Personal Finnish War Stories

Discussions on the Winter War and Continuation War, the wars between Finland and the USSR.
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Philip S. Walker
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Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Philip S. Walker » 22 Feb 2011 15:39

I would like to start a new thread where people can write in with personal stories in relation to the Finnish situation during WWII. It can be stories that they themselves have experienced (if anyone out there is old enough), stories that are part of your "family legend", stories taken from letters, newspapers or books (where rights are available). Stories that mean something special to you and might move us all!

Perhaps some people have made interviews they want to share. Would be great, too!

The stories don't have to be about soldiers and the fighting. They can also be about civilian life during those years, rations, bomb shelters, political life, the war seen from a child's view, etc.

Most stories will probably come from Finnish members, but others should be welcome too. Stories about the foreign volunteers, international newspapers reports etc. The Finnish wars as they were seen outside of Finland!

Most welcome also: stories from the other side - the Russian soldiers and civilians, media etc.

Let's CREATE OUR OWN SOURCE MATERIAL AND SHARE THE INFORMATION WITH EACH OTHER and bring to life those years through personal stories.

I think this will be a GREAT thread and I'm looking very much forward to reading it as it goes along!

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Hanski
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Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Hanski » 22 Feb 2011 20:40

I cannot avoid feeling somewhat amused, as you are inadvertently replicating an idea about what used to be a sort of national institution in Finland for nearly 30 years.

Between 1957-1986 there was a monthly journal published in Finland, Kansa taisteli - miehet kertovat (Nation fought - the men tell)

http://kuvat2.huuto.net/2/9b/3fd488fbcb ... 2-orig.jpg

What this journal contains, is precisely personal Finnish war stories. Its chief editors were usually retired General Staff officers, who kept up the historical and factual quality, and of course the journal was well-known and popular among veterans as it was sold on most newsagents.

Especially the Finnish political left did not feel comfortable with a kind of embarrassing journal that reminded month after month after month about the Finnish wars, where the enemy in most cases was the USSR -- the partner of the FCMA Treaty, with whom it was politically correct only to praise the good mutual relations at the time.

For precisely the same reason, our then President, Dr Urho Kekkonen, publicly denounced the flood of war memories that entered the book market before each and every Christmas...

Just how many thousand stories would you like to read... :lol:

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CanKiwi2
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Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by CanKiwi2 » 22 Feb 2011 22:18

Well, out of the no doubt many thousand stories, I just bought the one below.......precisely because I started looking for personal stories to pick up.... I would also recommend "Born A Soldier" by Michael J Cleverley (bio of Lauri Torni / Larry Thorne) - of course there's also a Finnish bio of him - "Legenda - Lauri Torni".

Von HAARTMAN, Carl
Title: FRANCON ARMEIJASTA KOLLAANJOELLE
Description: 3rd Printing. 1/4 Cloth & marbled boards. pp. 196, illus with black & white photos and a map at the rear of the book. Printed in the Finnish language. The fascinating war memoir of this remarkable Finnish aristocrat come Hollywood actor and profesisonal soldier. Covers the years of his participation in the Spanish civil war and Finnish Winter War (From Franco's Army to the River Kollaa).
ex Ngāti Tumatauenga ("Tribe of the Maori War God") aka the New Zealand Army

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Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Philip S. Walker » 22 Feb 2011 22:40

Here's one from Peter de Hemmer Gudme, a Danish reporter at the Finnish front during the Winter War. Probably factually inaccurate, but shows the kind of impressions people in Denmark were given of the Winter War.

