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True Stories of The Finnish War of Independence
(translated from Finnish by Osmo Joronen)
Updated April 20, 2003


Brief historical background
The Swedish and the Russian typewriter
Betty Sewed Them
Devils by the Gravel Pit
Shoot That Rabbit!

January - May 1918
The year 1917 was a turning point for Finland. On June 16, the first congress of Soviets was held in Russia. Lenin declares Bolshevik readiness to rule the country. On July 16, a revolution begins in St. Petersburg. During this time and again in August, Lenin hides just across the border in Finland. Aino Kuparinen, the writer's maternal grandmother was at the house where Lenin was hiding. A story is told that a letter went out to the whites from the house with information regarding Lenin's location. Not long afterwards, the Finnish whites surrounded the house, but Lenin had slipped away. Aino had served Lenin tea there, and also worked in St. Petersburg with her sister. They were there when the Bolsheviks took control. Often they slipped out and broke their curfew and were chased by police. But these girls were far too fast for the Russians. Aino managed to get across back into Finland, but her sister was taken by the Bolsheviks to a forest labor camp, and got out later. Communism

Not only did the Finnish people have to gain their freedom from Russia, but they had to also "run the gantlet" of their own communist uprising instigated and backed by Russian Bolsheviks, which was defeated by general Mannerheim with some German assistance. It happened in the turmoil of the First World War as well as the Russian Bolshevik Revolution.  Finns fought not only in Finland but also in the Baltic countries. Stalin never forgot the humiliating defeat.

Suomen korkeimman vallan haltija, eduskunta hyväksyi joulukuussa Suomen julistautumisen itsenäiseksi ja suvereeniksi valtioksi. Eduskuntaan nojannut Suomen hallitus eli senaatti ryhtyi itsenäisyyden ja toimintavapauden turvaamiseksi riisumaan aseista ja karkottamaan vanhan emämaan Venäjän joukkoja ja Venäjän hallitus puolestaan julisti sodan Suomen hallituksen "vastavallankumouksellisia" joukkoja vastaan. Näin syntyi 28.1. 1918 vapaussota.

The government of Finland, the parliament, approved in December Finland's Declaration of Independence and formation of a sovereign state. The Finnish senate began the task of independence and "showed Russians the door." (Like, pardon me tavarits, aren't you guys in the wrong country? Your country is that-a-way.) The Russian government declared war on the counter revolutionists in Finland. Thus began the War of Independence on January 28, 1918.

The Communists had Russian assistance, but the uprising was put down after a lot of bloodshed all over Finland. The South was Red, and the North Democratic, and they formed their own armies and marched all over Finland taking villages into their respective sides as they went. Men, women and even boys fought, brother against brother, sister against sister. If the Russians had won, Finland might have become a part of the Soviet Union, with all its negative implications against the Finnish way of life, its culture, language and high standard of living. In the 1930's Stalin would have had access to the murder of the entire Finnish population if he so chose.
These stories are about the mood of the times in Finland and the desire of Finns to be free from the Russians forever. This is the war that recapitulates the Finnish struggle against Russian meddling over a thousand years, the birth pains of a proud people wishing to develop their own language, culture and future - and finally the birth of a free nation.
The illustration is from the book "Leikkiä Sodassa" "Play in War" - 1927. (Not meant to offend our Russian friends, just to show what was happening at the time) The secret of survival in times of crisis...humor.

The Swedish and the Russian Typewriter

The Finnish lawyer S's image was that of a real capitalist. For one thing, he was considerably overweight, with three chins and some more rolls on the back of the neck. He moved like some old-fashioned ocean liner into his office every morning, his huge stomach floating gracefully along with his confident steps. He evoked envy in other thinner capitalists around him. So it was natural that at this point in history, he should be very nervous indeed.
He was worried that due to his well-fed appearance, he would be an easy target for the Red Guards who were on the lookout for their "blood-thirsty capitalist oppressor classes." He also awakened antagonism on the streets in such types that he would have gladly given a couple of years of hard labor to if he ever got them in front of the courts. "F-n capitalist" they would yell out at him.
In vain he tried to shed his extra pounds. One day there appeared some Red riflemen in town and the local Red newspaper reported that the people had taken control of the town and have started a war against the "enemies of the people."
The lawyer went into a state of panic. The local capitalists would gladly give him as an offering as he was definitely right up there amongst the most worthy of it.
How great was his fear when, upon glancing out from behind his curtains, he spied two well-armed Red Guardsmen marching in the direction of his very office, up the stairs and straight inside.
"Now they have come to kill me. Miss, water, bring me water. God protect me," he cried. One of the office girls brought him water and told him not to worry, as he didn't even yet know what their business there was. "I'm sure they will kill me," he insisted. A brisk knock and they were inside the office. The lawyer relaxed just a little since the men did not appear to be particularly bloodthirsty. In fact they looked just like ordinary dumb farm boys.
"We've come to confiscate typewriters," announced the larger one. "The leaders need them. How many do you have here?"
"Two. There take them!" The lawyer offered them politely, since at that point he would have even given his last pair of pants for the revolution. "But how will we manage?" one of the girls was brave enough to inquire.
"What then, do you do with them here anyway?" asked one of the pair. "Legal documents and..." was the reply. "Pah, you'll not be needing those anymore, we have our own law."

