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! A map which shows the locations associated with the lives of the Russian Anzacs.
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.
May 30, 2016
- William Eller from Dago (Hiiumaa) Island in Estonia came to Australia in 1906 and worked as a coal miner in New South Wales.
- He served in the AIF as a sapper with the 1st Tunnelling Company on the Western Front. In March 1917 he was gassed and a year later wounded, but recovered and returned to his company.
- After the war he lived in Neath working as a labourer.
- Ernest Esserman, a Jewish man from Latvia, came to Australia in 1892 and worked as a hawker in Wee Waa. Later he moved to Sydney, where he worked as a bookmaker. Before enlisting in the AIF he married a relative of another Jewish Anzac, Arthur Levy, Beatrice (Bessie) Hilda Grimish.
- He served as a gunner and driver with the Howitzer Brigade and Ammunition column on the Western Front. In October 1917 he was wounded in the left hand at Passchendaele.
- After the war he lived in Sydney with his family, working as an agent.
Karl Edwin Silander
- Karl Edwin Silander, a ship’s carpenter from Mariehamn in Finland, came to Australia in February 1916 and enlisted in the AIF three months later.
- He served with the 59th Battalion on the Western Front, was wounded in the fingers in March 1917, at Lagnicourt, and returned to Australia.
- After the war he lived in Newcastle, continuing his occupation of a seaman.
- Hjalmari Hannus from Helsingfors (Helsinki) in Finland was brought by his parents to Australia when he was a baby in 1900. They were followers of the Finnish leader Matti Kurikka, who wanted to establish a Finnish colony in the North Queensland.
- As a teenager Hannus served in the Australian cadets for 4 years and enlisted in the AIF when he was just 17; by that time he had the trade of a carpenter. He served with the 3rd Pioneer Battalion on the Western Front, where he was gassed in June 1917, but survived the ordeal and returned to his battalion.
- After the war he got a soldier’s block near Tolga and started a farm. In 1922 he married an Australian girl, Norma Gwendoline Franklin, but his health failed and he died in 1930.
May 29, 2016
- Johan Holland, an Estonian seaman from Piarnu, came to Australia in 1912.
- He served with the 36th Battalion on the Western Front. In June 1917, at Messines, he was wounded in his face, hand and knee, and three fingers on his hand were amputated.
- After the war he continued working on the ships as a sailor and died in 1923.
- Moysey Dossoeff, an Ossetian from Ardon, served in the Russian Army in the Russo-Japanese war. He came to Australia in 1913 and worked in Port Pirie as a labourer.
- He started his service in the AIF in a machine gun company, but later was transferred to the 13th Light Horse Regiment with which he reached England. After several months of training there he was returned to Australia as medically unfit.
- After the war he worked in South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia. In 1919 he received a permit to return to Russia via Vladivostok and in the early 1920s he disappears from Australian records; most likely he fulfilled his plan.
- Alexander Oders, an Estonian seaman from Piarnu, came to Western Australia in 1913, deserting his ship, and continued seafaring in Australian waters.
- He served with the 11th Battalion on the Western Front, where in August 1918 he was gassed at Chuignes.
- In December 1918, while on leave in London, he married an English girl, Constance Evelyne Wakeman. They settled in Perth, where Alexander worked as a fitter’s assistant. They had a large family and their eldest son Alexander Robert served in the AIF in WWII, becoming a Japanese POW in Siam. Their two other children served in the AIF and Alexander himself served as a guard in 1941-1946.
Justin George Gooliaeff
- Justin George Gooliaeff, a Russian from Dolgie Budy in Kursk Province, came from the family of a timber merchant. He studied at Moscow University, but, after a year there, came to Australia via the Russian Far East. He worked in Rockhampton, probably cane-cutting, although enlisting in the AIF he gave his occupation as a boiler maker.
- He served as a gunner with artillery units on the Western Front.
- While in a hospital in England, he met an English girl, Violet Maud Bullock, they married, and she followed him to Australia with their newborn son George Walter. Two years later their daughter Veronica was born. Justin took a block of land in the soldiers settlement in El-Arish, where he brought his young family. In 1925 he tragically died helping neighbours during a bushfire.
- Steven Orloff, a Russian blacksmith from the Pskov area, came to Australia in 1912 via the Russian Far East and lived in Brisbane and Cairns.
- He enlisted in the AIF in Rockhampton together with Gooliaeff and served with the 42nd Battalion on the Western Front. In October 1917, at the battle for Broodseinde, he was severely wounded in the head, right foot, and right thigh, and was repatriated to Australia.
- He never married and lived after the war in the North Queensland (probably cane-cutting). Later he moved to Sydney where he worked as a labourer. In 1947, when he applied for naturalisation, he was living in the unemployed camp in La Perouse.
May 27, 2016
- Nicolas Rehrick from Libava (Liepaja) in Latvia had a high school education and came to Australia in 1912 as a sailor; he lived in Victoria and Tasmania.
- He served with the 29th Battalion on the Western Front. In September 1917, at Ypres, he was wounded in the arm; in May 1918 he was wounded in the thigh, but recovered and returned to his battalion.
- After the war he lived in Melbourne, working as a seaman, iron worker, and rigger.
Ernest Alfred Hvitfelt
- Ernest Alfred Hvitfelt, a Finn from Abo (Turku), came to Australia in 1914 and worked as a labourer in Gippsland and Riverina.
- Enlisting in the AIF in Sydney, he served with the 2nd Battalion on the Western Front. In April 1917 he was wounded in the arm at Doignes but recovered and continued his service to the end of the war. For his gallantry and devotion to duty during the September 1918 battle at Hargicourt, where he worked as a stretcher-bearer, he was awarded the Military medal.
