Lebanese Diggers – Australian Lebanese in the armed services

On Anzac Day we remember the one million or so Australians who served their country in time of war. Many Lebanese Australians have been on active service with Australian forces and helped defend Australia. This issue, which will be published near Anzac Day 2004, highlights the Lebanese Australians (including those born in Lebanon and those of Lebanese ancestry) who served their country, some paying the ultimate price. This is a small memorial to all those Australians, including those who identified as Lebanese Australians, who risked their lives for their country.

World War One
Lebanese served with Australian forces during World War One. This was at a time when some of them or their parents were still nominally Turkish subjects. As enemy aliens they were required to register and report regularly to police. Moreover, the social atmosphere of the immediate pre-World War One era was not always sympathetic to these Syrians who were considered Asiatic in many quarters and therefore not part of the White Australia hegemony. Still many joined the AIF and some were sought out as being useful interpreters for Australian forces in the Middle East.

Vincent Lahood
Private (5121) Mansour G. (“Vincent”) Lahood enlisted in the Army in January 1916. He was the son of Joseph and Rosa Lahood who lived in Penrith at the time of his enlistment, but who moved to Campsie during 1916 to open a drapery store in Beamish Street. Vincent Lahood was born in Penrith in 1897, which would have made him 19 at enlistment, but he put his age being 21. This was not unusual for young Australians to advance their ages in order to be certain of being admitted to the services especially if their parents didn’t support their enlistment.

Vincent Lahood left Australia with the 16th Reinforcement body for service with the 13th Battalion on the Western Front. He had an eventful time because he was mentioned as wounded in the casualty lists of 10/10/1916 and on 14/5/1917 the Sydney Morning Herald noted that he had been listed as “missing”. His family heard in September 1917 that he was one of many who at been captured in fighting after the attack on Riencourt on the 11th April 1917 and was being held as a prison of war by the Germans.

Vincent Lahood returned to Australia on 31 March 1919 and married Mary V. Predergast in 1924. He purchased a billiard room business, which was later to become Princess Theatre. It seems he also enlisted in the Army during World War Two since the AWM’s Nominal Roll records him as enlisting as Private (N78176) on 19th August 1940 while living at Campsie although he was discharged on 13 May 1942. A remarkable military experience for anyone! (Canterbury’s Boys, p. 301)

Killed in Action
Private Vincent Mahboub (7770) of the 35th Battalion AIF enlisted on 15th June 1917 but was killed in action on the 8th August 1918. He was the son of Michael and Rosie Mahboub, of Excelsior, New South Wales and was born in North Lebanon.

Gunner Elias Naself Keeami, (2504) of 103rd Howitzer Battery 3rd Brigade, Australian Field Artillery, was killed in action on 15/11/1917 in Belgium. He was aged 35, born in Lebanon, and the son of Elias and Julia Keeami. He was described as the husband of Elizabeth Keeami, of Zonnebeke, Riverside Crescent, West Marrickville, New South Wales.

Private Joseph Saleeba, (3920), aged 28, of the 51st Battalion died in action on the 25/04/1918 at Villers Bretonneux-France. He was also born in Lebanon and was son of Nicholas and Mary Saleeba.

Other World War One Veterans
Harold Gabriel of Adelaide was a well-known Australian Rules footballer who enlisted in the first AIF and was wounded at Gallipoli. George Saleeba was another, a Melbourne boy, who served in the AIF. (Batrouney, p. 116-117)

Private (807) Harold Gabriel Abotomey enlisted on 31/8/1914 and returned to Australia on 26/6/1916 after serving in the 10th Battalion. Gunner (34321) Herbert Abotomey served in the 2nd FAB from 1916 to 1919. Private (2329) Walter Abotomey enlisted on 12/6/1915 and served in the 18th Battalion.

Australian War Memorial Online Databases
The Australian War Memorial (AWM) – www.awm.gov.au – has a number of online indexes that list Australians who have served in various conflicts, including the First World War. It can be difficult to determine who was Lebanese. One problem is that there are many names that could be Lebanese, for example Solomon, Joseph etc., but could also have other origins such as Jewish. Others with Anglicised surnames are difficult to pinpoint unless you know the full name of a specific person. Studying the first names can give a clue to who are Lebanese. The steady appearance of Lebanese, Jewish and non Anglo-Celtic names does show that the diggers of the Great War were much more multi-cultural than is commonly assumed.

U.S. Army
Interestingly, a number of Lebanese having migrated to the United States, enlisted and served in the U.S. Army. Later, they returned to Lebanon and for one reason or another, ended up settling in Australia permanently. One of these was George Melick who was an officer in the U.S Army and saw action in France on the Western Front. Jamelie Melick (a distant relation) met George in Lebanon while visiting with her Uncle and Aunt (Stanton and Florence Melick). A romance blossomed and they married in Lebanon. George and Jamelie ultimately settled in Grenfell in New South Wales. Two of their sons, Nicholas and Victor Melick, both served in the R.A.N during the Second World War.

