Greek-born Nicolas Rodakis started work as a ship’s fireman while still a teenager. His seafaring job took him to many countries, including Australia, where he arrived in 1902.
He settled in Melbourne, married Lydia, and continued to work on various ships up and down the Australian coast. In 1909, Nicholas, now aged 30, applied to become a naturalised citizen on the Commonwealth of Australia. The police report attached to his application showed him to be “of good character”.
Like thousands of other men in Australia during the First World War, Nicholas enlisted in the AIF. He left his job as an engine driver, farewelled his wife and young son, and departed from Melbourne as part of the 17th reinforcements for the 4th Battalion on 4 April 1916. By the end of July he was stationed in France with the 4th Machine Gun Company.
Despite recurring bouts of severe tonsillitis, Nicholas proved to be a tough and skilful soldier. He was promoted to lance corporal in May 1917, and was awarded a Military Medal “for conspicuous gallantry and skill as a machine gunner” on 27 September 1917. His citation read:
…he proved himself of distinctive value near Zonnebeke on the afternoon of 27th September 1917, when a heavy counter attack was impending and our parapet was being swept by enemy snipers and machine guns in addition to artillery barrage. He mounted his gun in a very exposed position…although his tripod was hit several times, and his tunic ripped, he fearlessly stood to his post… The work done by this NCO was of considerable value in repulsing a determined counter attack by the enemy.
In 1918, the last year of the war, Nicholas was promoted to corporal and then to sergeant. Along with members of his battalion he was attached to the 105th United States Infantry. In an action near Ronssoy, France, on 29 September Nicholas again showed “extraordinary heroism”, for which he was awarded the United States Distinguished Service Cross (Army) by the President of the United States.
The citation read:
“Organising troops from different units, Sergeant Rodakis exhibited great bravery and dash in leading them into effective combat, inspiring all by his courage and fearlessness.”
As well as a medal, this award entitled to Nicholas to a pension of £25 per year, and a free pass for the American Railways.
Nicholas returned home to Melbourne in June 1919. He died in 1961 at the age of 83.