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.
October 16, 2016
John Volkoff, a 30-year-old carpenter from Russia, was one of the thousand Russian Anzacs who fought for Australia in the First World War.
The records of his service kept in the Australian archives are brief:
2 August 1915 Joined battalion in Gallipoli
8 August 1915 Killed in action in Gallipoli
However hard Volkoff tried to convey his father’s address on the enlistment form, the Australian military did not manage to crack this brain teaser and inform his family in Russia about his death. The address in the service records was recorded as follows: ‘Weetsk, Pockesnky, Erask, Sergensky, Small, Uhtunose’. It was a bibliographer from Viatka who suggested I decipher it as Viatka province, Iaransk, Serdezh, pochinok Malyi Iukhtunur.
Viatka province, in the heart of Russian forests in the northern reaches of the central Volga River, was famous for its carpenters, and Volkoff, like many of his countrymen, probably moved to Siberia to build the Trans-Siberian railway. In December 1911, Volkoff and another fifty Russians, many of whom were carpenters as well, sailed to Australia via Dairen and Nagasaki on the Japanese boat Nikko Maru. They landed in Brisbane on 8 January 1912 and newspaper reporter commented ‘The new comers had the appearance of being sturdy and healthy people. They are described as agriculturists and artisans, who will endeavour to enter into rural life in Queensland. They are mostly from Harbin’. In 1912 Volkoff is mentioned in the Russian newspaper Echo of Australia, published in Brisbane, as a cane cutter on the Linwood plantation near Bundaberg.
Volkoff enlisted in the AIF on 5 April 1915 in Townsville with another Russian from Siberia, Gregory Smagin. Strong and nearly 6 feet tall, he was readily accepted in the AIF without naturalisation. Two months later he sailed to Gallipoli with a group of seven other Russians from northern Queensland, landing there with the 6th reinforcements to the 15th Battalion. A few days after joining the battalion he was killed at the battle for Lone Pine.
His name is engraved in the memorial panels at Gallipoli and the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, but otherwise he seems to have disappeared without a trace. But luckily the digital age brings people and records together, and some materials about John Volkoff have been uncovered. First Kim Phillips, a Gallipoli historian, found John’s photo, published in Sydney Mail after his death. Then an interesting memoir came to my attention. It was written by Captain C.E.W. Bean, the official reporter with the AIF, who would later write his famous multi-volume Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918. He recorded an episode witnessed by his friend during the August fighting (Bean himself was wounded but refused to be evacuated from Gallipoli during the battle.)
According to this report, the friend ‘had noticed a man of the Fourth Australian Brigade making his way, apparently alone, up towards the head of a valley where Turks were fairly thick. Two Turks in particular were visible there, and a few hours later my friend, in passing the same place, went back to see how that duel had ended. He found the Australian, but he was dead. He had been shot through the head, but in the last few moments of consciousness he had apparently remembered that he had no identity disc upon him. My friend searched for the disc and the pay book, but could find none, but in the dead man’s hand was a scrap of paper, and on it was written a Russian name, Slavoff, I think, or something like it. It was the name of a private who enlisted in Melbourne. His brain had served him to make that record before his senses failed.’
There was no Slavoff enlisted in Melbourne or anywhere in Australia and no other Russian-born man with a Slavonic surname was killed during the August battle, so there are all grounds to believe that ‘Slavoff’, whose last exploit was witnessed by Bean’s friend, was in fact John Volkoff.
His family in Malyi Iukhtunur was never found and the village where he was born has long been wiped from the map of Russia, but the memory of Volkoff, a Russian Anzac fallen in Gallipoli, has not been lost.
October 16, 2016
Charles Martin Pulpe
- Charles Martin Pulpe from Riga in Latvia came to Australia in 1905 and worked as a fisherman in South Australia and then as a miner in Broken Hill.
- Enlisting in the AIF in Sydney, he was allocated to the 1st Pioneer Battalion, but deserted six weeks later. When apprehended in 1918 and court martialled, he explained that he did not want to be a soldier. He was sentenced to 140 days of hard labour and discharged.
- After the war he worked as a labourer in New South Wales and Queensland, constantly traveling in search of employment.
- Samuel Cromer, a Jewish man from Riga, by the time of his enlistment was working as a tailor in Geraldton in Western Australia.
- Enlisting in Geraldton, he arrived with the reinforcements to the 27th Battalion to England and absented himself.
- He was never found, and was discharged as an illegal absentee.
- William Kalinovsky came from Zhagare in Lithuania. He emigrated to the USA and in Chicago mastered the skill of tailoring and later moved to Australia. By the time of his enlistment in the AIF he worked in Cloncurry, Queensland, as a tailor’s cutter.
- He served with the 21st Machine Gun Company on the Western Front, attaining the rank of lance corporal.
- After the end of the war he got some professional training in a clothing factory and cutting academy in England. Returning to Australia he married an Australian girl, Clarisse McFeeters, in Broken Hill, and worked as a tailor.
