Australians serving with Allied nations also found themselves in campaign areas like Russia or Africa. Archie Pursell from Balmain, Sydney, was on a business trip to England when war broke out. He signed up with the Royal Naval Air Service and fought on Gallipoli where he was wounded. Later in the war his service took him to Russia to fight. Even after the Armistice in November 1918, several hundred Australians joined a special contingent of the British Army for another campaign in Russia.
Victorian Joe Purdue was among these men of the North Russian Relief Force. He was wounded and decorated while fighting the Communist Bolsheviks in 1919 in a bitter campaign that resulted in the death of several Australians and the award of a Victoria Cross to two of them. Once again, although lists of these men exist their service papers are generally missing.
In the Records
A myriad of official and unofficial records substantiates the assertion that at least 50,000 Australians served with other countries in World War One. Finding them is not always easy. For instance, Melbourne Grammar School records (see www.mgs.vic.edu.au/about/mgs_history_archives.php) reveal that a quarter of its graduates served with an Allied nation. Evidence such as this indicates that many of the Anzacs who served with friendly nations were affluent and typically made their own way overseas for family, patriotic or other reasons to enlist. Other resources at The National Archives in London, the National Archives of Australia, plus unofficial publications such as university and state education records, and memorial books were used for the research presented in this article.
These brave men and women who have little documented visibility can explain the absence of the usual service records for family members and solve the mystery of many strange names that appear on old municipal and other honour rolls. From Prime Minister to pauper, from deserter to decorated hero, these Other Anzacs represent a hitherto largely ignored contribution by Australians to the Great War. We must remember them.
✻ Lieutenant Colonel Neil C Smith AM is head of Mostly Unsung, which publishes on a range of Australian and British military history.
This article originally appeared in issue 9 of Inside History magazine. We’ve sold out of print copies of issue 9, but click here for some free issue 9 content and click here to browse other back issues.