Just as they were about to grab the typewriters, the lawyer got a brainwave. As one of the pair was picking up the larger machine, he complained: "But that one writes only Swedish. I doubt whether you will be able to use it."
"Ah, Swedish you say, we can't take that then. How about the other one?"
"I am sorry to say that it only writes in Russian." The two looked a bit puzzled. "Well we can't use it either then, so where can we get typewriters?" The men were preparing to leave when one of them got suspicious. "But that one has plain Finnish text, are you capitalist trying to fool us? Listen office girl, write something with that one and see if it writes Russian."
The lawyer felt the cold sweat burst out of his pores and onto his forehead. All was lost. Now the girl has to write.
"And now write with the other one too."
The girl typed. The men studied the results.
"This is Russian?"
"It is."
"And this one, Swedish?"
"This is true."
"Well, it must be, let's get out of here. Goodbye."
The lawyer looked as if he was just hit on the head with a log. "Didn't these men know how to read?" He rushed over to read what the office lady had written.
The Russian text looked like this:
& % / X Å O % R ()=?^Å  etc.
The Swedish looked something like this:
X å bo dc deded gå och zix  etc.
The lawyer: "miss, you certainly have a lot of brains for a woman."

"Betty Sewed Them"
A newly independent Finnish Army, and Finland, is born.

A lumber dealer R. from Oulu became the person in charge of supplies for a certain company in the Finnish War of Independence. To strengthen discipline within the company, he was made an officer and was required to wear the appropriate stripes. So upon his departure from Oulu, he had stars and stripes here and there on his uniform, both front and back, according to his story. But then not even old Eero knew what the correct markings of Finnish Army officers really were.
After many battles, they arrived at Tampere, in central Finland. At the railway station R. met his old friend, a Colonel in the Finnish army. The following discussion ensued: "What is it that you are actually?" The Colonel asked. "The supply officer of company X," was the reply.
"What are all these?" Asked the Colonel, as he slid his fingers along the ribbons and stripes. "Well I really don't know myself. Betty (his wife's name) sewed them before I left when she saw them on others. She would have sewn more, but I thought this was enough," explained R.

Devils by the Gravel Pit

Even the brave can be afraid in wartime of, if nothing else, then devils. According to Civil Defense member K., Antti H. and Jussi P. were two of those brave men, but at least once they were afraid of devils. On smoke breaks, they always made it clear, without embarassment, and to everyone present, that the world's bravest men were just these men, Antti H. and Jussi P. They hadn't said so directly, but one got the impression by their comments, for example: "and if that Antti hadn't been there with us, we would all be dead. But the forest doesn't frighten him at all, any more than myself, so we were all saved in that game..." Or Jussi would comment, "Antti, just gave them fire as always, we're not from timidville..."

Civil Defenseman K. thought that these men couldn't possibly be as fearless as they claimed. When he was made acting platoon leader, he put Antti on night guard duty, at a drying barn where there were some bodies. But before Antti had got to his post, K. had snuck over himself and hid amongst the sheet-covered bodies, hidden by a sheet. K. was looking forward to scaring the living daylights out of Antti. First Antti, then Jussi, he thought. Antti, pondered about why K. had put him there to guard the bodies. Who would want to rob these bodies, poor men every one of them. Antti thought he may as well take a little nap. He had just laid down to sleep when, K. raised his head and began a graveyard moan that sounded like it came straight from the pit of hell. The moon shone in through a window and K. could see as Antti calmly looked at him, and grabbing a birch log, approached in his direction. "The dead do not have permission to peek," he uttered. At that moment K. panicked and he had to quickly announce that he was alive and who he was. Antti just told K. not to become a corpse without permission, and left it at that. K. understood right then that Antti did not understand fear of ghosts. He thought it was probably useless to try something on Jussi as well, because they were of the same suit.

