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Memories of the Front

February 22, 2012

Talk to any Finn over the age of 30 and very likely almost all of them will have a relative that took part in one of the two wars that Finland fought with the Soviet Union during the duration of WWII. In Finland those wars are known as the Winter War and the Continuation War. You can read more about them here , since discussing these wars is not the point of this post.

What I do want to tell you about is a wooden box that is at my in-law’s house in central Finland.

Since taking an anthropology course last year (remember the posts on gathering food?) I became more aware of all of the things around us that are made of wood. Just before Christmas last year we were visiting the Mr.’s parents and I remembered “the wooden box.”

I’ll get to that in a second…

The Mr.’s grandfather was already married with children when he took part in Finland’s wars against the Soviet Union. From some of the stories that the Mr. related to me, it sounded like his grandfather had nine lives, as he had several close calls while out on the front. I can share a couple of them and I’ll refer to him as “Grandfather.” The Mr. said he and his brother were just little boys and in spite of that Grandfather did tell stories about being out on the front in eastern central Finland.

One time Grandfather and his unit were doing a sweep of some farm buildings, when he walked around the corner and came face-to-face with a Soviet soldier. The man with the faster trigger finger walked away that day. It sounds like something you would see in a movie, but scenarios like this did happen.

In another incident, Grandfather and his unit were resting in some abandoned buildings near the front when they awoke to the sound of planes. Someone realized they were not Finnish planes as they were coming from the wrong direction. The group hurriedly gathered their things and exited the buildings. Grandfather was one of the last men out of the house. The planes dropped bombs on the buildings and Grandfather was hit by a door that was blown in his direction. He escaped with minor injuries, but was given a few days off.

When he was not on the front, and he told the Mr. they did have some down time; Grandfather spent time (as many others did) working with wood. He created this box in 1943.

Grandfather also crafted the letters to spell out “Muisto Syväriltä.” Syväri is the Finnish name given to a river in Russia that flows into Lake Ladoga and at one point used to be in Finnish territory before Finland ceded it to the Soviet Union in the peace agreements signed after hostilities ended. According to some historical documents, the Finns fought fierce battles with the Soviets during the Continuation War at Syväri.

Grandfather made it back from the front. He was one of the lucky ones.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 9, 2012 1:34 pm

    That’s a really fancy box. Gramps was a talent. My father survived the War, too. He is now 94. He says he’s still disturbed by dreams and thoughts of those days.

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