Thursday, 7 May 2015

Litvak Anzacs on the Western Front

The Jews who had settled in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania generally called themselves Litvaks. Several thousand made their way to Australia during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; Elena Govor (Russian Anzacs, p 55) notes that 'Of all the groups arriving in Australia from the Russian Empire, Jews were the most numerous."

Earlier posts have briefly looked at a few Litvaks who served for the AIF in the First World War.  This post deals with some of those who served on the Western Front; again I have drawn heavily on the NAA`s records (click on each name for the service record) and on the Russian Anzacs project (

Ishai BELKIND.  Born in 1885 in Vilnius, he arrived in Australia around 1913 and lived in Perth, Western Australia, before enlisting in Kalgoorlie in December 1915.  His occupation was a gardener/orchardist; initially his next of kin (father's) address was given as Vilnius, but by 1918 the father seems to have moved to Palestine.  Ishai served as a sapper (private) in the 7th Field Company Engineers in France during 1917, returning to Australia in early 1919.  In June 1919 he appears to have travelled to Palestine, but was back in Western Australia in 1921 and registered there as an Egyptian alien;

  • a somewhat different interpretation is that he was actually born in Palestine (then a part of the Ottoman Empire) "so it is probable that Ishai concealed his birthplace in an effort not to be associated with the enemy" (Steve Murphy, Lithuanian ANZACs: research continues, Lithuanian Papers No 27/2013, Lithuanian Studies Society at the University of Tasmania, p 12) 

Samuel BRITAIN.  Born in Vilnius in 1896, he arrived in Melbourne on the Demosthenes in February 1912 and worked as a clothing cutter and designer, possibly for his uncle Joseph Britain who operated a clothing factory in Flinders Lane, Melbourne.  He enlisted in June 1916 and served with the 12th Machine Gun Company and 11th Machine Gun Company in France in 1917, but was returned to Australia and discharged in December 1917 due to health issues.  Samuel remained in Melbourne, marrying and having a daughter, later establishing himself as a clothing manufacturer.  He died in Melbourne in 1950.

Joe CAPLAN.  Born in Kaunas in 1892, he left home for Manchester at the age of 14 and was employed in the cap manufacturing trade there.  He arrived in Sydney in 1912 where he had a cousin, and was working as a waiter before enlisting in June 1916.  Joe served as a private and corporal in the 19th Battalion and the 3rd Battalion in France and England before returning to Australia in early 1920.  His later history is not known; the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages records the death of a Joseph Caplan in 1953.

Harry COOPER.  Born in 1892 in Kaunas, he was working as a commercial traveller in Melbourne before enlisting in July 1915.  At that time he listed his next of kin as his father who was resident in South Africa.  Harry served with the 3rd Battalion and Administrative HQ in Europe and was wounded in action in France in early 1918.  He remained in London, was demobilised and discharged at the end of the war, married Lena Heller, and departed for Cape Town from England in 1919.  

Paul Elias Isaac FINN.  Born in 1887 near Vilnius, he left home in 1907 for Scotland and London, arriving in Melbourne in 1913 aboard the Beltana.  He was working as a motor car driver (railway employee) before enlisting at Newcastle in February 1916 and proceeding overseas to serve as a private with the 35th Battalion.  Paul was wounded in action three times during 1917 and 1918 in France and returned to Australia in early 1919.  He remained in the Newcastle area, was naturalised in 1919, married in 1936, and died in 1956.

Leo GORDON.  Born in the region of Kaunas in 1886, he arrived at Adelaide aboard the Ortonia from England in 1908.  Having worked in Adelaide, Broken Hill and Sydney as a storekeeper and clerk, he enlisted at Sydney in July 1916.  Leo served as a private in the 18th Battalion, was wounded in action in 1917 and again in 1918, and returned to Australia at the end of 1918.  His later history is not known.
[Note: There was another Leo Gordon from Kaunas who came to Australia; he was born in 1879 and lived in Broken Hill from 1911 where he ran a small business.]

Sources: NAA and Russian Anzacs.

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