Lapland’s most important hospital was in Rovaniemi, and there I found a wounded Russian soldier, a peasant from a Communist run state farm in the Volga-area around Archangelsk. He could read and write and was very interested in having his picture taken and insisted on having a picture of himself. He told me that he had belonged to the 295th Regiment, and his officers had said: “There will be no war here. You are just to march into the country.” To their disappointment he and is comrades had found there was no point in discussing with their officers, and that you had to obey orders, so they marched over the mountains from Murmansk to the Petsamo-River. They suffered in the cold and discovered to their horror that the Finns were good shots. Most of his unit had fallen and he has been one of the first to get wounded – a bad wound in the thigh -, and he had been lying unconscious at the bottom of a pile of corpses. First the tough Finns had thought him dead, but then a medic had noticed he was breathing and he was saved. He was incredibly thankful over the unexpected friendliness that was shown him and over the food, which was much better than he was used to. There had been no doctors and no camp hospital in his unit, only some first-aid medics.
There were some wounded Finnish soldiers, too. Most of them were from the Petsamo front and their wounds had worsened since it had been necessary to transport them 500 kilometres to get them to the camp hospital. Many of their wounds were bad enough in the first place. Often an arm had been almost torn off by a bullet, because the constant state of night meant that the opponents got very close to each other before they could start shooting. One who looked to be in a really bad way had been shot in the lunge so that air was mixed into his blood, making his face swell up as though it was about to explode. Another had been hit by a grenade that had crushed his left knee and arm.
There was a boy who had belonged to a solitary group of seven soldiers, who had been separated from each other, but they all came back. A grenade splinter had robbed him of his right eye and given him an open sore at his temple. At first he was unconscious, but when he came to he started walking on his own without a compass through the wilderness and walked for seven days. Only once did he find a small peasant's hut where he got some flower, which he mixed with water and ate. Otherwise he walked for seven days with his open wound and no food or drink in minus 10-12 Celsius and only when he had returned to his own side did he run out of strength.
There was a sergeant who had been on guard by the nickel mines when he heard someone approach and walked forward to see who it was. It was the Russians. One of them attacked him with his bayonet, another crushed his lower arm with a bullet, but he still had just enough time to order his men to go forward and fire, and the attack was averted, and they captured several machine-guns and rifles, though they were 50 Finns against 800-1000 Russians and were only reinforced after at while.
And there was a Lieutenant Kivivuori, whom the army surgeon referred to as a modern day Lieutenant Zidén. He had been wounded by a rifle shot in the arm when he tried to stop a an attempted Russian break-through. “But,” he proudly added, ”the Russian who hit me was hit himself, as well, so he was given an appropriate souvenir from the event.“
“And the attack?”
“Oh well, they didn’t get through.”
Last edited by Philip S. Walker on 23 Feb 2011 08:35, edited 1 time in total.

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Hanski
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Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Hanski » 23 Feb 2011 06:31

Just a reminder: becoming wounded was no joke in that era before antibiotics. There was no such thing available as even the basic V-penicillin.

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Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Philip S. Walker » 25 Feb 2011 20:17

Here’s a bit more of Peter Gudme’s reportage from the Winter War:

A further journey of 500 km through the Arctic darkness takes me from Rovaniemi and the railway all the way up to the most northern front in the world and a war that never sees sunlight. For a few hours during the middle of the day you can see in a southern direction a sometimes red, sometimes yellow gleam of a sunset, engulfing the wilderness in the strangest of colours; the snow changes from yellow to blue, then to green, but you never see the sun. These hours around midday are only as bright as a Finnish or Swedish summer night, and the two Finnish camera men and the Swedish newspaper photographer traveling with me suddenly get busy. Otherwise darkness shrouds you around the clock, affecting the nature of the fighting up here near the Arctic Ocean. Only very occasionally the northern sky is lit by a sheen of aurora borealis.

At first, Colonel Villamo didn’t want me to travel up here, because, as he put it: You never knew when I got back. Therefore his plan was to send me eastwards, but some military events suddenly occurred at Salla which he didn’t want me to witness, and at the last moment he changed his mind – and now were are traveling north by car, constantly northwards along snow covered roads. Spruce, pine and birch replace each other. Lakes and rivers follow rock and tundra, where only a few scrubby birch trees manage to survive. But you don’t see much of the landscape, for the night is dark, and at minus 20 Celsius it is almost impossible to keep even a small area of the car window ice-free. Only after we have passed the stream and the road slopes down towards the Arctic Ocean, the Gulfstream starts to make its presence felt and you no longer need to stamp your feet or kick out with your legs all the time to keep your blood circulation gong. The cold is an enemy you must never underestimate.

