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WWII lives on in Finland

April 24, 2006
As a Canadian born in the 1970’s, I have been very fortunate that I have never had to deal with war or its legacy. In Finland World War II is still a reality, but not in the way that you would think…
 
WWII may have ended more than 60 years ago, but the remnants of war are continuously being dug up around Finland. Every summer people have to be evacuated from their homes and workplaces so that bombs and grenades can be disposed of (=exploded) safely. Some notable findings over the past few years include very large bombs in Joensuu (1999 I believe) and at the Rovaniemi airport (also in 1999), small ordinance in Mikkeli last summer and a WWII grenade found in Otaniemi not far from the athlete’s village during the World Track and Field Championships last August. The Finnish Police have run a couple of gun amnesties and every time they receive old war time weapons, whether they be grenades, guns, pistols and the like.
 
In many places around Espoo there are war time trenches that have been carved out of the rock. A few of them are located near schools and have been preserved as a piece of Finland’s war time history. They are lined with railings, so if you know what to look for you will recognize war time trenches when you see them in Espoo. In Mellunmäki in the east part of Helsinki there are also large trenches carved out of the rocks, but they were never used. The Mr. told me they were a last resort, but thankfully never needed… Words cannot communicate how humbling it was to stand in some of the old trenches near Hanko a few years back. They have been preserved for historical purposes, as Hanko was just one place in Finland where war exerted its influence.
 
Finnish WWII veterans now have an average age of 84 and the services and rights accorded to them and their spouses are slowly being phased out as their number dwindles. I understand the last nationwide fund raising campaign for veterans was held in Finland earlier this year. The Mr. told me that while national campaigns will end, local units will raise funds as needed for army veterans and their spouses. See more at http://www.sotiemmeveteraanit.fi/. These pages are in Finnish only – the title roughly translates to "Our War Veterans". Here too: http://www.sotaveteraaniliitto.fi/ – The War Veteran’s Association, which is also only in Finnish.
 
I admit that I don’t know a lot about Finland’s war time history, but it’s something I plan to learn more about. However, I have never met a Finn who hasn’t had a relative involved in Finland’s wars against the Soviets. A friend’s grandfather once told him that in meeting the "enemy", it was shoot or get shot. He had a close shave in eastern Finland when he rounded the corner of a building and found himself face to face with a Soviet soldier. My friend’s grandfather was the lucky one that day… Go to any cemetery in Finland and you will always find a plot of land set aside to those who fell during the war. Several of my own distant relatives also fought and died in WWII; these fellows were laid to rest in a cemetery in small Pohjanmaa village.
 
Max Jacobson has written an interesting history of Finland’s war time haggling with the Soviet Union and Germany, which appears on the pages of Virtual Finland: http://virtual.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=28271&LAN=ENG
 
 
Update 27.04.2006: This was actually a timely entry, today is Veteran’s Day in Finland, which has been officially celebrated since 1987. Veteran’s Day coincides with the end of the Lapland War in 1945. This year’s officlal celebrations are in Hämeenlinna.
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