Thursday, 2 April 2015

Lithuanian ANZACS in Egypt and Palestine

The following men from Lithuania served with the First AIF in Egypt and Palestine (their surnames link to Attestation Papers held at the National Archives of Australia):

Franc MATZONAS (?Pranas MACIUNAS) enlisted at Holdsworthy (Sydney) in October 1915 as a single man and embarked for Suez just before Christmas 1915. He was a private in the Camel Corps and the 6th Light Horse Regiment and was killed in action in November 1917 during the battle for Gaza;

  • he was born in Riga in 1891. His military service file shows his mother Kazimiera Maciunienė was living in Perm, Russia around 1915 but a few years later she was living in the Pasvalys region of Lithuania (probably the township of Vaškai);   
  • Franc was a seaman. Shipping records show an Able Seaman named Matzonas, born in Russia, serving on the German steamship Hoerde from Hamburg arriving in New Orleans in August 1910;
  • shipping records also show an Able Seaman named F Matzonas, born in Russia and aged 24, on the Alta from San Francisco arriving in Melbourne on 29 September 1915. This suggests that Franc wasted no time in enlisting once he had reached Australia;   
  • he is buried at the Beersheba War Cemetery (around 100km  south of Jerusalem) and is commemorated on panel 10 of the Australian War Memorial's Roll of Honour .

Alfred Joseph MEKENASS/MAKENESS/McKENASS (Alfredas MIKĖNAS) enlisted in March 1916 as a private in the 1st Pioneer Battalion. He embarked for Suez in May 1916 but experienced only a brief period of service, returning to Australia and being discharged in October 1916 as medically unfit:

  • he was born in Panevežys in 1892 and arrived in Newcastle NSW in 1912 on a ship from England;
  • he worked as a labourer for J & A Brown at Hexham NSW from about 1914, and also lived at Hexham, becoming a naturalised British subject in 1918; 
  • Alfred married Linda Coward in 1917 at Morpeth;
  • he was killed in a work accident at the Hexham workshops of J & A Brown in December 1925 and was buried at Sandgate cemetery. 

Reuben Laman ROSENFIELD had two periods of service during World War One: first as a Captain and Major with the Australian Medical Corps in Egypt (1916) and then as a Major with the Australian Medical Corps in Britain (1917-18):

  • born to a Jewish family in Raseiniai in 1872, the family appear to have moved soon after his birth to the Crimea before arriving in Australia in 1888;
  • Reuben studied medicine at the University of Melbourne, subsequently becoming an eye and ear specialist;
  • he married Harriet (Hettie) Witkowski in Melbourne in 1899;
  • in the Middle East he was attached to No 1 Australian General Hospital and the 2nd Australian Stationary Hospital; his Medical Notes on eye, ear, nose and throat work at No 1 Australian General Hospital, Heliopolis are held by the AWM;  
  • in 1933 he changed his surname to Rosefield, and died in Melbourne in 1958 at the age of 85.  

Stanislaus URNIARZ (Stasys Urniežius) also served, in Australian military hospitals; he was a private attached to No 2 Australian General Hospital (1914-16) in Egypt, and in France from 1916:

  • he was born in Vilnius in 1874 and was said to have participated in the Russo-Japanese War (Metraštis No 1). However, the Russo-Japanese War started in February 1904 and Stasys arrived in Australia with his wife Elsbiet (Elzbieta?) in April 1904.  He stated that he had come from Port Arthur (Manchuria) which was a Russian military stronghold and blockaded by the Japanese from early 1904. They arrived aboard the British liner Ophir, perhaps having boarded in Colombo or the Middle East, as the vessel served the London-Aden-Australia run at the time;
  • he submitted a request for naturalisation in Sydney in 1906, living with his wife at Rozelle, Sydney, and giving his occupation as a tailor.  In 1908 Stasys is listed as a tailor at 370 Harris Street Sydney, and in 1914 at 196 Harris Street;
  • at the outbreak of World War One, even though he was already 40 years of age, he enlisted and embarked for Egypt in November 1914. He served with the No 2 Australian General Hospital in Cairo until March 1916 when the hospital was transferred to France;
  • rather surprisingly, his military records suggest that his wife Elizabeth joined him in Egypt and Europe. The remittance that was being paid to her in Australia was cancelled in mid 1915 because she was expected to join him in Cairo. Whether she was able to do this by becoming a member of the Australian Army Nursing Service or in some other capacity is not clear at this stage. At any rate, both Stasys and his wife returned to Australia together aboard the Bremen arriving in Sydney in July 1919 (in addition to returning soldiers, the Bremen also transported around 100 soldiers' wives and children);  
  • a little over a year later, Mr and Mrs S Urniarz are listed as passengers aboard the Orsova from Brisbane to London departing 6 November 1920. Stasys (and presumably his wife) then moved to Lithuania. His naturalisation file notes that by 1925 he had renounced his British citizenship in order to become a Lithuanian subject.  Apparently he did not return to Vilnius, which at that time was under Polish control.

Other Lithuanian-born members of the AIF (e.g. Anthony Puris and Heyman Wolfson) experienced short periods of service in Egypt before proceeding to France.  Their stories will be told in future posts on those who served on the Western Front.

Sources: NAA; Russian Anzacs; Metrastis No 1;;; Trove.


  1. What a fascinating post and blog. Who knew? Thanks for broadening my understanding of who ANZACS were.

    1. Thanks for your encouragement. I'm glad there is some interest in this topic.