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.
October 1, 2015
- On 21 September 1915 four Russians came to enlist in the AIF in Toowoomba, arriving from Guluguba, where they were working on the construction of the railway.
- The youngest among them was 17 year old Michael Dorofaeff. He was born in Bruslanovo near Lebedian in Tambov Province in Central Russia. His family moved to Chita in Siberia and from there Michael and his elder brother Vasily came to Australia in 1912. Here they were engaged in cane cutting and labouring work.
- When enlisting, Michael stated that he was nearly 19 and his parents were in Russia. Three months later, his brother Vasily reported that he was just 17 and Michael was immediately discharged. In February 1916 Vasily himself tried to enlist in the AIF, but was rejected as medically unfit.
- In 1916 the brothers moved to New Zealand, from where they tried to return to Russia with their families in 1936, but did not receive visas from the Soviet authorities when they reached London. They returned to New Zealand. Recently Michael’s granddaughter, Serena Dorf, visited Lebedian in the footsteps of her granddad.
- Three other enlistees were more successful. They were the three friends, Gregory Matrenin, Nicholas Silantiff and Michael Wolkoff, from the remote village of Krasnoe in the River Volga area, about 200 km from Simbirsk. They all were 27 years old and left wives and children in Krasnoe. Ethnically they were most likely Mordovians. Like many other Russian immigrants they came to Australia via the Far East to earn some money, landing in Brisbane just a few months before the outbreak of war.
- The Russian-language newspaper published in Brisbane reported that when the war started, the fathers of two of these men — Matrenin and Silantiff — wrote advising their sons not to return, to avoid being conscripted into the Russian army. The fathers were arrested by local Russian police, beaten and told that unless they demanded their sons’ return they would not be freed from jail. The unlucky immigrants from Krasnoe had no alternative but to join the army in Australia.
- They were allocated to the 26th (Queensland) Battalion of the AIF and came to the Western Front together in September 1916. Within only a few weeks they suffered their first loss when Michael Wolkoff was killed in the battle for the Somme in November 1916. Their second loss occurred three months later, when in February 1917 Nicholas Silantiff was severely wounded in the right arm and both legs and was invalided to Australia. Finally, in May 1917, whilst waiting to attack at Bullecourt, Gregory Matrenin received multiple shell-wounds affecting his right eye, his right hand and forearm, his thigh and left knee. He survived this ordeal but became blind.
- After the war their stories took different paths. Gregory Matrenin, demobilising in London, was placed in St Dunstan’s hostel for blind soldiers, where he received training in poultry farming and willow basket-making. He applied for his discharge in May 1920, stating his intention was to try to find his wife and two children in Russia. Luckily, he did not manage to get there. In 1928 he married an English woman, Alice Ballard, and worked as a wool rug maker.
- Nicholas Silantiff, recovering from his severe wounds in Brisbane, had been left with a bad limp. When his war savings were gone he worked as a cane cutter and on railway construction. After several years of such life he applied for permission to return to Russia; it was finally granted in 1923 and he went soon afterwards to Krasnoe. There he met the wife of Michael Wolkoff, Praskovia, who received an Australian pension. In 1936 he was arrested for ‘anti-revolutionary’ activities (probably because he received an Australian pension); Praskovia Volkova was arrested as well. In 1938 Silantiff was arrested for the second time and deported to Kazakhstan. The trace of him ends there. Praskovia survived the ordeal and when the Australian Legation was opened in Moscow during WWII she came there, ‘having walked the greater part of the way from Krasnoe Selo’ to ask to renew her pension, which allowed her to survive.
September 26, 2015
- A tribute to these Russian Anzacs from Krasnoe village was made during the Centenary celebrations at the Australian Embassy in Moscow with the participation of the Volkovs’ great grandson.
- Nicholas Tetoll was born in Kostroma in Central Russia. He came to Australia via the Russian Far East in 1909. He worked on railway construction and as miner in Queensland.
- Enlisting in the AIF in Rockhampton, he served as a sapper in the 1st Tunneling Company in the Western Front. In September 1917 he was wounded in the leg and evacuated to Australia.
- After the war he lived in Central Queensland, working as a labourer and occasionally being fined by the police for excessive drinking.
- Samuel Bloom, a Jewish man from the Plock area in Poland, first emigrated to England and in 1913 moved to Sydney, where he worked as a hairdresser and chiropodist.
- After a month in the AIF he was discharged as unfit for military service. Shipping records of his arrival to Australia suggest that he was over fifty, being six years older than he claimed when enlisting in the AIF.
- After the war he lived in Sydney and died in 1926; he was obviously lonely as his estate was managed by a public trustee.
- Matti Harsila, a Finnish seaman from Lapua, came to Adelaide in September 1915 and enlisted in the AIF two weeks later.
- He served with the 48th Battalion on the Western Front. He was wounded in August 1916, but remained on duty. In April 1917, at the Bullecourt advance, he was wounded in the left wrist and taken as a prisoner of war by the Germans. When he recovered, they used him at steel works near Essen.