- While in an English hospital he became acquainted with an English girl, Harriet Foskett; they married and sailed to Australia together in 1919, but his wife died the next year in Sydney. It is quite likely that he left Australia for America after that.
- Nicholas Permakoff, a Russian from Archangel, served in an artillery unit in the Russian army. He worked in Australia as a miner and lived in Dubbo.
- Enlisting in the AIF in Sydney, he expected to be transferred to the Russian Army upon arrival in England. This was not done, but by that time the Russian Revolution had taken place and Permakoff refused to fight at all. He was court-martialled, but nevertheless he was brought to the Western Front with the 4th Battalion. In June 1918 he cast aside his weapon and in broad daylight went to the German trenches. An Australian Lance Corporal, fulfilling the order of the commanding officer, killed him before he managed to reach the German lines.
- Permakoff’s mother in Archangel was never found.
- John Ouchirenko, a Ukrainian from Odessa and ship engineer by trade, came to Australia in 1915.
- Enlisting in the AIF in Melbourne, he served with the 39th Battalion on the Western Front. In July 1917 he was gas poisoned and then received a concussion in October 1917 at Broodseinde near Ypres.
- In 1917, while in a training camp in England, he met and married an English girl, Clara Lane, but the marriage did not last. Upon return to Australia he worked as a ship’s engineer and in 1927 married an Australian girl, Doris Robertson. They lived in Ballarat and had five children. During WWII John enlisted in the AIF and served as a home guard.
Gerard Martyn Skugar
- Gerard Martyn Skugar, a Pole from Vilno (Vilnius) in Lithuania, came to Australia as a seaman in 1914 and worked in the Bundaberg area, probably as a canecutter.
- Enlisting in the AIF in Rockhampton, he served with the 41st Battalion on the Western Front. In August 1918, at the battle near Hamel, he singlehandedly captured an enemy machine gun and continued excellent work until he was severely wounded in the head. For this battle he was awarded the Military Medal.
- After the war he tried to settle in the soldiers’ settlement, then, during the Depression, for several years had no fixed place of abode. In the early 1930s he lived in Sydney working as a jeweller and for a brief time was an acting Polish Consul and the president of the Polish National Alliance. Later he moved to North Queensland, working as a miner and labourer. During WWII he enlisted in the AIF and was on home service.
May 21, 2016
- Karl Niemi, a Finnish seaman from Killinkoski, enlisted in the AIF in Sydney.
- He served with the 30th Battalion on the Western Front. In December 1917 he experienced severe shell shock, suffered from amnesia and was repatriated to Australia.
- After the war he lived in Sydney, but after 1921 he disappears from the available records.
- Victor Holman (his true name was Kustaa Viktor Vastamaa), a former Finnish seaman from Pori, came to Western Australia in 1914 and worked as a farm labourer in East Tambellup.
- He served with the 44th Battalion on the Western Front. In July 1918, at the battle for Hamel he was severely wounded in the arm and neck and died of wounds the following day.
- His mother was found in Finland after the war.
- William Brandt, an Estonian sailor from Oesel (Saaremaa) Island, came to Australia in 1912.
- Enlisting in the AIF in Warragul, a country town in Victoria, he served with the 5th Battalion on the Western Front. He was wounded in the right arm during the February advance in 1917, returned to the front four months later, and was wounded soon afterwards in the battle for Mennin Road, at Ypres, this time in the head. He was returned to the front in March 1918, when Russia had already withdrawn from the war. He refused to fight on these grounds and was court martialled. His 5-year sentence was eventually commuted and he was returned to Australia after the war.
- After the war he continued working on coastal steamers living in Melbourne.
- Peter Koel, Brandt’s countryman from Oesel, was married in Estonia but continued seafaring. In 1913 he was shipwrecked in the North Sea and survived three days in the water before he was rescued. He came to Australia in 1914 as a seaman. In 1915 Koel and Brandt served together on the ship Westralia and a few months later enlisted together in the AIF in Warragul.
- Koel was placed in the same 5th Battalion, but discharged five months later, suffering from rheumatism – a consequence of his exposure after the shipwreck in the North Sea.
- After discharge he continued working on the ships in Australia and in the UK.
- David Borszcer, a Jewish musician from Bershad in Ukraine, came to Australia in June 1915 with the Belgian Band under the patriotic endeavour of raising money for the Belgian Relief Fund. A number of the members of this band were Russian nationals, and Russian music, including Tchaikovsky’s overture ‘1812’, featured as a highlight of their programs.
- Borszcer stayed in Australia and enlisted in the AIF in April 1916; he was not accepted for overseas service but was allocated for service in the Australian Light Horse Band based at Menangle Park near Sydney. While serving he developed pulmonary tuberculosis, which was probably aggravated by his playing cornet. He was discharged from the army in 1917, but after recuperating he resumed his patriotic musical endeavours as a conductor of the Chatswood Orchestral Society in aid of the Red Cross.
- After the war he stayed in Sydney continuing his occupation as a musician, but spent the last years of his life in provincial New South Wales, dying in Tumut in 1939.
- Alvar Wilen, a Finnish seaman from Fredrikshamn (Hamina), came to Australia in 1912 and worked in country New South Wales as a labourer and stockman.
- He tried to enlist in the AIF twice, but was discharged on account of rheumatism.
- He was naturalised in 1917 while working as a stockman at Moonan Flat, but disappears from the records after that.
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