Parfeny Grehoff, a veterinary doctor, came from Ust-Kamenogorsk in Siberia, landing in Brisbane in 1913. He had already lived a full life, being 43 and a widower.
Enlisting in the AIF, he served at Gallipoli with the 15th Battalion. A few days after his arrival, he was injured falling from a cliff and evacuated to Australia. He took up poultry farming for a while, but in May 1918 he re-enlisted, this time in the AN&MEF. He served as a private in the Rabaul and Kokopo garrisons until he fell ill, when he was once again invalided back to Australia.
Joseph Brandebura from Lipno in Poland came to Australia on the eve of WWI and worked as a waiter.
Enlisting to the AIF he fought at Gallipoli with the 24th Battalion, and on the Western Front with machine gun regiments. In May 1917 he was wounded at Bullecourt with a gunshot wound to the right leg, but he recovered and returned to duty. While on the Western Front he reached the rank of regimental sergeant major (WO1).
After the war he changed his name to Brand. He married and lived in Melbourne working as a commercial traveller. During WWII he enlisted again and served in the workshop section for three years.
Jacob Serennikoff (his original name was Serebrennikoff) was born in a Jewish family in Mikhailovka near Melitopol. The family was emancipated: the children studied in Russian high schools and Jacob’s elder sister Berta participated in the revolutionary movement. When enlisting in the AIF, Jacob gave his religion as Russian Orthodox and his occupation as clerk, but his medical records indicate that his original profession was that of a botanist. Alongside this rare profession, he had a lengthy military record. During his five-year service with the Russian Dragoons, he was engaged in suppressing the Boxer Uprising in China in 1900 and fought in the Russo-Japanese war. When enlisting in the AIF, his rank was recorded as Sergeant-Major, although later he was referred to in Australian newspapers as a Colonel.
Enlisting in the AIF in Colombo, he went to Gallipoli with the 6th Battalion. Landing on the 7th of May 1915, two days later he received a rifle wound to his elbow, and was repatriated to Melbourne. Russian Consul-General Nikolai Abaza employed him in the embassy as a clerk and charged him with a mission to promote enlistment in the AIF of Russian emigrants. He also was empowered to provide certificates of Russian nationality to Slavs from Austro-Hungary, who could have been otherwise interned in Australia as enemy aliens. With this mission Serennikoff visited South and Western Australia in 1916.
Soon after that he married and engaged in farming. He also was involved in exploration of oil deposits on Elko Island on the Northern Territory. In 1927 he died, probably as a consequence of his tropical experience in the Northern Territory.
Alexis Kazakoff came from a village near Kazan on the Volga River; he deserted his ship in Australia, working here as a labourer.
Enlisting in Cairns, he started his service at Gallipoli, becoming a fitter with the 15th Battalion, which included a number of Russians from Queensland. He fought well, being wounded in August 1915 at the battle for Hill 60. Back in Egypt he was transferred to the 11th Field Artillery Brigade and continued his service on the Western Front. In May 1918 he was made a gunner, but refused to take up his new duties, arguing at his trial, ‘I know the language well enough to be a fitter but not a gunner’. Army command was at this stage of the war desperate to utilise every available man and Kazakoff’s arguments were dismissed: he was sentenced to 35 days’ field punishment and mustered as a gunner. In September 1918 he was withdrawn from the front and returned to Australia ‘on account of Russian nationality’.
After the war he returned to work as a fitter, married an Australian girl, and had a large family with ten children.
John August Nyholm, a bricklayer from Vaasa in Finland, fought for Britain in the Boer War. In 1907 he came to Australia and as soon as WWI broke out, rushed to enlist.
He was rejected twice and underwent two surgeries to be accepted in the AIF as medically capable. At last he was accepted in the AIF in the 20th Battalion and later transferred to the Field Artillery Brigade. He fought at Gallipoli and on the Western Front, where he was killed at the Somme in November 1916.
Barney Sacklove, a Jewish man, came from Vitebsk Province in Russia, most likely from the township of Rezekne (now in Latvia). His family moved to Scotland when he was young and enlisting in the AIF he tried to pass on as a native of Leeds. He came to Australia when the war had already broken out.
