Many lives of Nicholas Boonin

“Fate made Nicholas Boonin a soldier, and then left him without a country to fight for”, starts the The Mail article on 20 December 1924.

It tells a story of young Russian man and his wife who arrived to Australia that year and who were living unostentatiously in an Adelaide’s boarding house.

boonin 1Before settling down in Australia the events took Nicholas around the world.  But it all started in Russia, in a small provincial town Ufa.

The first time I saw Nicholas’s name my mind asked a question whether Nicholas Boonin was anyhow related to the famous Russian poet and the first Russian writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature- Ivan Alekseevich Bunin.

Since we do not know much about his parents, we cannot answer that question.  A search for general information on Bunin ancestry revealed that Bunins were a noble family with three distinct branches.  The research has been done on many Bunin lines but at present no one was able to connect all three lines together.  Our Nicholas came from Belebey line.

Russia

Nicholas Bunin, born Николай Васильевич Бунин and known in Australia as Nicholas Boonin, was born on 18 February 1900 (per his naturalization record) in Ufa.

‘I finished, my general education,’ the lieutenant began his story for the 1924 interview  ”in 1916, when I was 16 years old”.  He does not specify what type and where he studied but the Sloane family (you will hear about them later in a story) has a photograph of Nicholas aged approximately 10 years old in a group of cadets sitting together with Tsar Nikolai II.

So keen was Nicholas to fight Germans in the World War 1 that he probably hid his correct age ( he was only 14) and enlisted for service in the army without knowledge of his parents.  He was stationed in the Ural mountains for a time, but subsequently served on the Austrian front where, as a result of heavy artillery bombardments, suffered the shell shock and was hospitalized.

“While there in hospital my parents learnt that I was serving with the colors”.  After the discharge from hospital, Nicholas decided to continue the military education and entered into a military college ”after receiving special permission from the Czar”.  Eight months forward and Nicholas received the commission as a second lieutenant in a Cossack cavalry regiment and served on the German front.  Then came the Revolution.

Nicholas managed a safe journey from Central Russia to Vladivostok, where he was miraculously saved from Bolshevik’s tortures.  Then there was Singapore, enlistment into British Army, Egypt and England, where he joined the 20th London Regiment.

England

The war finished for Nicholas in hospital in Cambridge.  He decided to stay in England and studied for the B.A. degree at Fitzwilliam Hall, Cambridge.  When Nicholas gave the interview to the Australian newspaper, the journalist was amazed at his ”polished English”.

During his Cambridge stunt Nichoals received a message from General Ermoloff of the Russian Military Agency at Whitehall, that Russian officers were wanted.  ‘I relinquished my studies at Cambridge and placed myself once more at my country’s disposal, and joining the British Siberian Mission as a first lieutenant went back to Vladivostok”, says Nicholas. The article in the Mail, 1924 gives a detailed account of Nicholas’s participation during 1919-1920 mission as an Officer Interpreter, his survival from typhus and from Red Army.

“Once I was left behind and was forced to walk 800 miles in dreadful snow and wind-storms to Chita, escaping death on more than one occasion[3].”” It is not clear when but sometime during this mission Nicholas met his future wife Nathalie, with whom he later came to Australia.

Save and far away from Russia, Nicholas’s wanderings do not stop.  He is now in Batavia (1923) prospecting for gold, Borneo (February 1924) and Sarawak as a mine surveyor.

Australia

He arrived to Australia on 2 April 1924 through Melbourne, stayed for year in Adelaide, managed to give an interview in December the same year and completed a degree at South Australian School of Arts and Craft (Object drawing and Perspective subjects).   The desire to live no matter what, enthusiasm and optimism drove Nicholas in 1925 to Broken Hill, where his knowledge and skills in “gold prospecting” brought him some results.

Boonin coupleThen Nicholas disappears from Australian newspapers’ view.  More likely he stayed in contact with India and when he was offered the position – a manager of Bird and Company’s manganese and iron mines at Barajamda, Singhbhum- he could not refuse.  Nathalie did not follow him.  Eventually they separated.

Cars

Nicholas’s adventures continue.  He finds himself a hobby and becomes a keen driver. Back in 1933 he was the only man in the world who has driven a motor car from Calcutta to London by way of North Africa and made the return trip in 35 days and two hours (at least what newspapers claim).1933 Chrysler Imperial Convertible Roadster Photo by Nidermaier Pictures courtesy RM Auctions

This great 18,000 miles odyssey, was driven in a ”Chrysler Plymouth sports roadster, fitted with special tanks for petrol, water and oil, from Calcutta to London via the North Coast of Africa, a distance of about 11,000 miles, half of it over sparsely inhabited desert tracts where water was only to be had from friendly Arab tribesmen, and where the car had frequently to be dug out of the sand” claims Northern Star on 21 April 1934.

Back in Australia

Nicholas came back to Australia on a holiday in June 1935.  This was a busy holiday for him as he had an endless number of social engagements and parties to attend to.  Nicholas is now an important person with a position and status.  He is a former Russian nobleman with “a rank equivalent to that of an English baronet” [3]

Most importantly he came to Australia to get his pilot license.  I do not know why and where this desire came from but this is Nicholas.  He does what he wants.

He also marries.

The story goes that Nicholas met his second wife, Anne Margaret Sloane, also a pilot, while getting his pilot license at Essendon (TS -the Australian Aero Club at Essendon airport).  Two ”air-minded people” married few months later in August 1935.  Their marriage was quietly reported in The Australasian on 24 August 1935.

Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Boonin, whose marriage was celebrated very quietly last week, will make their future home at Barajamda, Slnghbhum, India. Before her marriage Mrs. Boonin was Miss Margaret Sloane, daughter of Mr. J. A. Sloane, of Mulwala (N.S.W.).

Newlyweds moved to India where Nicholas worked but were back in Australia in August 1938 and this time stayed in Melbourne and visited Anne’s parents home, Mulwala Station, near Yarrawonga.  Sloanes were and still are the prominent in the area family of Scottish descent, who have continuously farmed this land since 1862 and were one of Australia’s most noted Corriedale sheepbreeders.

World War II

By the time the World War II started Nicholas was in his prime years (42 years old).  Being a former soldier he enlisted into the British Army’s Royal Engineers regiment.

Nicholas Bunin was killed in action at the Western Front on 3 April 1945, just a month before the end of the war.  His death was announced in The Argus on 16 June 1945. Anne was working as a nurse in London when she received news of Nicholas’s death.

Nicholas was only 45 but what an adventurous life he had.

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