage Corps.
- After the war he worked in Canungra district in Queensland; after marrying an Australian girl, Maud Harris Bigger, they settled in Brisbane.
Nicholas Ivanovich Motorin
- Nicholas Ivanovich Motorin, born in Belyi near Smolensk in Russia, came to Australia as a seaman and enlisted in the AIF upon being discharged from the ship.
- He served on the Western Front with the 2nd Pioneer Battalion. In November 1916 he was wounded at the battle for Somme. Recovering in England he was discharged from the AIF and temporarily employed by the Russian Embassy there. His AIF file has correspondence between Constantine Nabokov, the uncle of the future writer Vladimir Nabokov, who worked in the Russian embassy in London, and AIF Commander William Birwood in connection with his discharge.
- After the war he stayed in London, marrying an English girl, Bridie Hogan.
August 19, 2015
- Ivan Odliff from Nizhny Novgorod worked in Australia as a boiler maker.
- He first enlisted in the AIF in February 1915 in Sydney, but was discharged as ‘unlikely to become an efficient soldier’. He reenlisted in August 1915 in Newcastle and served on the Western Front with the 3rd Battalion. In July 1916 he was wounded in the shoulder at the battle for Pozieres, recovered and served to the end of war with numerous AWLs. In 1919 he enlisted in the British Army and served in the North Russian Relief Force.
- Returning to Australia in 1920, he worked in rural NSW and tragically died in 1926 in Gunnedah of strychnine poisoning.
Michael Teodoroff Borisoff
- Michael Teodoroff Borisoff, a Karelian from a village north of St Petersburg, came to Australia in 1911, probably as a seaman, and worked as a labourer in Western Australia.
- He served on the Western Front with the 51st Battalion. In August 1916 he was severely wounded at Mouquet Farm in his leg, hand, and shoulder. After spending months in hospitals, he returned to Australia. He reenlisted for home service there, but was discharged as medically unfit.
- In the early 1920s he set off to Russia to see his family, but was arrested while travelling in Siberia. He survived the ordeal and returned to Australia in 1923, but in the early 1930s he moved to New Zealand and from there travelled to London, probably with the aim of visiting Russia. In 1936 he returned to New Zealand and died in a tragic accident while building Pukerua Road north of Wellington.
Mat Hendrick Peterson
- Mat Hendrick Peterson, born in Wassa, Finland, came to Western Australia in 1912 and worked as as timber worker in the Yarloop area.
- He served with the 51st Battalion on the Western Front and was killed in July 1916.
- His mother was found after the war in Finland and received an Australian pension.
- John Mineeff, born in Perm, in the Ural Mountains, came to Brisbane in 1910 via the Russian Far East. He worked on the railway construction near Blackbutt and then moved to the Ipswich railway works where he could find application for his profession of iron moulder.
- Enlisting in the AIF, he served in the 3rd Artillery Brigade as a gunner and a driver and was returned to Australia in 1918, suffering from shell shock.
- After the war he settled in Sydney, married an Australian girl, Annie Emily Rowbotham, and had a large family. His son Alexis was killed near Amiens while serving in the RAAF in 1944.
- Thomas Pesmany was born in Glukhov in Chernigov Province in Ukraine. He came to Brisbane in 1911 from the Russian Far East and worked as a labourer and cook.
- He served on the Western Front in the Field Ambulance.
- After the war he moved to the USA.
August 16, 2015
- Martin Johnson, an Estonian seaman from Revel (Tallinn) came to Australia in 1907 and was sailing on local vessels.
- He served with the 53rd Battalion on the Western Front, attaining the rank of Lance Corporal. He was wounded in the neck at the battle for Perrone in September 1918 and evacuated to Australia.
- After the war he continued his work as a seaman.
August 14, 2015
- Four months after the first group of Russians enlisted in the AIF in Rockhampton, another six followed them. George Malisheff, who later stated that his true name was Petr Checkman, was from Yampolsk in Podolia in Ukraine; he, most likely, was a Ukrainian. All the rest were Russian: Akim Petroff was from Novozybkov in Chernigov Province, Alexander Tarasenkoff and John Tuagarin came from Orel Province, Nicholas Sholmatoff was from Moscow, while Tehon Yannin came from Samara on the Volga River. They were all aged between 26 and 31 years. Four of them had Russian Army experience: Malisheff, the eldest, served in the army for five years, Yannin served for three years, as did Tarasenkoff, who deserted the army at the end of his service. Sholmatoff probably deserted from the army after eighteenth months of service. Sholmatoff and Tarasenkoff came to Brisbane together from the Russian Far East in June 1912; Petroff followed them a month later. There is no data about the arrival of the other three, but it is likely that they came via the Russian Far East as well.