He worked for a few months as a carter and then enlisted in the AIF in Sydney in February 1915. Two weeks later he deserted from the military camp. Probably something went wrong in the camp but he did not lose his aspiration for army service. He travelled to Melbourne and enlisted there two weeks later. With the 24th Battalion he served at Gallipoli and on the Western Front where in August 1916 he was wounded at Mouquet Farm.
After the war he returned to Melbourne and disappeared from the records.
Wolfe Hoffman was born in Podol Province in Ukraine. He came to Western Australia in 1910 to join his relatives and worked as labourer and mill hand.
He served with the 16th Battalion at Gallipoli where he suffered from severe dysentery. In 1917 he was transferred to Field Ambulance with which he served on the Western Front until he became sick and was returned to Australia serving with the nursing staff on the ‘Somerset’.
Returning to Australia he married and settled in Melbourne, where he opened a knitting factory. During WWII he enlisted in the AIF again and served as a corporal in the Attestation office in Melbourne.
Victor Morris Letman, a seaman from Tammerfors (Tampere) in Finland, came to Australia in 1901 at the age of seventeen.
Enlisting in the AIF in Melbourne he served with the 24th Battalion at Gallipoli and on the Western Front, attaining the rank of corporal. He was wounded in April 1917 at Bullecourt and rejoined his unit after recovery. In October 1917 during another major battle at Broodseinde in Ypres, he, according to his commander, ‘was severely wounded in the arm while going forward to the J.O.T. He refused to leave and went right through the attack. When the objective was attained he used his Lewis gun with great effect on [the] retreating enemy, and did splendid work at keeping down snipers’. He was awarded the Military Medal for his bravery.
Returning to Australia, he married his old sweetheart Ellen (Kathleen) Smith and lived in Melbourne working as a labourer and rigger. In 1936 he was badly wounded when a car hit him from behind while he was on his bicycle. Nevertheless he enlisted in the AIF during WWII and served in Volunteer Defence Corps.
Frederick Niskanen from Finland before coming to Australia served for 2 years with the Russian Lifeguards. In Australia he worked as a labourer in Neerim South in Victoria.
Enlisting in the AIF, he was allocated to the Australian Flying Corps and served in India and Egypt; initially he served as a driver on mule transport, but later became an air mechanic. In April 1917 he was transferred to England.
After the war he was discharged in London and probably returned to Finland.
William Ambrosen, a rigger from Nargen in Estonia, came to Victoria in 1912.
Enlisting in Adelaide, he served at Gallipoli with the 27th Battalion. He continued his service on the Western Front with the Field Engineers until he got sick in June 1916 and invalided to England, where he continued his service in the Provost Corp.
While in England, he married an English woman, Lottie Guyatt, settled with his family at Monxton, Hampshire, and worked as a paint maker.
Platon Beloshapka, a Ukrainian labourer from Kiev, came to Brisbane in 1912 via the Far East. His lack of English resulted in the fact that during his life in Australia he accumulated over a dozen aliases, which in fact were various misspellings of his name, to the degree that sometimes his surname was transposed with his Christian name: thus emerged Bill Plepnpp and and Bel Plotonoff.
Platon’s misadventures started soon after his enlistment in March 1915 in Kiama in New South Wales, from where he was transferred to Liverpool camp in Sydney, overstayed leave and was discharged with the formula ‘unlikely to become an efficient soldier’. Later the commander explained that the reasons for his discharge were ‘incompatibility with comrades and inability to follow military commands.’ However, Platon himself tried to explain that he could not understand the English words of command and that the soldiers threatened him as they took him for a German. He left the camp to avoid persecution by his co-servicemen.
In October 1915 “Bill Plepnpp” was arrested in Bungonia, NSW, and brought to Goulburn by the Military Police. He had been found living in the bush without food and it was thought that he was a German escapee from the Holdsworthy internment camp. Platon was sent to Sydney for further investigation and ended up in the Holdsworthy camp as a German. He was released in February 1916 after a visit from the Imperial Russian Consul who pronounced that Platon was of Russian nationality. Failing to find work, lodgings or food, Platon returned of his own volition to the camp on two occasions, nearly being shot by the sentries.
