The beginning of Winter War 30.11.1939 and evacuation of inhabitants from Finnish Karelia, seen through the eyes of a thirteen year old boy.

Background and burst of War
Evacuation command arrives
Start of journey
Accommodation at Hirvensalmi
Father of the family back to civil life
At the end of War

The author is Aarne Rusi, born November 15th 1925 in Kaipilala, Uusikirkko at Finnish Karelia.  The second oldest of the children in this story.  The story has been written down in 1996 and translated roughly by Olli Rusi at 2002.

There were signs of War in the air during the whole autumn.  I have clear memories of listening to the radio while visiting my grandmothers farm in September.  Germany had declared war to Poland and Poland gave the blunt answer:  We are not going to give an inch of our land!  We all know this was the burst of the European massacre.

Due to the mobilization order, our father was called to reserve force military service in October just like any other man of his age.  There were eight children of us staying at home with our mother, the oldest one was Kerttu at the age of fifteen and the youngest was Laila, a baby of only three months.  All the rest, six of us, fit in between.  Our father was designated to report at Liipola about thirty to fourty kilometers away.  He used to visit us by bicycle during short leave periods.  We were just expecting him to get released – we missed him so much!

In the eyes of us boys there were so many interesting things to see in the village of Kaipiala at that time -  There were a lot of military units that were accommodated at the school and at private houses.  Most of the troops came from Uusimaa –region close to the capital of Finland, Helsinki.  They were troops of Uusimaa Cavalry.  Due to their regiment they also had a lot of horses.  The brave, handsome men and beautiful horses were fascinating to see!  Of course we watched very closely how a small area of walnut trees was cut down to clear space for machine gun bases, trenches and fox holes.  I have no knowledge of how much they were in use but most certainly at least part of them fulfilled their original purpose.

During autumn part of the inhabitants of our village had moved away for shelter to other parts of Finland.  After a while they moved back home because it seemed that there will be no war.  Anyway they had to leave again after a few weeks like the rest of us.  We had to abandon all of our property.  The only things we could take along were the ones that we could carry, basicly only food and clothing.  We were advised to take a food supply to cover at least three days.  Even right now I feel awkward and pity for the destiny of our farm animals…

But let´s get back to the time before we actually left.  There were soldiers visiting the houses of our village also with the purpose of getting acquainted with us.  They admired our family house situated at a beautiful hill by the lake Halola.  They doubted whether we knew how beautiful this place was.  We knew of course, but still these words even emphasized the value of our home to us.  This was a moment of happiness not to last for long anymore.  It was November 30th and the war became reality.

Starting from the break of morning there were colonnies of horse carriages loaded with people and goods from the coastal and frontier areas.  We watched the people who had left their homes and travelled with their heads hanging down.  They gave us warnings: “Be prepared, Your time will come as well”. 

There was some snow on the ground and the village road was slippery with ice.  At that time it was not a habit to use sand on the ice.  Due to the ice it was perfect conditions for slayriding.  We had a good sledge with long rails – it gave us good speed.  I visited the center of the village more than one kilometer away several times during the day.  I could understand the agony of the people who were travelling.  You could see the glow of flames and heavy smoke in the sky.  We smelled the smoke carried by the wind.  Entire villages were on fire and there was no return anymore.  The whole day was waiting for anything to happen and we were consumed with sadness and sentimentality.

For some days ago I had visited Peippola barnmill to grind some flower with the man from our neighbour , Ilmari Poutiainen.  So we had a supply of good flower of rye and wheat.  My mother baked a large amount of bread just in case if we needed to leave.  It was November 30th in 1939.

At the dusk of night we received the order that we had been so afraid of:  ”Gather in the center of the village within two hours with only the absolute minimal amount of goods.”  Of course we understood this, there were so few vehicles and so many people.

For our parents it was a time filled with worry and sorrow.  To many of us children it was the adventure of a lifetime – until energy was swept away with exhaustion and sleep took over the adventurers.

We prepared to leave.  I had to wear the new overcoat of my father.  It was far too big for me but it was the only way to keep the new coat my father had recently bought, it was precious.  Because I was the oldest of sons I also had to carry the bag of bread.  It felt so heavy.  There were at least ten extremely large country style fresh bread of rye.  I can´t remember anymore whether somebody had to carry some other food supply.  I have a vivid memory of my gentle but worried mother preparing us for the voyage as she said: “ Let us pray for God and stick together!”.  These words “stick together” have effected my life ever since.  We have close relationships with all of our brothers and sisters - we have stuck together.  This is a blessed memory of my mother.

