John Brente Brenka, when enlisting in the AIF, provided his place of birth as ‘Wolkowiskai’, which could be Vilkaviskis in Lithuania, but, according to the consular letter confirming his nationality, he came from ‘Vilkomir’, which is now Ukmerge in Lithuania. At the same time his name suggests that he might have been of German stock. He landed in Australia in 1914, deserting a ship, and worked at Shepperton’s Sawmills, Gumeracha near Blumberg in South Australia.
Enlisting in the AIF he came to Gallipoli with the 10th Battalion, not long before the troops’ evacuation from the peninsula. He continued his service with the 50th Battalion on the Western Front. He was wounded in June 1916, but returned to duty three days later. In August 1916 he received multiple gunshot wounds at the Mouquet Farm battle and died a week later in hospital in Boulogne.
His mother Agi Brenke was never found, but residents of Blumberg (later renamed Birdwood) commemorated his supreme sacrifice in the war memorial, where his name was listed along with other ‘Birdwood boys’.
John Ivanoff, a Russian ship’s fireman from Libava (now Liepaja, Latvia), came to Sydney in 1915 and enlisted in the AIF three weeks later.
He served with the 20th Battalion at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. During the war he was court matrialled a couple of times, but also commended for ‘excellent sniping work’ in May 1918 and recommended for the Military Medal in August 1918 for his bravery during the Amiens advance. His commander wrote: ‘during the attack […] an enemy machine gun greatly hampered the advance. This soldier on his own initiative outflanked and bombed the gun single-handed, which he captured, killing the crew of five’.
Earlier, in May 1917 Ivanoff was wounded in the chest and arm at the attack at Bullecourt. While recuperating in a British hospital he met a local girl, Lilian Fox, and married before he was despatched back to the trenches. In April 1918 he was wounded for the second time, but remained on duty, and finally, after his exploits in the Amiens advance, he was wounded in the right hand and evacuated to England just in time to meet his daughter Lillian Violet, born in September 1918.
Ivanov returned to Australia in December 1918, followed by his wife and daughter. In Australia they had three sons. Ivanoff, after working for several years stevedoring on the Sydney wharves, took on a shop in Alexandria, and then had a fruit run for some years at Newtown, which involved the whole family. Finally, owing to the Depression, ‘they moved to Berowra, where John worked on the Pacific Highway operating the jack-hammer at the construction site of the S-bends at Mt Kuring-gai’. During WWII John Ivanoff enlisted in the AIF and served in the garrison battalion at Hay Internment Camp, guarding Italian and Japanese POWs. His elder son Ronald John enlisted as well and served in the RAN.