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Memento : Issue 29
Surprisingly, after those of Anglo or Celtic background, it was men born in the former Russian Empire that constituted the largest group in the First Australian Imperial Force (AIF). Uncovering these men’s lives has been an act of monumental and painstaking research. Elena’s book draws upon an extensive range of archival records, especially the World War I service records held by the National Archives. Elena managed to locate 969 men born in the Russian Empire who served in the Australian army, of whom 762 were on active service overseas. Of those, one in five (or 151 men) died while on duty. In many cases Elena found not just their names, but also enough facts to tell these men's life stories. The stories that emerge in Russian Anzacs date from pre-revolutionary Russia, through the devastation of war and revolution to the cultural diversity of modern-day Australia. Unlike many accounts of war, Russian Anzacs does not end when the fighting finishes. Instead, it passionately rediscovers ties, formerly severed, between the children and the grandchildren of Russian Anzacs and their Russian past. In the course of her research, Elena scoured phonebooks trying to make contact with descendants of the Russian Anzacs she had uncovered. Some people she traced were completely unaware of their Russian heritage whilst some knew only a little about their family background. Others had actively tried to find their Russian ancestors with varying degrees of success. A profoundly touching aspect of Elena’s research is just how many Russian families have reconnected because of her efforts. Her book is richer too, because it includes the personal narratives of some of the descendants of the Russian Anzacs. Alexander Egoroff’s story is a good example – a man on paper brought more fully to life by the memories of his children and grandchildren who, despite their best efforts, had lost touch with their relatives in Russia until they came into contact with Elena. The following story, recounted in Elena’s book, draws on a mixture of official records and personal interview. The untold story of Russian Anzacs Alexander Egoroff’s alien registration document. NAA: SP11/3, Egoroff A Dr Elena Govor is a Russian-born Australian writer and historian specialising in the history of Russian–Australian contact. She has been widely published in Russia and Australia. Her latest book, Russian Anzacs in Australian History, co-published by the National Archives and UNSW Press, uncovers a part of Australian cultural history that until now has been silent. It tells the story of the almost one thousand Russian soldiers who fought alongside other Australians in World War I as Anzacs. The untold 4 MEMENTO News from the National Archives