We had a new mandoline. (Small string instrument with four double-strings). We hide it in the closet so that the Russians would not find it.  Somehow we had the feeling of returning back some day.  The thing that we did not know was that our home was about to burn down in ashes within hours of time.  The destiny of the farm animals remain unrevealed to us.

So eventually we gathered in the center of the village at the yard of Aleksanteri Kankainen –uncle to my mother.

It was strictly forbidden to use any lights.  Boy, it was a mess in the dark, all the old and sick people together with children of all ages!  Many of the children were accompanied only by their mothers.  Every father was in the frontier just like our father was.  We knew nothing of his existence or well-being for ages.  Our mother´s Trust in God kept alive the hope of his survival.  These prayers were to be answered later on as our father returned home without any injuries despite of attending heavy battles in the extreme frontiers.

We were picked up by a bus, previously used by the army.  All the people with their bags were rushed and packed in as tight as possible.  I was pushed at the back of the bus.  There I stood and watched all the dogs of the village, including our dog, run after the  bus until the church many miles away.  Obviously they returned back to the village, anyway we never saw them again.  The bag of bread was heavy against my shoulders.

We carried on the journey towards Patru medical clinic which had been chosen as our local point of gathering.  (This is where we have slightly different memories.  My oldest sister Kerttu and youngest brother Anselmi remember that this place would have been Rantamäki).  All the same, Patru or Rantamäki, the places are very close to each other.  It is already 57 years ago so we must accept some mistakes and even gaps in our memory.  Because I am telling this from my point of view so we were gathered at Patru medical clinic building.  It was a building with lots of room.  We stayed there only the following night in the second floor of the building.  I cannot remember exactly but probably we were documented and listed according to the destiny of travel.  Anyway we had something to eat from our bags and tried to have some sleep – without very good success.

My mother decided that the bag of bread was too heavy for me to carry in the crowded conditions and we needed to get rid of some of them.  She asked whether anybody would like to have some but everyone seemed to have similar supplies and we were only in the beginning of our journey.  Any surplus was simply left there on the spot.

In the early morning of December 1st in 1939 we climbed the vehicles again and headed for Perkjärvi.  I don’t seem to remember much of this journey.  We must have been exhausted and half asleep.  The journey itself cannot have taken more than 2-3 hours.  At Perkjärvi we were settled in the house of the railwaystation attendant.  All the rooms were crowded with people.  We shared the room with total strangers including a obviously retarded girl perhaps together with her mother.  This girl used to stroke the fabulous fur of her coat all day long and keep on saying: “Teacher gave Silja a new collar for the coat” – over and over again.  From one of the villages there was a man that had lost his mental balance.  This man kept on counting his fingers continuously without a brake occasionally making his hat spin in his head.  We kept on watching these people with a feeling of confusion.  Nevertheless we felt that they shared the destiny with us.

There were russian airplanes flying over our heads all the day.  Soldiers opened fire against them with only ordinary rifles and the fire was responded by fire of a machine-gun.  There was quite a cracking going on above us!  We don´t know of any damages, luckily enough they did not shoot at the house we stayed in.  Only our imagination can picture what would have happened in case the airplanes would have fired at the crowded houses.  Due to the tense situation and lack of sleep the previous night we stayed in all the day and tried to rest and gather some strength for the next night.

As the evening came, there were announcements that we need to go to the railway station to catch the train that would be leaving at 11 p.m.  Try to imagine the situation:  our mother had eight children to take care of; Kerttu 15 years, Aarne 13 years, Hellin 11 years, Johannes 9 years, Aulis 7 years, Anselmi 6 years, Anneli 3 years and Laila, the baby of three months of age.  We needed to keep close to each other in the dark in the middle of a huge crowd.  The first one to disappear  was Anselmi.  He was still very sleepy since he woke up only recently.  Probably he did not completely understand what was happening.  We looked for him everywhere and tried to shout his name in a panic.  All of a sudden he just appeared beside us.  He must remember this incident himself.  This brings into my mind the mothers deep sigh to her God, perhaps it was the force to bring back the little boy beside his mother who was in such trouble.

Everyone already knew their destination.  Obviously they tried to keep people somewhat together, together with the closest neighbours, The Poutiainens, we were heading for Hietanen.  Up in the railway cars we climbed!   Shortly after settling down to our seats we heard the announcement that people heading for Hietanen should take the last car in the row.  It was not the car we were sitting in!  Hastily we started gathering our things together and looked for the right car.  The car we were sitting in was a wooden car and its doors opened inside.  I was seated just behind one of these doors.  People were rushing out with all their bags and I got stuck behind the door.  I could not move a bit until the car was completely empty!  So I was separated from my family together with the bag of bread.  I don´t remember panicking because I knew I would find the rest of the family in the last car in the row.  It just took quite long time.  First of all I started my walk to the last car.  While reaching the end I noticed that there was the locomotive, I had been going to the wrong direction!  What can You do? I just started the long walk to the opposite direction.  Then I heard the announcement in the train “ Aarne Rusi, thirteen years old, come to the last car of the train!”.  I was sweating due to the warm and too large overcoat of my father and I had to carry the heavy bag of bread as well!  Reaching the last car at the end was a great relief.  The family was together again and to be honest, it must have been very important not to loose the food supply!

At last the train started moving.  It didn´t last very long, we had to stop before arriving to Viipuri.  There was an air raid going on, planes dropped bombs in the town and the sky was lit with the flames coming from the fire in the Red Fountain Square farmacy.  The train stood still for hours.  The crowded cars were hot, we got thirsty and there was nothing to drink!  I tried to cool myself by hanging my hands out of the car windows even though they opened only very little.  After a while I was forced to go out to the bank of the railroad.  I gasped some snow in my mouth to ease the thirst.  – It tasted awful!  The snow was contaminated with coal and smoke and who knows what – I could see nothing in the dark!  Perhaps eating snow helped with the thirst because I fell asleep right after climbing back to the car again.  I have no memories of the trip until we reached a railway station somewhere near Kouvola city.   The train stopped and everyone rushed out for their urgent bodily needs.  It was not the time to be shy! No matter if somebody else happened to see, the call of nature was overwhelming at that point, any time and place was good enough!  That truly witnessed the Finnish proverb “Hätä ei lue lakia”  (roughly: ”When in  emergency, there are no restrictions.”)

The female voluntary military personnel “Lotta Svärd” distributed some warm soup made of oat – something warm to eat since a long time.

After leaving Kouvola we headed for Mikkeli.  Our destination, Hietanen station at Hirvensalmi, was about 30 – 40 kilometers prior to Mikkeli and there they left the last car of the train.  At Hietanen village we were accommodated at local school in the first place.  There we were treated with warm food and the floors were covered with stray to make the floor a little smoother.  It felt miraculous to have some sleep in a warm room on a soft maddress at a good distance away from the battles.  I can´t remember whether we stayed at that school one or more nights but the heaviest exhaustion and need of sleep vanished there.

It may have been around Independence Day (December 7th , about one week after leaving the home village) as the local farmers came with horse carriages to pick us up to be accommodated at their homes.  Everyone chose a suitable family.  We were chosen by Otto Hyyryläinen (or perhaps even assigned to him, I don´t know).  They told us that we got the most prosperous farm in the neighborhood.  It was a handsome farm, allright, in Lahnaniemi about 5-6 kilometers away from Hietanen railway station. 

The farmer himself, Otto, was a typical person from Savo region (tribe).  He was somewhat introvert and a man of few words.  His wife Hilma was a very nice person.  As we arrived in the farmhouse, the housewife Hilma seemed to disappear in a chamber in the back.  My mother was terrified that she did not like or accept us, we were a large family.  Later on we found out that she went back to shed some tears.  Her delicate character  was touched by the sight of our young mother with so many children having to leave their home and  head for the unknown.  It was a tragedy of war come true in front of their eyes.  She understood our situation and felt compassion.

But we didn´t need much time to start noticing the differences between Savo and Karjala, our home region.  We were horrified by the sight of plenty of cockroaches running at the walls!  There were a lot of them!  Local people did not seem to bother at all, cockroaches were common in every house there at that time.  Having seen all the cockroaches we lost all of our appetite and thirst because we feared that there would be cockroaches everywhere, and so they were!  We spotted a lifeless cockroach in the cup of coffee the farmer was sipping.  He just tossed away the dead creature with spoon in a very calm manner and kept on sipping the coffee!  You get used to anything.  Later on we ate and drunk everything in the house and the taste was delicious.

I don’t know from where but my mother got some flower of oat and she started cooking some oat pudding.  It was a miracle for the farmer to see her cook and he kept on wondering how You can make porrige out of water!  Our mother also baked some bread and pies in the large owen in the house.  Also local people got to have a taste of Karelian food.  We bear a dear memory of those people in our hearts.

There was a son of my age in the house, Väinö.  We got friends and I even got to lend a pair of very good and long skies.  They gave me a good ride!  Many times I used to visit the countryside shop near Hietanen railway station.  My mother got daily allowance for soldier families and so we could buy the most important goods in the shop.  There was a local farmers wife with one child and her husband staying at home since he was disqualified from military service.  She was so jealous to our mother because of that military pay.  The lady did not notice the difference in the circumstances, number of children and the constant fear of our father not to return anymore.  Perhaps the young wife had her own hardships not visible to us at all?

At clear, crisp frosty nights we saw flocks of bomber airplanes fly towards the city of Mikkeli.  It was a very cold winter, there were often temperatures below –40 degrees Celsius.  One night the battle came quite close to us as a Russian air-fighter flew only meters above the roof of our house, chased by a Finnish pilot. 

The war ended at the 13th of March 1940.  The conditions for peace were severe to us.  There was no return for us and the trail of evacuation was our destiny.

My father got a leave from military service and during his visit to us we received an order to move ahead to Lavia.  Even nowadays I can not understand the reason for this move.  Luckily enough this happened during our father´s leave as he was able to help us with the task.  He even got extention for his leave in order to take care of the move.  It took a long time to make the long journey of several hundred kilometers in a carriage drawn by oxes. 

 I can still hear how my father getting thanks during the voyage as he used to help so many people either old or otherwise in need.  ”There You have a real Finnish soldier”.   You can imagine how PROUD I was – this is MY FATHER!

In Winter War as well as in Continued War our father decided to serve in military forces without taking arms.  This was due to his religious conviction.  At that time it was something extraordinary.  From the rank of a sergeant, gained in the War of Independence, he was degraded to ordinary private.  In the Continued War he got his rank back.  He was a first class soldier even without carrying arms.

In a few weeks after reporting back to his unit after this leave he was to be released to civil life.  Somehow we got the message that father is returning home!  I was told to take horse and go to meet him in the way, such a pleasant task!  I was enthusiastic about meeting father again.  The old horse felt helplessly slow and the journey was endless as I traveled towards Kankaanpää railway station!  Finally I had to face it, a little after midnight I had to turn back.  We could not make it.  I was tired and disappointed not being able to pick up my father.  It was already bright morning in the spring as I got back home.  … And there he was already!  There had been some kind of misunderstanding.  Father had arrived at the center of Lavia, only less than ten kilometers away and I was heading for Kankaanpää railway station more than 40 kilometers away.  My father had walked back home.  This was a night to remember all my life!

After Lavia we had to leave for Nurmijärvi and further to Tarvasjoki.  The war started again in 1941, Finland gained land and we were able to return back to our home village Kaipiala, Uusikirkko in May 1942.  The village was in ruins.  There were only four saunas left in the whole village.  We needed to keep up strong belief in the future to start living in the middle of the ruins.  One of the saunas left in the village was ours and there we lived the whole large family together in only some square meters of space.  It felt good to be back home again even though we had shortage of almost every commodity in summer 1942. We were allowed to buy a socalled “house for brothers in arms”, a set of wooden loghouse made in eastern Karelia.  The logs were still wet and slimy as we moved in the house in autumn frosts 1942.  The logs stayed slimy all the winter but it was warm inside and we had a roof above our head.  For our parents it was the second house in order.  The time in Karelia in those days seems like a dream.  You would not give one single memory away.  Even the hardships of that time have a positive tone in our memories.

In spring 1944 it was my turn to enlist in military service.  My unit was Saarenpää island in Koivisto municipality.  I can not express my feelings on the day I left for service.  My father took me to Jäppilä station with our horse.  It was good weather for a slayride, only occasional spots of sand on the road.  Just before Jäppilä station in Pöskönmäki we decided that it would be better for me to continue by foot.  During the whole voyage we were short of words.  Only much later on, after my father died, I realized that it was pain that sealed our lips.  My father trusted his son to the mercy of God.  It was war again and perhaps father anticipated that we would be leaving our homes soon again.  This was my last memory of my home village. 

War has many faces and many phases.

Once again my father was called to service his country.  He was appointed for cutting the crop after ceasefire in 1944.  The crop needed to be harvested before handing over the land to Russians.

We were struck by another raid of war again in 1944.  Russian troops forced us on the road and people had to leave their homes again.  The second evacuation took us from Kangasniemi to Masku, from there to Rusko and the final settlement was in Koski TL.  Once again our parents started to build a new house for the family.  The new building got ready in 1947 …

As my parents started to feel losing their strengths they sold the farmhouse in 1961 and moved in the city of Turku, close to many of their adult children.  They bought a family house in which they lived until the death of my mother Alma in 1982.  After a while my father Viljami bought a flat and lived there alone until his death in 1989.

All of us children are alive even today.  We bare in our hearts the words of our beloved mother: “Stick together”.