Friday, 22 April 2016

Baltic Anzacs in the First World War

Around this time last year I posted several pieces on Lithuanian Anzacs of the First World War.  Here are some more observations, this time on Anzacs with origins in the broader Baltic region.

How many Baltic-born Anzacs were there?

Elena Govor's Russian Anzacs website ( and associated blog provide a detailed study of over one thousand men who were born in the Russian empire and served in Australian forces during World War One; the section on statistics summarises the territorial origins of the men who came from the empire's Baltic provinces:

  • Latvia - 156;
  • Estonia - 97;
  • Lithuania - 40 

The website also has a great map which plots the birthplaces and subsequent residences of these men (click here).  It also highlights the range of ethnicities covered by these statistics: ethnic Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, Germans, Slavs, Jews, Western Europeans.

The statistics also suggest they joined up in numbers proportional to those of their Australian- or British-born counterparts (over a quarter of all eligible males enlisted).  The 1933 Australian Census recorded for the first time the birth locations for Baltic migrants (while the absolute numbers around the time of WW1 would have been different, the relative proportions may very well have been similar):

  • Estonia - 643 males;
  • Latvia - 320 males;
  • Lithuania - 155 males. 

Why did these men enlist to fight for the British empire?  Their reasons would have been varied, just like those of the broader population: some joined up because of patriotic feelings for Britain or their new Australian homeland, others because friends, relatives or colleagues had enlisted, or perhaps for adventure; however push factors not shared with the bulk of the broader population probably spurred many Baltic men towards enlisting. Many had arrived in Australia as seafarers and found themselves stranded and out of work once hostilities started, with little prospect of employment. The option of service in the AIF became a means of survival. In addition, many of those who were Russian subjects were pressed to enlist by the Russian consuls in Australia who were promulgating the czar's order that eligible men should either return to Russia or else join allied armies.  

Remembering the Baltic-born Anzacs

The Baltic Anzacs endured similar WW1 experiences to Australian-born Anzacs, including casualty rates; around 1 in 5 were killed or died during the war.  The Russian Anzacs website lists 28 ethnic Latvians who are commemorated on the Australian War Memorial's panels, 18 Estonians and 6 Lithuanians. These figures would be higher if we searched for men with Jewish, German, Slavic or other heritages.

Here are just a few representatives:

KILLED IN ACTION. (1915, November 21).
Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 - 1954),
p. 2. Retrieved April 20, 2016, from

Janis (John) AMOLIN was born at Riga in 1889; he arrived in Australia at Port Pirie in 1911, was naturalised in 1914, and killed in action at Gallipoli on 23 August 1915.

THE LATE PRIVATE H. T. SEPP. (1917, May 19).
Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954),
 p. 40. Retrieved April 20, 2016,

Henri Teodor SEPP was born in Parnu, Estonia, in 1877; he arrived at Port Adelaide in 1911, was naturalised in 1913, and served in Gallipoli and on the Western Front where he died in April 1917.

AWM memorial panel 41
Anthony PURIS was born in Padustis, Lithuania, in 1888; he arrived at Sydney in 1914, served in the AIF as a Russian national, and was killed in action on the
Western Front in May 1917.

Selected sources and references:

Govor, E., Russian Anzacs in Australian History, Sydney, UNSW Press, 2005.

Putnins, A.(ed), Early Latvian Settlers in Australia, South Yarra, Sterling Star, 2010.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

The Australian Dictionary of Biography #2

The previous post looked at a few examples of Lithuanian-born individuals who are listed in The Australian Dictionary of Biography.  Here are are a few others with Lithuanian connections.

Victor Martin TRIKOJUS (1902-1985) was the son of Martin August Trikojus and Charlotte Josephine, nee Thompson. shows that Martin - also known as Augustus - had been born in Tilsit (Tilžė in Lithuanian), East Prussia, in 1856 and arrived in Sydney in 1881 where he worked as a hairdresser until his death in 1911. The article on his son Victor by L. R. Humphreys in The Australian Dictionary of Biography tells us that Victor was born in Darlinghurst, Sydney, studied in Sydney, Oxford and Munich, and went on to become a distinguished Australian scientist: professor of biochemistry at the University of Melbourne from 1943; foundation member and chairman of the Australian Biochemical Society; fellow and vice-president of the Australian Academy of Science; and foundation member of the Australian Research Grants Committee.

Charles Adam Marie WROBLEWSKI (1855-1936) was born at Grodno (Gardinas in Lithuanian) into a Lithuanian-Polish noble family.  The article on him in The Dictionary of Biography by Bogumila Zongollowicz advises that before arriving in Australia around 1885 Charles had studied chemistry and lived in France and Austria. He initially worked as a chemist and geologist in New South Wales but later went into business for himself.  In 1892 Charles launched a French-language newspaper Le Courrier Australien in Sydney and also, in 1893, the Deutsche-Australische Post for German-speakers.

