During the First World War over 1,000 people of Russian ancestry served in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). Of these, there was only one known woman: Augusta Emelia Enberg, from Lovisa, Finland.
Augusta Enberg arrived in Australia with her brother, Adolf, and sister, Ellen, on board the Danish ocean liner SS Zieten in 1913. Augusta was 39 years old; her sister 37. They were living in Sydney when the First World War began in August 1914. At this time Finland was a part of the Russian Empire, which, like Britain and her allies, had declared war on Germany. It is unknown whether Augusta felt an allegiance to Russia or Australia, or whether any such allegiance influenced her decision to enlist. As a trained nurse, however, her skills could be used to help others, and so she enlisted in July 1916.
Australian forces were suffering large numbers of casualties in overseas campaigns, and medical services were stretched to the limit. The many thousands of wounded soldiers coming off the battlefields received treatment in a range of medical facilities, and if they were unable to return to duty were placed on transport ships for repatriation to Australia. Many of these men were in need of intensive care on the voyage home, and it was nurses who carried the responsibility of looking after them.
On her service records, Augusta declared that she was a “Finn”, and not a naturalised British subject. Regardless, she was accepted with the Australian Army Nursing Service. In December 1916, having been appointed to the 14th Australian General Hospital, Augusta Enberg embarked on her first voyage to care for wounded Australians.
Augusta arrived in Suez, Egypt, after a four-week journey. Less than two weeks later, she embarked on the return trip to Australia aboard the transport ship Euripides, caring for the many wounded on board.