- In Australia they followed the routes usual for Russian immigrants of the time. Tarasenkoff, for instance, worked for 2 months in Gympie in Queensland, then moved to the mines in Broken Hill; 7 months later he migrated to the cane-cutting area of Queensland, working in Bundaberg, Mount Chalmers, Emerald and Ruby Valley. By the time of enlistment he worked in mines in Mount Morgan. Petroff worked in Port Pirie smelters for 6 months, then moved to North Queensland and was mining in Mount Morgan.
- When enlisting in Rockhampton they were all recorded as miners from Mount Morgan. They all were allocated to the 6th reinforcements of the 25th Battalion and in October 1915 sailed to the front on Seang Bee. This troopship carried eight more natives of Russia from the 25th and 9th Battalions. During training in Egypt they were all transferred to the 9th Battalion. All of the Rockhampton Russians, except for Tuagarin who got sick, reached the Western Front in April 1916. Petroff and Sholmatoff were severely wounded at Armentières just a few days after their arrival at the front: Petroff was wounded in the knee and hands, was evacuated to England and had his right leg amputated, while Sholmatoff was wounded in the neck, shoulder and elbow. They were both invalided to Australia. Malisheff suffered shell-shock at Pozières in July 1916; he recovered but was killed in April 1918, at Hazebrouck. In August 1916 Yannin was killed at the battle for Mouquet Farm; a few days earlier Tarasenkoff was severely wounded in the left leg and left arm. Tarasenkoff recovered eventually, rejoining his unit a year later and was gassed at Hill 60 Hollebeke in March 1918; he survived this ordeal too and stayed at the front until the end of the war, the only one of the six. Finally, Tuagarin, who joined his unit in July 1916, had to defend his Russian honour when he was court-martialled in October 1916; he was killed in action in December 1916 on the Somme.
- The three of the six who survived the war – Petroff, Sholmatoff, and Tarasenkoff – returned to Australia. Sholmatoff changed his name to Nicholas Nicholls, married an Australian girl, Ethel French, in 1918, and raised a large family, working in Brisbane as a ‘smallgoodsman’. Petroff, who had left behind in Novozybkov his wife Tatiana and son Gavrila, unable to return back, also married an Australian, Gertrude Anna Levien. They married in 1919 in Mount Morgan, where Petroff worked after the war, but the marriage did not last and in 1920 Petroff moved to Brisbane, working as a bootmaker. His star hour came in 1923 when he won a prize of 875 pounds. Tarasenkoff settled in Brisbane working as a grocer. He never married.
- Fritz Schilling was born in Vindava (Ventspils) in Latvia. He worked in Western Australia as a faller.
- He served on the Western Front with the 51st Battalion. In July 1916 he was wounded in the right elbow and returned to Australia.
- After the war he lived in outback Western Australia, continuing his occupation as a timber worker.
- Peter Metser was born on Saaremaa Island in Estonia. Working as an engineer on a ship, he came to Hobart in July 1915 and enlisted in the AIF three weeks later.
- He served on the Western Front with the 13th Field Company Engineers as a sapper.
- After the war he aspired to become a consul for Russia but when the plan did not eventuate, he moved to Sydney, where he worked as engineer.
- Harry Leven was born, most likely, in Kishenev in Moldova. He moved to Western Australia working as a farm labourer and gardener.
- He served on the Western Front as a gunner in Howitzer Battery, but soon got sick with trachoma, which affected his vision. He was repatriated to Australia as medically unfit.
- After this, he disappears from Australian records, probably because his name may have been misspelt on the enlistment form.
- Nicholas d’Orloff was from Riga in Latvia, claimed to be a Count and could speak German, French, Russian and English. Australian police had a list of his aliases and according to their records he was a criminal, convicted for the first time in Adelaide in 1904.
- Enlisting in the AIF in Brisbane, he was discharged a few weeks later because of absence without leave. A few days later he was detained at Maryborough for wearing military uniform and was tried by a police magistrate. On suspiction of pro-German sympathies he was jailed and later transferred to a concentration camp for Germans at Liverpool and finally, in 1919, deported from the country
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