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.