In March 1916 he was arrested in Wollongong for wearing a military hat and boots and not having a leave pass. He was brought by the Petersham police to the Victoria Barracks, Paddington, for questioning, but the officer and Platon could make no sense of what the other was saying. He was released and was allowed to retain his boots ‘as any other discharged soldier’. The cycle of misadventures continued, with Platon being convicted in May 1916 in Wee Waa for stealing food and not working. He was sentenced to one month’s hard labour in Narrabri gaol. Pending his release in July 1916, the Acting Gaoler expressed his concern that ‘a German subject’, ‘Platonff Belashapka’, was ‘a young strong man, and has a revolver and cartridges, and if not interned may cause trouble’. He was brought to Liverpool Camp for further investigation, and the officer noted in his file: ‘probably be murdered if left in this camp’, in consequence of which he was interned as a German prisoner of war in Darlinghurst Detention barracks.
The Russian Consul-General Nikolai Abaza and NSW consul T.Welch visited him in October 1916 to establish his nationality. It was obvious to all that he was a Russian and Welch informed the military authorities, that ‘by the agreement between Russian & British gov[ernment]s this man is due for compulsory enlistment in the AIF’ and ‘suggested to treat him as a military offender’. While Beloshapka ‘refused to enlist in the AIF if released’, the consuls ‘refused to give a certificate of nationality’ and he was left in the detention ‘pending proof of his Russian nationality’ for several more months. When he was finally released, his troubles with the police continued: he was arrested and detained over and over again for vagrancy and assault.
It appears that in the late 1920s he went to the USA and tried to settle there, but then returned to Australia. In 1930 he was convicted for attempted rape and sentenced to six years hard labour. He died 1962 in Queensland.
Lion Harlap’s family from Odessa migrated to the Jewish agricultural colony Rehovot in Palestine when he was a baby; he even claimed later that he was born in Rehovot rather than Odessa. In 1910 as a teenager he came to Western Australia, where his married sister Mina Zusman had settled two years earlier. A locksmith and engine fitter by trade, he worked at mills in Big Brook, and as a fruit seller in Perth. By the time of enlistment he was employed at the state brick works in Perth.
He served in the AIF in the 10th Light Horse Regiment as a trooper in Egypt. His experience and knowledge of the Orient had been also put to good use in the army: several times he was transferred from his Light Horse Regiment to serve in the Military Police, Provost Corps, and at Headquarters. In October 1918 he had come with the advancing AIF near Rehovot, where he grew up and where his family still lived. ‘Whilst there with the Forces’, Harlap wrote, ‘I was gratified to find my parents and sisters still alive though my father, who has suffered so much at the hands of our enemies, has aged considerably.’ It was decided at this ‘joyful’ family reunion that when he received his discharge he should return directly to Palestine, to his family – and at the end of the war, he did.
He stayed in Palestine, running the Harlap Cycle Shop in Jaffa by 1924. In 1934 his Australian naturalisation was revoked, but Australia did not disappear from his life completely. In 1963 he flew to Perth for his sister Mina’s 80th birthday.
George Peter Sekachoff from Saransk in Mordovia came to Cairns in 1913 via the Far East and worked in Australia as a labourer.
He enlisted in the AIF in Townsville and served at Gallipoli with the 9th Battalion. He continued his service on the Western Front in the 11th Field Artillery Brigade as a saddler and gunner. In October 1918 he, together with a group of Russians, was returned to Australia ‘on the account of Russian nationality’.
Settling in Brisbane, in 1920 he married Lucy Uscinski, a sister of Polish Anzac Vincent Uscinsky, and worked as a cabinetmaker. Later on they moved to the Roma area, taking a selection at Gunnewin. Their daughter Lucy served in the AIF during WWII.
Saveliy Tkachenko was from Gusiatin in Ukraine. Like Sekachoff, he came to Queensland via the Far East in 1913, working as a labourer in Townsville.
He enlisted together with Sekachoff and served at Gallipoli with the 25th Battalion. Suffering from ‘nerves’ in November 1915 he imposed a self-inflicted wound, was court martialled and returned to the trenches. Continuing his service at the Western Front he made several attempts to leave the Army, was court martialled again and sentenced to ‘Penal servitude for life’, although the sentence was suspended not long afterwards and he was sent back to the trenches.
Returning to Australia, he made an attempt to repatriate to Russia, but finally settled in Brisbane, working on the railway. He died in 1985, being over 90 years old.