Sometime during the night we reach Ivalo and enter the military zone and you have to present your permit. No civilian vehicles can go further than this, and even travelers in military vehicles are checked thoroughly. There is quartering and a hospital at a tourist hotel, and lottas serve us the usual soldiers’ dinner - a fine meal consisting of bread, butter, sausage, cheese, milk and coffee. On the wall you can still see the tourist posters carrying messages such as: “Have you won a sports prize?” – but on the small amateur stage at the hotel there are now sleeping soldiers, and under one of the posters there is a small box where you can donate cigarettes and other presents to the combat soldiers. Above a bed a soldiers has pinned pictures from illustrated magazines. They speak a clear language: President Kallio and Mrs Kaisa Kallio, Mannerheim, Svinhufvud og a coloured print of a mysterious female figure. The soldiers are exquisitely polite and friendly. Though the radio is their dearest pastime entertainment and they don’t understand one word of Swedish, they change station for their visitors to listen to the news in Swedish, and they move away from the stove in order for me to dry my boots and socks.

There is plenty of news from the front – or rather rumours, for as I am soon to learn all numbers and events dwindle the closer you get to their source. There is nothing new in that – you can find this same tendency as far back as the ancient Greek historians and the Old Testament – but here there is a special reason for it: The vast majority of news reports from the Petsamo front originate from the Norwegians in Kirkenæs and they simply have not seen the things they write about. They have heard the shooting from the other side of the border – and rifle fire can make a terrible racket in the mountains. Hence, minor patrol skirmishes in their ears have become veritable battles that only belong in their imagination.

All the more reason to listen to the stories which doctors, lottas and soldiers have heard from the combat troops themselves. At least they paint a picture of the situation and the spirit. The private soldiers are full of contempt for the Russians: they huddle together around their officers, making themselves easy targets. They dare not go out on patrols unless they are 30-40 men strong, while the Finnish patrols normally are no bigger than five or six men, one with a submachine-gun. Once a small Finnish patrol came across a company of Russians who were stacking turf to shelter their horses; the Finns waited patiently until the Russians had finished, then they got into fighting formation and opened fire with terrifying results.

The Russians are badly clad. Only the officers have underwear; in the case of one fallen officer it turned out to consist of a woman’s chemise. He was so filthy that his skin was completely caked with dirt. The enlisted soldiers only wear their padded trousers, military shirts, and helmets that is so thin a bullet can penetrate them even at a sharp angle. They have no tents, and while in the beginning they would camp around open fires, they no longer dare that since it obviously attracts the Finnish patrols. Since the Finns have left not habitable houses in the areas they have abandoned, the Russians have to camp in the biting frost and the snow, and due to the lack of bonfires they have for some time not had any hot meals. No wonder they are freezing – and the Finnish patrols claim they can hear them cough. The other day the Russians seized a co-op shop with a large stock of women’s trousers, and you could see from the corpses after subsequent fighting that they had put these on in a hurry.

So far only one Russian has been seen on ski, - the Finnish soldiers declare with scorn that they were nailed to his boots – but, like elsewhere, there isn’t enough snow here for the Finns to utilise their superiority as skiers. There is a certain amount of snow in the mountain areas, but in the tundra you can get around well without skis, even if you sink in halfway up to the knee. You hear the same thing over and over again: “Just give us half a metre of snow and the Russians will be halted.”

The Russians had diligently utilised their superiority in the air by attacking the civilian Finnish population with both machine-guns and hand grenades as people were evacuated south, and three times they tried to bomb the first aid station in Haukilampi. The results were not up to the efforts. A car had been perforated like a sieve, but not a single human being had been killed by the air attacks, and on one occasion the Russians made the mistake of bombing their own vehicles.

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Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Mika68* » 25 Feb 2011 21:59

OK, but I had also else stories than from "Kansa taisteli".

You has so west European attitude to so dark and cold Northern Europe.

I know fates of my near relatives during WW2. I can say, no-one returned home as alive. They all had buried in cemeteries.
What I want to say, nobody who was in fightnings didn't survive alive.

