On 1 April 1915 six Russians came to the recruiting depot in Rockhampton to enlist in the AIF. Two of them were Belarusians – Justin Glowackifrom Zhabinka near Brest and Andrew Jabinsky from Borisov near Minsk. Two Ukrainians were from the Kiev area: Nicholas Roomianzoff was from Sabadash and Joseph Rudezky from Skvira. Russian George Vasilieffwas from Vladivostok and Ossetian Thomas Habaeff came from Humalag in the Caucasus Mountains. They all were in their mid-twenties and arrived in Australia from the Russian Far East one or two years earlier. Three of them – Glowacki, Rudezky and Vasilieff – had earlier served in the Russian Army. They had a variety of occupations: Glowacki was a cook, Jabinski – an engineer, Rudezky – a chauffeur, Vasilieff – a locksmith and Habaeff and Roomianzoff were labourers. Habaeff, landing in Melbourne, followed the pattern of settlement usual for Ossetians in Australia: he worked at the Port Pirie smelters and then in mines in Broken Hill and Newcastle, until he shifted to Queensland. All the rest took the usual employment in Queensland: building railways, mining and cane cutting. Rockhampton, where they decided to enlist, was the centre of cane growing industry at the time.
Upon enlistment Glowacki (who served as Usten Glavasky) and Roomianzoff were allocated to the 9th Battalion, while all the rest went to the newly formed 26th Battalion and sailed to Gallipoli per Ascanius and Karoola. Although all got sick, as did many other soldiers, with conditions ranging from dysentery to frostbite, none of the six were wounded at Gallipoli. On the Western Front, where they were all transferred, they were not so lucky. In August 1916 at the battle for Pozieres, Jabinski was gassed and shell shocked, while Rudezky was wounded in the left arm. Ten days later, in the battle for Mouquet Farm, Roomianzoff was wounded in the leg and right arm; in April 1918 he was wounded once again in the right arm. In May 1917 Habaeff was severely wounded at Bullecourt, receiving penetrating gunshot wounds to his chest and back. In spite of his wounds, Roomianzoff was the only one out of the six who stayed on the front till the end of the war and saw the announcement of the armistice there. Glowacki was withdrawn from the front in September 1918 ‘for family reasons’, while wounded Rudezky and Habaeff were evacuated in 1917 as medically unfit. Jabinski and Vasilieff were discharged in 1917 in London; Vasilieff was employed by the Russian government committee there, while Jabinski worked as a munitions worker.
Glowacki’s numerous tales of his war service were preserved by his daughter Barbara Jago and were published in English and in Russian.
After the war, Vasilieff’s trail disappears. All the rest of the men returned to the North Queensland and for a while led nomadic lives, shifting from place to place in search of work. By the 1920s their life paths took them in different directions. Rudezky fell sick with TB, probably contracted during his service. While recuperating in Stanthorpe Sanatorium he courted a local girl, Agnes Burns. They married and had six daughters. He died in 1931 in Dalby. Jabinski, unable to reunite with his wife and daughter left behind in Russia, married an Australian woman, Alice Chapman. They settled in Newcastle, where he worked as a fitter. Roomianzoff led a nomadic life in North Queensland and the Northern Territory for many years, working as a labourer and waterside worker; he died in Cairns in 1974.
Thomas Habaeff (his original name was Tembulat Dudarkoevich Habaev), after years of a wandering life and work in the cane fields, choose to return to Ossetia, his motherland. At first, as a war invalid, he received an Australian pension via the British consulate in Moscow. When, during WWII, the Australian consulate was opened in the Soviet Union, they tried to locate Habaeff and learnt that he had died in 1939. Now, as the Russian archives are opening, we can learn more about his sad end: in 1938, while working as a fitter in Beslan, he was arrested by NKVD and died while in confinement.
Justin Glowacki found employment in the mid 1920s as a steward on ships on South Pacific liners. In 1927 he moved to Paris and then to Warsaw, working as a caretaker in a bank. In Warsaw he married young Stefania and they had two daughters. Justin was working as a steward on British merchant ships in the Atlantic when the Second World War broke out. He served till the end of war as a merchant seaman, while his family endured the horrors of war. In 1945 he managed to rescue them from Warsaw and send them to Australia, where their youngest daughter Barbara was born to tell their story.