Word War Two – Many Lebanese Served
Significant numbers of Lebanese Australians served in the armed forces during the Second World War. The AWM shows around 80 people who served in Australian forces, who were actually born in Lebanon. Many, many more descendants of earlier Lebanese settlers also served. If you search the AWM’s World War Two Nominal Roll database, you can enter almost any one of the surnames used by Lebanese then and find some examples of Lebanese who served. So there must have been many hundreds or even thousands. They served in the three armed services, in overseas conflicts and in Australia and included women as well as men. And if they were too old for regular service, their names appear on the rolls of local home defence units.

For example, a search of the Australian War Memorial’s database shows 34 Australians with the name Malouf serving in the Australian forces during World War Two.

Two of the Maloufs were born in Lebanon. Signalman Charles George Malouf was born in Kafaracab, Syria in 1915. Corporal Michael Malouf, of Brisbane, was born in Lahley Lebanon on 29 March 1889 making him 53 when he enlisted in the 11th Training Battalion at Redbank in Queensand.

Tragic Losses
Tragically, two members of the Malouf family died on active service. Acting Corporal Michael Malouf , son of George Malouf of Coffs Harbour, 53rd Infantry Battalion, died in Papua on 29/08/1942. Michael Malouf had two brothers who also service in the Australian Army: Bernard Malouf and Brian Malouf. Sergeant John William Malouf, the son of Nicholas and Lillian Malouf of Maryborough Queensland was serving with the New Guinea Infantry Training School when accidentally drowned on 27/02/1944.

Sergeant Nicholas Dan of the RAAF, the son of Elias and Marie Dan of Randwick, was shot down in his bomber while flying over the Netherlands on 10/08/1942 and killed.

Warrant Officer Sydney Kardachi from South Australia saw action in the Middle East and because he spoke Arabic worked as an Intelligence Officer. He went onto to serve in the Pacific campaigns and unfortunately died at Bouganville in 1945. (Batrouney, p. 116).

These are four who gave their lives for their country; there may have been others.

Anglicised Names
We know Leading Aircraftman Eric Pike of Cessnock was of Lebanese descent, despite his name, because the Nominal Roll gives his place of birth as Kousba in Lebanon (although it refers to Kosba, Syria). Private John Alexander Knudsen of Murwillumbah (1 BN VDC P T D, N459820) was born in Beirut not Scandinavia! Private Michael Carter of Bundaberg, Qld (b. 25 Mar 1894), (Q137374) was Lebanese because was he born in Zahle; he had the second name of Abou.

Decorations
A number of Lebanese servicemen have also been awarded high military honours as a result of their conduct. Squadron Leader Alexander Joseph Abicair of the RAAF (b. 1901), for instance, was awarded an Order to the British Empire (OBE) and was Mentioned in Dispatches during his air force service in Europe during the Second World War.

Women
Many Lebanese women also enlisted. Among those who served was Kathleen Michael (NF443427) who was born in Lebanon on 31 March 1903 and served in the Army. Aircraftwoman Joy Aboud (now Joy Najar) (106903) enlisted in the RAAF on 22 Oct 1942 and on her discharge in 1946 was serving in the Air Defence Headquarters at Sydney. She joined Aircraftwoman Patricia Aboud (92936) in the same unit. By the way, Joy’s sister Laila served in the Army as a nursing sister, and three brothers served overseas (Alfred and Joseph in the Army and Louis in the Air Force), meaning that five of the 10 children from the Aboud family enlisted.

Too Many to Name
Once you begin to go through the records it becomes apparent that so many Lebanese have served in the Australian armed forces that it would be impossible to go anywhere near being able to name any more than a tiny fraction of them here. Moreover, the identity of some is disguised by various circumstances, such as the Anglicisation of names. Below is a more detailed story of just one Lebanese Australian who fought overseas and endured great hardships, perhaps thereby being a remembrance of the hardships he suffered with so many of his colleagues: Louis George Solomon.

References

  • Batrouney, Trevor & Andrew. The Lebanese in Australia, Melbourne: AE Press, 1985. (Australian Ethnic Heritage Series).
  • Canterbury’s Boys: World War I and Sydney’s Suburban Fringe. Lesley Muir, ed. Campsie NSW: Canterbury and District Historical Society, c. 2002.
  • Australian War Memorial, First World War Nominal Roll Database. http://www.awm.gov.au/
  • Australian War Memorial. Second World War Nominal Roll Database. http://www.awm.gov.au/
  • Australian War Memorial. Roll of Honour database. http://www.awm.gov.au/