Mersky, Matveichik, Drager, Srebel

October 5, 2015

Joseph Mersky

  • Joseph Mersky, a Jewish man from Diatlovo in Belarus, left Russia to avoid conscription in the Russian army. He spent 10 years in London working as a baker. In 1907 he married Dora Niedel and by the time of his arrival in Australia in 1912 they had three children. In March 1915 his wife with children joined him in Australia, but half a year later Joseph enlisted in the AIF in Brisbane.
  • He served on the Western Front as a baker in the Service Corps.
  • After the war Mersky lived in South Brisbane, in the in the area of traditional Russian-Jewish settlement, where he continued his occupation as a baker and fruiterer. He also became the honourable secretary of South Brisbane Central Synagogue, and took active part in Jewish ex-servicemen reunions in Brisbane. A Brisbane newspaper reported on one such gathering: ‘Mr. Mersky, a member of the Field Bakery Section of the A.I.F., made the bread rolls, and the chief decoration of the evening was a huge khalar, a special loaf of bread baked in the old Jewish style’. His youngest daughter, Cecilia, worked as a nurse during WWII.

John Matveichik

  • John Matveichik, a Belarusian from Juszkowy Grud in Grodno Province, started his travels when he was conscripted in the Russian Army and sent to fight in Port-Arthur during the Russo-Japanese war. Arriving in Australia from Manchuria in 1912, he worked in Guluguba as a lengthsman.
  • He enlisted in the AIF in Toowoomba, a week later after the three men from Krasnoe, and was allocated to the same 26th Battalion. He served on the Western Front where in March 1917, during the attack on Lagnicourt, he was wounded in the right shoulder and repatriated to Australia.
  • After the war he worked at the Blackheath Coal Mine at Blackstone near Ipswich, and as a carpenter in the Bundaberg area.

Adolf Leopold Drager

  • Adolf Leopold Drager was born in Riga, Latvia; his father was a German who came to Russia as a child. A hairdresser and barber by trade, Adolf came to Australia in 1911, following his elder brother Ernest Mikel Dreger, who was a ship’s fireman and had contacts among Latvian radicals in London. Ernest finally decided to settle in Australia and invited there his brothers Adolf and Frederick. Upon arrival Adolf worked in outback Western Australia, Doodlakine and Culham.
  • With the 51st Battalion he served on the Western Front where he was wounded three times: first at Mouquet Farm in August 1916, then in July 1917 and finally near Villers-Bretonneux in April 1918. During the last casualty he was severely wounded in the left leg, which was finally amputated.
  • Returning to Australia, he suffered from depression and in 1922 in an attempt to commit suicide he shot himself in the chest, but luckily was saved. A change for the better came in 1923 when he married an Australian girl, Mary Ellen Armstrong, and had three children. They settled in North Perth where he continued his occupation as a hairdresser.

Peter Srebel

  • Peter Srebel, a carpenter from Vilna (Vilnius) in Lithuania, came to Brisbane in 1914 with his wife and son.
  • When he enlisted in the AIF he was well over 40. A year later, with the reinforcements to the 25th Battalion he sailed for the front, but was disembarked in Fremantle for medical reasons, returned to Brisbane and discharged.
  • After that he led a nomadic life in Queensland working on railway construction. In 1921 he received permission to leave Australia and returned to Lithuania, but his son Sidor (Cedar Srebell) stayed in Australia.