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 birthplaces and residence before enlistment, with the addition of residence after the war underway.
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.
February 7, 2016
Guss Oscar Lear
- Guss Oscar Lear, a Finnish sailor from Nystad, by the time of his enlistment in the AIF was in Western Australia.
- Three months after his enlistment in the AIF he was discharged for disciplinary reasons and disappears from the Australian records.
- Andre Tolstoi, a Russian born in Warsaw, grew up in France and ‘served five years in the French Foreign Legion and a dozen scraps in South American republics’. He came to Australia in 1900 and was mining in Boolboonda and then growing sugar cane in Ambrose in Queensland. In 1905 he married Agnes Tucker and had a daughter.
- A month before enlisting in the AIF he published a passionate letter appealing to Australians ‘to defend your country, Humanity and Justice’. He served with the 15th Battalion on the Western Front. In April 1917 he was reported missing in action at Bullecourt.
- His body was never found and wife hoped that he was POW for a long time and sent numerous inquiries. Later he was confirmed to be killed in action.
John de Raupak Ropenberg
- John de Raupak Ropenberg, a seaman from Riga in Latvia, after studying in a nautical school in Russia, came to Geelong in 1916; three weeks later he enlisted in the AIF.
- He served with the 22nd Battalion on the Western Front. In July 1918 he was gassed, but rejoined his battalion.
- After the war he received some education in nautical schools in London and Leith and returning to Australia continued serving on the ships. In March 1923 he perished aboard the ship ‘Amy Turner’ on which he served as the 1st mate and which was lost in a typhoon near Guam.
February 6, 2016
- Emerick Shimkovitch, a Polish seaman from Novo-Aleksandrovsk (Zarasai) in Lithuania, came to Australia with Raupak Ropenberg and enlisted in the AIF together with him (serving as Schimkovitch).
- He served with the 22nd Battalion on the Western Front and was awarded the Military Medal for his bravery.
- After the war he married Jean Lilian and worked as a motor driver in Melbourne. His wife died in 1931 leaving him with a young daughter. Later he married Esther Gladys Corden and worked as a lighthouse keeper.
- Andrew Tripp, a seaman from Piarnu in Estonia, served for two years in the Russian army. By the time of his enlistment in the AIF he lived in Sydney.
- He served with the 18th Battalion on the Western Front.
- After the war he continued his seafaring occupation. During WWII he was employed on American small ships in New Guinea waters.
- Joseph Tworek, a Polish man from Warsaw, came to Australia in 1913, probably as a seaman, and worked in Sydney as a ship’s steward.
- He enlisted in the AIF, but was discharged six months later as medically unfit.
- After the war he lived in Sydney, marrying a Polish woman, Phyllis Sthrowzki.
Erik Reinhold Katajisto
- Erik Reinhold Katajisto, a seaman from Abo (Turku) in Finland, deserted his ship in Melbourne in 1914. When enlisting in the AIF he gave his occupation as a bootmaker.
- He served with the 46th Battalion on the Western Front. He was wounded in June 1917 near Messines and rejoined his battalion after recovery. In March 1918 he left his battalion, and was court martialed and sentenced to 5 years penal servitude.
- He was released in 1919 and returned to Australia. He settled in South Gippsland, married an Australian girl, Hilda Sofia Simpson, and worked as a bootmaker. During WWII he enlisted in the RAAF.
February 5, 2016
- Leo Oberman (served as Abramam), a Jewish man from Goldingen (Kuldiga) in Latvia, came to Australia in 1913 and worked as a salesman in Perth.
- He enlisted in the AIF as Leo Abramam and served with the 5th Battalion on the Western Front. In August 1916 he was wounded at Mouquet Farm and returned to Australia.
- After the war he lived in Adelaide and Melbourne and worked as a robe manufacturer.
Bertie David Sandstrom
- Bertie David Sandstrom, a Finnish seaman, lived in Melbourne by the time of his enlistment in the AIF.
