Six Ossetians from Port Pirie

October 12, 2015
  • In October 1915 six Ossetians from Port Pirie enlisted in the AIF. They were Bekza Gasieff, Mesart Soltanoff, Alexei Tolparoff, Moisai Bembalat Barakoff, Moss Milcag Mamsuroff, and Bekza Boris Dezantoff. Dezantov claimed to be from the capital of Ossetia, Vladikavkaz, Tolparov came from the township of Salugardan, while four others were from nearby Gizel. It is known that three of them came to Australia in 1912, at the time of peak Ossetian migration. They travelled via the Russian Far East and landed in Melbourne, headed to Port Pirie, where they usually found employment at smelters. Soltanoff was the youngest among them, aged 25, all the rest were in their early thirties. Not surprisingly, three of them were married. While Soltanoff’s wife stayed in Russia, the wives of Gasieff and Dezantoff, both Russian women, came to Australia with them. Incidentally, Gasieff’s mistreatment of his wife was discussed in the Australian press, but they nevertheless had two young children.
  • Barakoff, who worked as an engineer at the smelters, was discharged soon after his enlistment at the request of the state munitions committee for munitions work and continued his work at smelters. Five others were allocated to the 15th reinforcements of the 10th Battalion and sailed together to the Western Front per Mongolia in March 1916. Upon arrival to the front they all were transferred to the 50th Battalion.
  • Mesart Soltanoff became the first casualty here. In August 1916, at the battle for Mouquet Farm, he was buried up to his neck by a shell-blast. He was rescued, but his spine was damaged and for several months he was unable to move his legs. Back in Australia, he was discharged from the AIF in June 1917. Bekza Gasieff soon followed him to Australia after developing chronic bronchitis. The three remaining men became casualties at Villers-Bretonneux in April 1918: Moss Malsag Mamsuroff was killed, Alexei Tolparoff was taken prisoner, and Bekza Boris Dezantoff was wounded. Thee recovering Dezantov was wounded once again, three months later; for him it was the third casualty, and he was finally invalided to Australia. Tolparoff reached Australia only in 1919.
  • Two of them, Soltanoff and Barakoff, disappear from the Australian records after the war; it is quite probable that they returned to Ossetia. Tolparoff and Dezantoff stayed at Port Pirie. The Gasieff family first moved to Brisbane, where Bekza worked as a shopkeeper. In the 1921 Bekza’s wife, Dunia, left for Russia with their two children. Bekza disappears from the records soon after that; he could have returned to Russia too, but his Ossetian relatives believe that during the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne an old man came to the members of the Ossetian team, telling that he was their countryman Bekza Gassieff. He mentioned that he had a son and daughter, and indeed in 1934 Peter Gasieff, his Australian-born son, turned up in India, destitute, where he appealed to the Australian authorities after escaping from Russia. He was admitted to Australia and settled in Sydney, serving in the AIF during WWII.