- After the war he was freed and visited his family in Finland, but in 1922 he returned to Australia, settling in North Queensland where he worked as a labourer and a cane cutter until in 1944 he was severely injured by an overturned cane truck. The last years he spent in Brisbane.
September 22, 2015
- William Andreson, a seaman fron Piarnu in Estonia, enlisted in the AIF in Tasmania.
- He served with the 26th Battalion on the Western Front.
- After the war he continued his occupation as a sailor.
- Karl Preis was a seaman from Pernau (Piarnu) in Estonia.
- Enlisting in Lithgow in September 1915, he deserted two months later.
- In the following years he worked in country New South Wales as a labourer, occasionally getting into trouble with the police for not registering as an alien.
- Ivan Miconi from Riga served in the Volunteer Russian Fleet and by 1915 was farming in Victoria and had a family.
- Enlisting in the AIF in Melbourne, he was allocated to the 1st Remount Unit, but upon reaching Egypt he was invalided to Australia because of his advanced age.
- After the war he lived in Adelaide with his family and was one of the organisers of the Russian Citizens’ Association there.
- Leo Berk was born in Belostok in Grodno Province (now Poland) and might have been of Belorussian or Jewish origin, but after his service in the Russian Army in the Russo-Japanese war he seems to have become Russianised and upon arrival to Brisbane in 1913 was a part of the Russian community there. He worked as a labourer in different parts of Queensland.
- Enlisting in the AIF, he served as a gunner in the 4th Field Artillery Brigade on the Western Front. In May 1917 he was gassed and soon afterwards became sick and was evacuated to Australia.
- During the Russian Revolution of 1917 he expressed more conservative positions and was at odds with the Russian community in Brisbane. Marrying a German woman, Margarite Stuewe in 1921, he moved to the Tumoulin – Ravenshoe area in North Queensland, working as labourer and millhand there and actively supporting the local RSSILA.
- John Lindholm was a Finnish seaman from Abo.
- He served on the Western Front with the 54th Battalion. In October 1918 he was killed during the attack on the Hindenburg Line.
- His brothers were found after the war in the USA.
September 19, 2015
- Alexander Hulsen was a seaman from Riga.
- He served with the 47th Battalion on the Western Front and was killed in June 1917 at Messines.
- His Australian friend Charles Lawrence could not provide any information about his family when the Australian authorities tried to locate them.
Paul Bernard Bevolsky
- Paul Bernard Bevolsky from Piarnu in Estonia served in Russia on submarine miners. He came to Australia in 1911 and worked in Sydney as a storeman.
- He served with the 1st Battalion on the Western Front. In August 1916 he was wounded in the wrist and forearm at the battle for Pozieres. Evacuated to an English hospital, he continued his service in Britain, being appointed temporary sergeant in 1918.
- While in Britain he married an English woman, Harriet Elizabeth Bowes, a widow with two children, whose husband had been killed during the war. In 1920 they all left for Australia, where their son Harry was born in 1920. They settled in Wentworth Falls, where Paul worked as a gardener. In 1924 his wife died, leaving him with three children. Paul changed his name to Bowes and later moved to Sydney, where he worked as a storeman. His son Harry served in the AIF in the WWII and was killed in Egypt.
- Samuel Paltie, a Jewish man from Talsen in Latvia, first moved to Glasgow in Scotland and in 1901 came to Australia with his wife Ada and two children Martha and Joseph. They lived in Sydney where Samuel had a secondhand shop on Campbell Street.
- Enlisting in the AIF in September 1915, he was discharged two months later at his wife’s request. His son Joseph, born in Scotland, enlisted in the AIF at the end of war but was too late to be sent overseas.
- After the war Samuel lived in Sydney and Brisbane, continuing his business.
- Makar Markoff from Melikhovo in Kursk Province left Russia when he was a teenager and worked as a fireman on the ships. He came to Australia not long before the war.
- Enlisting in the AIF, he served in the artillery units as a driver on the Western Front.
- After the war, spending a few years in Australia, he returned to Russia, where he received Australian pension until it was stopped in 1937 and trace of him was lost.
- John Johnson, a seaman from Riga, worked in Coonabarabran in NSW as a labourer.
- Enlisting in the AIF in Dubbo, he served with the 20th Battalion on the Western Front. He was wounded in the head during the advance in March 1917. Recovering, he returned to his unit and was wounded once again, in the battle for Mennin Road, at Ypres, and again to the head. After the second wound he was evacuated to Australia.
- After the war he worked as a wharf labourer in Sydney and later moved to Brisbane.
Edward Rudolph Janshewsky
- Edward Rudolph Janshewsky, a fireman from Libava (Liepaja) in Latvia, came to Australia in July 1915 and enlisted in the AIF two months later.
- He served with the 1st Pioneer Battalion on the Western Front, but his servive was marked with numerous AWLs and two court-martials, so that he was not eligible for war medals.
- After the war he married a woman from New Zealand, Signa Hansen, and settled down in Sydney working as a bootmaker. Here he played in the Workers’ Art Club performances. During WWII he enlisted in the AIF once again, working in a boot repair section.
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