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Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Philip S. Walker » 27 Feb 2011 21:23

Some more of Peter Gudme's report from the Winter War:

Further north, during the few hours of daylight, we pass thousands of reindeer evacuated from the east, which the Skolts are now leading over to a place near the Norwegian border. There is a great butchery going on. One by one the reindeer collapse in the snow with their throats cut. They jerk slightly and then become still, and the blood forms red pools that become more and more brightly yellow as they expand. The adult Skolts, little bearded male figures, slit their big puukkos through the animals’ throats, and the reindeer stand quietly like the proverbial lamb to the slaughter so that the entire blood bath takes place quietly and calmly. The animals are skinned and cut up on the spot. The small Skolt boys pull hard with their blood-covered fists to release the skin from the body of the animals, and the intestines pour out into the bloodstained snow. This is an orgy in flesh and blood, with the steam rising up into the clear frosty air. But Mother Nature is so almighty around here that this huge butcher shop with its rows of newly killed animals and it’s stream of blood makes no impact on the deserted winter landscape. The wilderness is so vast and so alive that both man and beast completely disappear within it.

Some fifty animals have needed to be butchers here to be taken across the lake and into Norway in order to gain profits for the Finnish state. From Salmijärvi we can look across the ice-covered lake to the peaceful Norwegian coast where the lights are beaming in Svanvik. Strange being so close to a country without permanent blackout.

Though the Arctic Sea Road is deserted and runs through a complete wilderness, it is far from having no traffic at all. We meet ambulances, vehicles loaded with evacuated goods, and big lorries full of skis heading for the front. All motorcars are painted white, like our own, and some are also camouflaged with branches of pine. Though air attacks are a daily event, road work and other kinds of work are continued as though the country was in the deepest state of peace. The Skolts pull their reindeer along both by night and by day, and unfortunately their idea of a Highway Code is a pretty crude one. We have three collisions in one night, and it is only due to the incredible skills of our Finnish army chauffeur that we get away them alive.

Everywhere we go we are received with genuine Finnish hospitality. In one place it is the chemist, in another the local co-op manager who finds room for us to sleep in, and the coffee is always ready to be poured. One of the Lottas serving us coffee in a kitchen is exceptional in the sense that she can speak Swedish. When I mention it, she replies, “Well, that's not so strange since I’m from Helsinki. But I’m married now and my husband works in the nickel mines.” But she doesn’t tell me that her husband is in engineer and she the daughter of a famous professor.

Salmijärvi, the nickel town, is a flourishing society. The nickel mines, which are run by a British-Canadian company, can pride themselves of having the tallest chimney in Europe (156 metres) – which the Russians have tried to shoot down – and it has by now become the capitol of the Petsamo district. The vet in Petsamo, one of my old comrades-in-arms from twenty years ago, was already then an eager spokesman for a Finnish occupation of Petsamo and he has lived here ever since. “There were only three houses here at that time,” he says, “this entire fertile landscape we have created – and now the Russians want to destroy it.”

The army doctor at the first-aid-station there, just behind the front line, explains how the Norwegian Red Cross offered to let their Finmark ambulances take care of badly wounded Finns, but the Finnish government refused the offer with thanks: “We don’t want our wounded soldiers interned after they have become well again. If we have to fight this war on our own, we need every single man.”

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Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Seppo Koivisto » 27 Feb 2011 22:37

Where has the reportage by Peter de Hemmer Gudme been published? He seems to have been an interesting figure.
http://da.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_de_Hemmer_Gudme

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Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Philip S. Walker » 27 Feb 2011 23:35

It is included in his book "Finlands Folk i Kamp" ("The Finnish People at War") from 1941. The book is mainly a factual but highly coloured description of the Winter War which can probably be found much better elsewhere. He says in his introduction that it is deeply indebted to Halsti: "Försvaret av Finland", a book I don't know. In my opinion the most interesting parts are his descriptions of his journey through Finland at that time, which may also have featured in the newspaper Nationaltidende.

Gudme was a theologian, an expert on ancient Egyptian history, a newspaper reporter, newspaper editor, officer, writer and translator (he translated T E Lawrence's "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom" into Danish, as well as many other books). Politically, he was a Conservative, a stern anti-Fascist and pro-Art and Culture. He fought on the White side in Finland and Estonia. He said he volunteered to join in return for the Finnish and Estonian volunteers who had fought on the Danish side when Denmark was attacked by Germany and Austria in 1864. He was always keen to downplay the friction between the two sides in the Finnish Civil War by saying that he had "merely fought for the liberty of Finland against those who unfortunately had turned to the Russians." My personal feeling is that he was mainly an anti-communist for religious reasons and an anti-Nazi because he believed deeply in "the small nations' right to independence." He was also an eager promoter of at Nordic Union.