- J. Mauchin enlisted in the AIF in New South Wales. His service records have not been found.
A. A. Samaroff
October 7, 2016
- A. A. Samaroff, a Russian, also enlisted in New South Wales, and his service records are not found.
Matthew George Lominoga
- Matthew George Lominoga, a Russian from Astrakhan, arrived in Brisbane from the Russian Far East with his parents and worked as a motorcar driver. In 1915 he married an Australian girl, Phyllis Ignatius, and had a son born in 1916.
- Nevertheless he enlisted in the AIF and served with a transport company on the Western Front as a driver.
- Returning after the war to his family, he worked as a motorcar proprietor, but later changed his profession, becoming a dancing master and the head of a dancing school.
- Nicholas Michael Stepanoff also came to Australia with his parents and siblings in 1911 from the Russian Far East. They settled in Brisbane, where his parents ran a boarding house for Russians; the family was at the core of the Russian community in Brisbane. Like Lominoga, Stepanoff became a driver and a mechanic.
- Enlisting in the AIF together with Lominoga, Stepanoff also served in the transport units on the Western Front as a driver. In September 1917 he was gassed, but continued to serve to the end of the war.
- He was still in Europe when the house of his parents in Brisbane became the center of a pogrom unleashed by returned servicemen after the Russian participation in the Red Flag Riots in Brisbane. In 1921 his family returned to Soviet Russia, but Nicholas stayed in Harbin, where he married and worked as a bookkeeper. His naturalisation was revoked in 1930 and he managed to return to Australia only in the 1940s, when he reapplied for naturalisation.
- Johan Mikkonen, a Finnish seaman from Uleaborg, enlisted in the AIF in Melbourne.
- He served in the 37th Battalion, but deserted in 1917 and disappears from the records.
- Michael Kekoff, an Ossetian from Khristanovskoe in the Northern Caucasus, worked in Grafton as a labourer.
- Enlisting in the AIF in Sydney, he served with the 45th Battalion on the Western Front. In June 1917 he was killed at Messines in Belgium.
- His family in Ossetia was never found.
September 30, 2016
- Hugo Nelson, a Finn from Hango, was a blacksmith by trade, but came to Australia most likely as a seaman.
- Enlisting in the AIF in Sydney, he served with the 3rd Pioneer Battalion on the Western Front. In May 1918 he was gassed and in September 1918 was wounded in the elbow.
- Returning to Australia, he continued working as a seaman.
Oscar Bruno Knappsberg
- Oscar Bruno Knappsberg from Svatro (Mustio) in Finland came to Australia not long before his enlistment in the AIF and worked as an orchard hand in Kurrajong.
- He enlisted in the AIF in Bundaberg and came with the reinforcements to the 25th Battalion to the Western Front in April 1917. A month after his arrival, at the battle for Bullecourt, he was wounded in the thigh and leg and died of wounds the next day.
- His family in Finland was found after the war and his friend from Kurrajong, John McCabe, wrote to his mother about his death.
Arthur Albert Jernberg
- Arthur Albert Jernberg from Helsingfors (Helsinki) in Finland came to Sydney in 1914 as a seaman and worked as a labourer at Rooty Hill, NSW.
- He served with the 3rd Battalion on the Western Front. In October 1917 at the battle for Passchendaele he was severely wounded in the back and chest, but recovered after spending months in English hospitals.
- He returned to Rooty Hill and worked there as a champagne worker, later moving to South Australia. In 1920 he married Josephine Twyford, but his wife died in 1927, leaving him with a baby daughter, and he later married Agnes Margaret in South Australia.
- Johannes Kotkamaa, born in Helsingfors (Helsinki) in Finland, came to Australia in 1900 with his parents together with the group of Finnish immigrants, the followers of Matti Kurikka, who wanted to establish a colony in the north of Queensland. Johannes grew up there, bush mastering the trade of a carpenter.
- Enlisting in the AIF in Nambour, he served with the 47th Battalion on the Western Front. His service was not long – he was killed in August 1917, a month after his arrival, in Belgium.
- His mother Maria Kotkamaa, a pioneering woman of the Australian bush, passed away soon after his death and the residents of Nambour commemorated his death in a local memorial.
- Morris Preshner, a Jewish man from Warsaw, moved with his parents to London when he was 3. In 1913 he migrated to Melbourne and worked as a porter and commercial traveller.
- He served with the 37th Battalion on the Western Front. In August 1918 he was gassed near Suzanne, but remained with his unit.
- After the war he lived in Melbourne working as a salesman. In 1924 he married Bertha (Bel) Luscombe, who was a vocalist. Sadly, they lost their only son Jack in 1926.
- Charles Smith, a seaman from Riga, came to Sydney in 1916 from San Francisco and enlisted in the AIF soon afterwards.
- He served with the 38th Battalion on the Western Front. In October 1917 at the battle for Passchendaele he was wounded in the leg and evacuated to Australia.
- After the war he lived in Sydney, marring an Australian girl, Edith Agnes.
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