Six more Russians from Rockhampton

August 16, 2015
  • Four months after the first group of Russians enlisted in the AIF in Rockhampton, another six followed them. George Malisheff, who later stated that his true name was Petr Checkman, was from Yampolsk in Podolia in Ukraine; he, most likely, was a Ukrainian. All the rest were Russian: Akim Petroff was from Novozybkov in Chernigov Province, Alexander Tarasenkoff and John Tuagarin came from Orel Province, Nicholas Sholmatoff was from Moscow, while Tehon Yannin came from Samara on the Volga River. They were all aged between 26 and 31 years. Four of them had Russian Army experience: Malisheff, the eldest, served in the army for five years, Yannin served for three years, as did Tarasenkoff, who deserted the army at the end of his service. Sholmatoff probably deserted from the army after eighteenth months of service. Sholmatoff and Tarasenkoff came to Brisbane together from the Russian Far East in June 1912; Petroff followed them a month later. There is no data about the arrival of the other three, but it is likely that they came via the Russian Far East as well.
  • In Australia they followed the routes usual for Russian immigrants of the time. Tarasenkoff, for instance, worked for 2 months in Gympie in Queensland, then moved to the mines in Broken Hill; 7 months later he migrated to the cane-cutting area of Queensland, working in Bundaberg, Mount Chalmers, Emerald and Ruby Valley. By the time of enlistment he worked in mines in Mount Morgan. Petroff worked in Port Pirie smelters for 6 months, then moved to North Queensland and was mining in Mount Morgan.
  • When enlisting in Rockhampton they were all recorded as miners from Mount Morgan. They all were allocated to the 6th reinforcements of the 25th Battalion and in October 1915 sailed to the front on Seang Bee. This troopship carried eight more natives of Russia from the 25th and 9th Battalions. During training in Egypt they were all transferred to the 9th Battalion. All of the Rockhampton Russians, except for Tuagarin who got sick, reached the Western Front in April 1916. Petroff and Sholmatoff were severely wounded at Armentières just a few days after their arrival at the front: Petroff was wounded in the knee and hands, was evacuated to England and had his right leg amputated, while Sholmatoff was wounded in the neck, shoulder and elbow. They were both invalided to Australia. Malisheff suffered shell-shock at Pozières in July 1916; he recovered but was killed in April 1918, at Hazebrouck. In August 1916 Yannin was killed at the battle for Mouquet Farm; a few days earlier Tarasenkoff was severely wounded in the left leg and left arm. Tarasenkoff recovered eventually, rejoining his unit a year later and was gassed at Hill 60 Hollebeke in March 1918; he survived this ordeal too and stayed at the front until the end of the war, the only one of the six. Finally, Tuagarin, who joined his unit in July 1916, had to defend his Russian honour when he was court-martialled in October 1916; he was killed in action in December 1916 on the Somme.
  • The three of the six who survived the war – Petroff, Sholmatoff, and Tarasenkoff – returned to Australia. Sholmatoff changed his name to Nicholas Nicholls, married an Australian girl, Ethel French, in 1918, and raised a large family, working in Brisbane as a ‘smallgoodsman’. Petroff, who had left behind in Novozybkov his wife Tatiana and son Gavrila, unable to return back, also married an Australian, Gertrude Anna Levien. They married in 1919 in Mount Morgan, where Petroff worked after the war, but the marriage did not last and in 1920 Petroff moved to Brisbane, working as a bootmaker. His star hour came in 1923 when he won a prize of 875 pounds. Tarasenkoff settled in Brisbane working as a grocer. He never married.