Thursday, 19 February 2015

100 years ago

What was happening in Europe?

By 1915 the Lithuanian lands had been under rigid Russian domination for 120 years, as a consequence of the final partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795. Despite some reforms in the early twentieth century, such as the lifting of the ban on the use of the Lithuanian language in education and on publications using the latin alphabet (1904), czarist rule continued to be repressive. It was only amidst the confusion of the First World War that the first high school with tuition in the Lithuanian language was allowed to be established in Vilnius (1915). The war facilitated the fall of the Russian empire, following which an independent Lithuanian state was established in 1918.    
Russian WWI propaganda poster

Despite initial Russian successes against the Central Powers early in the First World War, by late 1915 the German army had pushed the Russian forces out of Warsaw, Kaunas and Vilnius.  While the stalemate of trench warfare was avoided on the more fluid Eastern front, there were huge military losses and population displacements. In addition to the withdrawal of industry and business into 'mother Russia' ahead of the German advance, Russian military commanders often perceived the minorities living on the western fringes of the empire - such as the Lithuanians, Jews and Poles - as a threat and forcibly deported many to the Russian interior. There may have been 5 or 6 million such refugees; my father was born to such a family in Russia.  

What was happening in Australia?

The events of World War One also take centre stage in Australian history, in particular the Anzacs' landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. The aim of the Allied Powers was to seize Constantinople and establish direct contact with the Russian forces. Unfortunately the Turks were waiting at Gallipoli and the plan ended in tragedy, with a forced withdrawal in December 1915.
Australian WWI propaganda poster

By 1915 the Australian population had reached almost 5 million, having increased from 3 million in the late 1880s. Domestic support for immigration from the British Isles had been strong in the early part of the twentieth century, in keeping with the new federation's strong identification with the British Empire, but the war put a halt to further large migrant intakes. At the same time, domestic antagonism to non-British foreigners and aliens also increased; people of German heritage in particular became targets.  1915 also saw the introduction of a federal income tax proposed, at least initially, to support the war effort.

There were possibly a few hundred Lithuanians already living in most states of Australia in 1915. Some were single men, some had brought families with them from overseas, others had established families here:

  • Antanas (Antoni) Alanskas originally from Suvalkija had settled in Western Australia with his wife Ieva/Eva and three young children who had been born in Glasgow during the family's 9 years in Scotland;
  • Jonas Balaika, a single man from near Marijampolė, had settled in Sydney having previously lived for 5 years in England and 2 years in Canada;
  • Joe Ipp, a Jew from Kaunas who had lived in South Africa for 3 years had arrived in Melbourne in 1914;
  • Gerard Skugar, a Pole from Vilnius, arrived in Sydney in 1914 and worked at various locations in Queensland including Brisbane, Mt Morgan and Rockhampton before enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF);
  • William Suscavage (?Šuškevičius) from Vilkaviškis arrived around 1914 and settled in Tasmania.   

Despite the war, some people were still able to reach Australia during 1915, for example:

  • Adolfas Miškinis (known as Adolph Mishkinis) who had been born in 1889 near Zarasai, arrived in the USA from Libau (now Liepoja, Latvia) in 1910 and became a naturalised US citizen in 1914.  He reached Melbourne in September 1915 as a sailor on an American ship and decided to stay, enlisting in the AIF in November 1915.  He was sent to fight overseas in January 1916; 
  • Isadore Solomon Cohen, born in Šakiai in 1890, arrived in Sydney in June 1915, married there in 1916 and settled in New South Wales. Before arriving in Australia he had lived in England from 1903 and in North America from 1909. 


  1. The first native of Lithuania to enlist in the AIF was Charles Oscar Zander, who probably was of German stock judging by his name. He enlisted in August 1914 in Adelaide and was killed at Mouquet Farm in August 1916. Here is my page about him with documents and photograph:

    Lithuanian Kazis Valukevicius from Mariampol (Kapsukas) served as Walinkevic; he enlisted in September 1914 in Perth, was wounded soon after landing at Gallipoli and repatriated to Australia. His page is:
    Both Zander and Valukevicius were seamen.

    Jewish Nathan Watchman from Navarenai near Kaunas, a travelling salesman from Geelong, enlisted in September 1914 and reenlisted in January 1915. Landing at Gallipoli in May 1915 he was severely wounded eight days later and repatriated to Australia.

    1. Thanks. I've found your book Russian Anzacs and blog to be very useful for this project. Later posts will deal with more Anzacs' stories.