During the occupation of Denmark, Gudme made some pretty provocative public speeches aimed against the Germans, which caused him to be arrested several times. He was also a keen promoter of an understanding of Finland's special circumstances and made a trip to Finland again during the Continuation War, which I believe was turned into a reportage in Nationaltidende, though I've never seen it. For a while he published an illegal pamphlet called "Nordens Frihed" to explain to the Danish people what was happening in Finland.

In 1944 he was arrested by Gestapo again and taken to their headquarters in Copenhagen at "Shell-Huset". He was tortured badly, and in order not to tell on his friends in the Resistance Movement he threw himself from a tall staircase and thus committed suicide.

Peter de Hemmer Gudme was a mixed character, as most eccentrics are, but in many ways he was an extremely important and interesting man whom Danish history unfortunately has forgotten almost completely, despite the huge sacrifices he made for his people. So, as with Anja and Gunner Gersov, I would like to honour his memory too in this forum for all the good he did for both the Danish and the Finnish Nation.

May he rest in peace, he was a very brave man.

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Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Juha Tompuri » 28 Feb 2011 23:32

Matti Julkunen at his book Talvisodan kuva (about the foreign war correspondants in Finland 1939-40) writes that Gudme was one of the most appreciated foreing journalists in Finland during the Winter War.
Gudme is being mentioned to have stayed most of the time at Helsinki, but visited Rovaniemi 12-19th Dec-39

Regards, Juha

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Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Philip S. Walker » 28 Feb 2011 23:56

Thanks Juha. I was actually wondering exactly when he traveled north, so that bit of into is very much appreciated. Seems he strayed quite a bit away from Rovaniemi during that nine day trip and also got quite close to the actual fighting, but we'll come back to that as we go along.

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Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by patrik.possi » 03 Mar 2011 00:24

For several reason I'm quit reluctant to share any of my family memories in this thread.

But I will make one exception.

In the summer 1944 my great grandmother alone evacuated her home on Salmi driving a horse cart herself to all the way to Savolax, leaving behind the grave of four of her children, one witch was killed in the Winterwar and her husband's grave.
When her son, my grandfather's brother visited Salmi in the lates 1980 the graves have been violated and the gravestones had been removed to be used in construction work, this i find very peculiar as my family shared the same branch of Christianity as the Russians namely Orthodox.

In Salmi the Russian had raised a huge monument over the fallen socialist Liberators at the old Finnish war graves, witch i find very cynical as only in the Winter War the death casualties of Salmi community was about 4.5% of its population.

The house of my family Had been removed possible to somewhere in Russia as the Finnish house standard was far above the Russian.

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Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Mika68* » 03 Mar 2011 01:27

My grandma was from Salla. She lost husband in winter war 7th December 1939 in Suomussalmi.
All the over 300 men from Salla which lost their lives against Soviet Union had graved under ground without personal christs, but only one big stone where had written all their names on the ground of Russia nowadays (earlier Finnish and Salla's soil).
Soviets destroyed all the personal christs of dead enemy's soldiers, they didn't save even Finnish deads.

But by the way nearby that cemetery are also cemeteries of Germans and Soviets soldiers. That tells maybe something situation of Salla during WW2 1939-45.

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Re: Personal Finnish War Stories

Post by Philip S. Walker » 03 Mar 2011 14:23

@patrik.possi & Mika68

Thanks for two great personal war stories, which I find very moving.

It's interesting that we normally see these wars mainly from the fighting mens' point of view, but you both start by telling about your grandmothers. That's a strong human quality, as I see it.

I grew up with two brothers, so it was a man's world. Even our dog (Finnish) was a boy. Now I have three daughters and a granddaughter, so I've started to see things from another angle - seems you're already there.

I've tried to watch films like "The Winter War" and "Ambush" with my wife, and it's very interesting how she reacts. I basically see a lot of tough guys I would like to identify myself with, bravely defending their country. My wife just says: "The poor people of Finland," and cries when she sees the civilians refuges. She also says she admires the Finnish men for being so tough, which I find more worrying :D

Thanks again.

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