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.


  1. Have you considered entering this post into The Trans-Tasman ANZAC Blogging Challenge where it may reach a wider interested audience? Seee

  2. Great work. I'm still preparing my post.