- He served with the 57th Battalion on the Western Front.
- After the war he stayed in Australia under the name of Strong.
Eric William Nelson
- Eric William Nelson (his original name was Blomqvist), a seaman from Abo in Finland, came to Australia in 1905 and was sailing on the South Australian Coast.
- Enlisting in the AIF in Adelaide, he served with the 10th Battalion on the Western Front. In April 1917 he was killed near Boursies.
- His friend in Bowden commemorated his death in the local newspaper.
Ernest Mikel Dreger
- Ernest Mikel Dreger, a son of German parents from Riga, worked as a seaman and came to Western Australia in 1910, followed by his brothers and fiancée Sarah Ligum. By the time of his enlistment in the AIF they had two children. His contacts with Latvian radicals in London provoked a lot of interest towards him in Australia.
- He served with the 44th Battalion on the Western Front. In January 1918 he was awarded with the Military Medal for his bravery.
- After the war he farmed with his family (he had seven children) in Geraldton and Koolanooka. During WWII he enlisted in the AIF and served in the 7th Geraldton Battalion Volunteer Defense Corps.
- James Amstead, a Jewish man from Czenstochowa in Poland, came to Australia in 1907 and worked in Sydney and Brisbane as a hairdresser.
- Enlisting in the AIF, he was discharged four months later as medically unfit.
- After the war he married Bertha Field and continued his occupation of a hairdresser and operated as a bookmaker in Mackay. During WWII he enlisted in the AIF and served for two years in the Australian Defence Canteen Service.
February 3, 2016
- Alex Alexandrov, a Russian seaman and carpenter from Koskolovo in St Petersburg Province, came to Albany in Western Australia in 1913. By the time of his enlistment in the AIF he had visited all the states.
- He enlisted in the AIF in Sydney, deserted three months later, and was arrested in Melbourne.
- He probably left Australia after the war.
- Johannes Kattel, a ship’s carpenter from Dago (Hiiumaa) Island in Estonia, came to Australia in 1910 and lived in South Australia.
- Enlisting in the AIF, he served with the 4th Pioneer Battalion on the Western Front.
- After the war he married Norah McNamara, a widow, and lived in South Australia.
- Joseph Vurhaft, a Jewish man from Odessa, came to Australia in 1912 from the Russian Far East and worked as a gardener in Queensland.
- Enlisting in the AIF, he served with the 9th Battalion on the Western Front. In September 1917, at the battle for Mennin Road, he was severely wounded and his left arm was amputated; he also suffered from shock to his nervous system.
- After the war he moved to the USA and lived in San Francisco.
- Alexander Tuum, an Estonian sailor from Oesel (Saaremaa) Island, came to Australia in 1916 and enlisted in the AIF two weeks later.
- A week later he was discharged with the formula ‘Not likely to become an efficient soldier’.
- He stayed in Australia and after the war he married Wilma Murphy and lived in Sydney, continuing his occupation as a seaman.
Basil Alexander Greshner
- Basil Alexander Greshner, a son of the assassinated head of the Nizhny Novgorod security service, took to the sea in his youth and came to Australia on the Gunda with Russian friends in January 1915. They deserted the ship and Greshner, learning English, worked on the farm in Winchelsea and in the mines in Tasmania.
- Enlisting in the AIF, he served with the 14th Field Company Engineers on the Western Front. He was awarded the American Distinguished Service medal for his bravery in the attack on Peronne on 1 September 1919. He was also mentioned in Sir Douglas Haig’s dispatch.
- After the war he worked as a linesman in Tasmania and an electrician in New Guinea. In 1932 he went to Russia to see his mother. While working in Siberia he was arrested by OGPU, but managed to get away and return to his family in Melbourne (in 1927 he married a Russian woman, Olga Stoodilina).
Edmund Einar Holmstrom
- Edmund Einar Holmstrom, a Finnish seaman, enlisted in the AIF in Melbourne.
- Two months later he deserted and disappears from the records.
Read more on the blog