  • Le Courrier Australien earned the distinction of being the longest-running foreign language publication in Australia, being in print for over 120 years; unfortunately, publication appears to have recently ceased.  
  • I was interested in the conjunction between this story and one I published last year on John Wedrien (Vedrinaitis) who had inserted this advertisement in Le Courrier Australien in the 1930s:

Julius Sumner MILLER (1909-1987) was born and died in the USA, but has been included in the Dictionary by virtue of his contribution to science education in Australia.  The article on Professor Julius Sumner Miller in The Dictionary of Australian Biography by Rod Cross tells us that his father (Samuel Miller) had come to the USA from Latvia and his mother (Sarah, nee Newmark) from Lithuania. Trained as a physicist, Julius was attracted to the idea of presenting science through the new medium of television. Between 1962 and 1986 he visited Australia 27 times, primarily for engagements at the University of Sydney but also to record the ABC television show 'Why is it so?' which became very popular largely because of the presenter's infectious enthusiasm and use of drama.  

  • I remember my mother telling me that she had met Julius Sumner Miller while she was working at the Grosvenor Hotel in Adelaide and he was a house guest there (that was around the mid 1960s) and that they had spoken about his Lithuanian heritage. 


Thursday, 7 April 2016

The Australian Dictionary of Biography

The Australian Dictionary of Biography is an ongoing project of the National Centre of Biography at the Australian National University, Canberra. Eighteen volumes of biographies, covering over 12,000 'significant and representative' individuals, have been published over the last 50 years, resulting in 'Australia's pre-eminent dictionary of national biography'. It can be accessed online (click here).

The Dictionary has articles on around 20 people who had some link with Lithuania; some were visitors, others had ancestors from there, and a smaller number were born there. The latter include a few post-WW2 arrivals:

  • Olegas TRUCHANAS (1923-1972), wilderness photographer and conservationist; and
  • Henrikas (Henry) SALKAUSKAS (1925-1979), artist;

as well as earlier arrivals:

  • Mark RUBIN (1867-1919), pearl dealer and pastoralist, born in Salantai;
  • Isack MORRIS (1881-1951), rabbi, born in Zagare;
  • Jacob Simon (Jack) BLOCH (1898-1961), shoemaker, born in Plunge; and
  • Zalmenas (Zell) RABIN (1932-1966), journalist and newspaper editor, born in Kaunas.

All these men have interesting stories. Here are a few examples:

Jacob (Jack) BLOCH was the son of Lozer and Chaja BLOCHAS; he was named Yaacov Shimon BLOCHAS and in Lithuanian was known as Simonas Jankelis BLOCHAS. Lozer was a painter and cobbler and his son followed suite, becoming a cobbler at an early age. As well as shoemaking, Jacob had studied dance in Lithuania. After arriving in Sydney in 1930, he went on to establish a small business making dance shoes to order. The timing seems excellent, as the 1930s saw a stream of ballet troupes visiting Australia, and orders for Jacob's shoes continued to increase. Many international ballet stars visiting Australia bought and wore his shoes.

The entry on Jacob Bloch in The Dictionary of Biography, written by Valerie Lawson, notes that while his business continued to grow through the 1950s, he was not ambitious and  'more craftsman than businessman'. Nevertheless the Bloch company continued to expand after Jacob's death and is now a large and successful commercial enterprise, with 15 stores in Australia as well as stores in London and Paris. According to Valerie Lawson the company supplies the Australian Ballet with over 5,000 pointe shoes each year.

Zalmenas (Zell) RABIN was the son of Aleksandras and Zeny RABINAVICIUS. Aleksandras was a pharmacist in Kaunas but the family fled Europe just before WW2 broke out, arriving in Sydney in 1939 when Zell was 6 years old. He was active in student journalism and politics in the early 1950s and in 1954 found a job with the Sun newspaper in Sydney.

Zell's career advanced quickly, and by 1956 he was operating out of the Sun's New York bureau. He worked closely with Rupert Murdoch from 1960, and became editor of the Daily Mirror in Sydney in 1963. The entry in The Dictionary of Biography, written by Robert Milliken, notes that the Daily Mirror flourished under Zell's 'dynamic leadership'. Rabin's brilliant career ended prematurely; he died in 1966 at the age of 34.

President John F. Kennedy meets with Publisher of News Ltd. of Australia,
Rupert Murdoch (right), and New York reporter for the Daily Mirror, Zell Rabin.
Oval Office, White House, Washington, D.C, 1 December 1961
(Public domain, source: