100 Years from Tampere
What I will be sharing with you is information I researched in the summer of 2018 to understand why in 1918 Finland had a terrible internal war where Finnish people killed Finnish people. I do not claim to be and expert or fully understand all things related to it. There are people in this room that are far more knowledgeable and more familiar with this topic than I. My intent is not to tell you who was wrong or who was right. Not celebrate the victor or shame the defeated. Pauli just wanted to try and understand what happened. And I want to respectfully remember those who lost their lives. What I want to give you tonight is the desire to find out more. To ask those difficult questions about what happened in Finland 100 years ago. It is still a difficult topic for many. My 88-year-old mother warned me not to stir the pot. In Finland I found varied feelings about the subject. Tonight, we will have the honour of having 4 people share their personal family story about what they went through in the Civil war. No one is alive from those events, but we do have the closest thing to it with these stories told by their relatives. I ask that you respect and honour both the memory of the people whose story will be told and respect and honour those who have bravely stepped forward to talk about things that need to be told and are worth telling.
In 1323 Erik I of Sweden annexed Finland. Before that Finland was a land that no one had laid claim to. For the next 500 years Finland would be part of the Swedish Kingdom. Sweden and Russia frequently fought over control of this eastern part of Sweden. From 1300 to 1800 almost every generation that lived in eastern Sweden/Finland were involved with wars between Sweden and Russia. They mainly battled for the control of the sea routes of the Baltic. The years of hostility had given the Finns a permanent feeling of insecurity. Swedish strategic directive of 1785 implied that in case of Russian attack, Swedish forces should retire from the front leaving Finnish troops behind to deal with the Russians.
The Finnish War from February 1808 to September 1809 was the last one between Sweden and Russia. Finns themselves had to carry the responsibilities of coming to terms with Russia. As a result, the eastern half of Sweden was established as the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland within in the Russian Empire.
For the next 100 years Finland enjoyed relative peace. Finland had its own government and legislature. They were able to maintain the laws from Swedish times. Any major decision had to have the approval of the Tsar.
There was discontent stirring among the Finnish population. Some consider Political journalist, writer and historian Adolf Ivar Arwidsson the master mind of Finnish Independence. He was critical of Finland being under Russian rules. He was known for borrowing the phrase: Swedes we are not, Russian we do not want to become, let us therefore be Finns. The seeds of discontent and desire for independence from Russia had been planted.
November 1st, 1894 Tsar Nicholas 2nd was coronated. He was responsible for the Russification of Finland. 1899 to 1905 and 1908 to 1917. Russification was the government policy aimed at limiting the special status of Finland, terminate its political autonomy and cultural uniqueness. Finland was being stripped of its customs, religion and identity. We see members of the Russian Chevalier Guard. The Lieutenant marching on the left in front of the Tsar as his body guard may be familiar to some of you. It is 27-year-old Baron Carl Gustaf Mannerheim. Later in life he will lead the White troops in the Civil war and unite Finland to take on the Russians in the Winter war of 1939. Also the future President of Finland.
Finnish artist Edvard Tsto created the anti-Russian painting in 1899. It portrays the 2 headed eagle, Russia. Tearing away the law books from the arms of the Finnish Maiden. This was widely printed and circulated in Europe.
To help you with the geography just a little bit. Here are the areas where most of the events happened that we will be presenting. My family comes from near Seinajoki, so I will make references to there. Kristiina and Marja will tell stories from around the Lahti area. Esko will talk about Viipuri which is not marked and ended up being taken by Russia after World War 2. It is bottom right in the white area by Lake Ladoga and Gulf of Finland. Jyrki will talk about Tampere as well as I will also.
January of 1918 Mannerheim had his headquarters in this farm house about 30 km from Seinajoki, 7 km form my family home. Here the initial plans for the Civil war were made.
Just after midnight a train carrying troops from Seinajoki to Vaasa was to be derailed. This was to stop Russian troops from travelling to the coast. In the cold dark of a Finnish winter night, a group of men had to use a sledge hammer to break apart the tracks because the wrench they had did not work. This is considered the start of the Civil War. The information was not correct, there were only a few Russian soldiers on the train. 2 people were killed. The train engineer and assistant that shoveled the coal. These 2 were the first innocent Civil war victims of many that would die in the months to come. In the predawn morning in many areas, members of what would be known as the Whites raided Russian weapons cashes to arm themselves and take away armament from the Russians.
It did not take long for the hostilities to escalate. White Civil Guard had evacuated the heavily Russian and Red occupied Tampere. They ended up in a battel in a place called Suinula. When they were heavily outnumbered, and no options left, the Whites raised the white flag a symbol of surrender. Ask they walked out unarmed carrying the white flag the enemy opened fire on them and 14 were killed. This was the beginning of the take no prisoners tactics that both sides would resort to throughout the war. This became to be known as the Suinula Blood Bath.
Throughout Finland, civilians gathered to from armies to take part in the battle. This is a picture from Lapua and may contain some of my ancestors.
Tampere had been a factory town for 100 years. This also made it a union town. The politics were left wing. So, Tampere was a Red town. If you are not White, then you are Red. If you are not Red, then you are White. In Tampere you had to choose a side. There was no one who could avoid being part of the Civil War. Here you can see the frozen Lake Nasijarvi. When the White troops were coming towards Tampere in front of the came a wave of refugees seeking the safety of the big City. There was a black line as far as the eye could see of people coming across the lake.
The refugees and the local people were all trying to find a safe place in Tampere away from the impending attack on the city. People felt that a church was safer than their own home. Tampere Cathedral was one of those churches.
Rauha Marjaana-mother and sister Selma.
When the White troops commenced their attack on Tampere, Mannerheim observed the progress of the battle from a hill top with a clear view of the city.
The citizens and troops were encouraged to surrender. The take no prisoners tactics being employed must have weighed heavily on everyone’s mind even though the leaflets dropped on them said otherwise. Especially since the Suinula Blood Bath had happened not far from Tampere.
The volunteer Swedish troops that had arrived in time for the battle of Tampere had their most difficult day fighting Russians and Red troops around the Kalevangangas cemetery. I visited the memorial put there for them and laid flowers.
When Tampere fell, 12,000 Red combatants, some included women and children were captured. Both sides used child soldiers between the age of 14 to 17.
The Reds killed in the battle were unceremoniously dumped in a mass grave at Kalevankangas. The mass grave is marked by this monument. I visited there and laid flowers.
Near Seinajoki I round a marker directing me to a memorial. The next sign clarified it. It was a memorial for the executed.
It was in a forest 300 m from the nearest road. 100 years ago, this was a swamp.
In the spring of 1918 27 workers and crofters were executed at this place.
The bodies were buried in a mass grave here.
When the Civil war ended after 3 ½ months the Red combatants did not go home. Throughout Finland in the summer of 1918 it was estimated that at the peak there were 80,000 Reds or those accused of being Red collaborators in prisoner of war camps. These included women and children. In battle about 3,900 Whites and 6,600 Reds were killed. An additional 20,000 Reds died in prisoner of war camps. These were from executions, hunger or disease. The last prisoners were released in 1928. 10 years after the civil war.
With parents dead or in prisoner of war camps, in Tampere there were 500 orphans and 14,000 through Finland under the age of 15.
The City of Tampere suffered much during the Civil war. There is no noticeable sign of what happened there 100 years ago. City hall.
Nasilinna. Fierce fighting took place here over several days here.
Today the grand marble stair case inside takes guests up to the second floor for social gatherings exhibitions and parties. The past sometimes comes back to haunt us when we least expect it. It is difficult to get stains out of marble. The carpet does not completely hide the blood stains in the marble from 100 years ago.
At Kalevankangas cemetery I placed flowers on the memorial for the Whites.
I became very familiar with the photos of Tampere. I found this one of the houses destroyed by shelling and fires. I recognized something familiar from another picture I had seen. If you look in the distance, there is something in the street. As the photographer travels past the destruction he comes on the body of a young child. It was determined that this boy about 11 years old died on April 3rd when White troops swept through the area. He likely was killed by a stray bullet or grenade shrapnel. The city of Tampere was full of refugees, so it is uncertain where he is from. What is know for a fact is that his family did not remove the body after the battle was over. It is likely he was buried as unknown in Kalevangangas cemetery in the mass grave. Who was this boy? Was he Red or was he White?
I found the place on a busy street where his body had been 100 years ago. I placed a blue flower on that spot because he was a child who did not choose a side.
My last stop in Tampere was at the Freedom Memorial, Vapaudenpatsas. There I laid down my last flowers.
From the Finnish Community of Vancouver. In memory of those who lost their lives in 1918.
We are here today because of what our ancestors went through. We have young people here that will carry on our legacy. I would like to ask Alex Tuppurainen to play Finlandia for us.