So instead, K. invented another plan to frighten Jussi. In a few days he had set up a two meter post beside the forest road, and on it he made a "scarecrow". He nailed a cross stave to the post and dressed it with a soldier's uniform: a hat with a red bandana, some spruce boughs hanging down as beard - which in twilight appeared as a scary face. He set it up in a snow-bank by the side of the road. One arm was pointing at an angle upward, towards the road, the other over the edge. He then strapped a revolver to the hand pointing toward the road. He tied a fishing line to the trigger, and hid the other end in a near-by gravel pit.

K. then went over to his men and announced that the road must be guarded, beginning at 20:00. They must keep an eye especially on the gravel pit area. Two men are to be on duty at a time, and Jussi and Antti will be the first. At 19:30, K. arrived at the gravel pit. He decided that his scarecrow should have gloves, even though it was well below 0 degrees Celcius. He only had his own dog-skin gloves to put on its "hands." He slinked into the pit and grabbed a hold of the line.

Antti and Jussi were on their way. He peered over the edge of the pit and could see these fearless men coming his way. Then back into the pit to listen. All of a sudden K. could hear Jussi say "the enemy is standing over there!" At the same time a shot, then another. K. had pulled on the line and sent the wooden bullets flying. A hail of bullets followed. They flew over the pit and broke off branches nearby. The scarecrow would answer a few times, whenever he pulled the line. The scarecrow took a lot of hits, but remained on its "feet." Then there was silence. K. heard Antti say, "what do we do now, we have no more bullets?" Jussi said, "let's grab our knives." K. panicked and shot out the rest of the bullets.

What if they came with their knives and Antti might see him. He would remember the previous encounter, and perhaps kill him. K. crept up to the thing and gave out an awful scream. Antti remarked "he has unlimited supplies and he won't die with a knife since even bullets won't harm him. He is the devil himself, and nobody else. I think we should go and report this and decide with them what to do about this. After that Antti and Jussi went back the way they had come, but a little faster.

When they had disappeared from site, K. took down the scarecrow and removed all evidence of it. Then undetected, he hurried back to camp. When he arrived, he immediately met Antti and Jussi. They were explaining to several sergeant majors that there are devils at the gravel pit. K. let them elaborate about what had happened at the gravel pit. After that K., a sergeant major, Antti and Jussi went off to see the "devils", every man having taken enough ammunition. Of course there was nothing untoward happening at the pit. They found trampled snow, but not much else, probably stomped on by the enemy. The sergeant major, not knowing anything about the caper, announced: "you boys must have had your hearts in your throats when you saw the enemy, when you couldn't shoot straight enough to kill him even though you shot up all your ammunition. "Your fear is what made you miss the target, and your fear is what caused you to see, in the place of an honest enemy, a devil. You could end up in a courtmartial from your cowardice." K. thought perhaps he should reveal the caper, but thought he would do it later. The next day, fighting was fierce, and K's company of whites were commanded to retreat. Antti and Jussi would not. "And now Antti isn't moving anywhere even if devils come." Jussi added "me neither, even if our ammunition is gone as well."

In the morning, the whites retook their position, and lots of snow had fallen. Returning to where Antti was last seen, they found him with a bayonet wound, but still alive. "They couldn't hit me with a bullet like they did Jussi. He is there under the snow. When my bullets were gone, we used up Jussi's. After that I defended myself with my bayonet and knife. I was just waiting for you to come back. I knew you would. Now I am tired. Put something under my head, and tell the men I wasn't afraid of even devils." Antti's head flopped back onto the snow. Antti was dead. "They were truly fearless men, both of them. Which of us has not at one time in their lives been afraid," said K. as he ended his story.

"Shoot That Rabbit!"

The Reds' and Whites' lines were often very close to each other. Shots were often fired from boredom. Comments could be heard across the line.

Suddenly a rabbit appears between the lines. "Hey!" A shout came from a group leader on the whites' side. "Shoot that rabbit!"

At the same moment, an enemy soldier popped out of a bush. "No, no - you don't have to shoot, I surrender."

Check back for more stories from the revolution.
Finns help Estonians 1919

Under the Northern Star - book by Väinö Linna
Brother against brother
Finnish Civil War Essay by Leena Perttula on the Finnish Civil War

To Finland at War

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