Friday, 24 May 2013

Boy, they sure bred ‘em tough back then – Finland, 1941

This photograph is of a Finnish-American soldier called Hyvönen (I don’t know his first name) on his way to the front in Mikkell, Finland, 4th September, 1941, to defend his country against the Red Army. He was 62 at the time. Sixty-two!

Finland fought three separate wars between 1939 and 1945. The first, the Winter War, began on 30th November 1939, when the Reds bombed Helsinki. The Finns astonished the world by holding the Russians at bay until March 1940, when a peace treaty was signed.

The Continuation War, which began in summer, 1940, was fought against Russia with the help of Germany, and led to Finland recapturing territories it had lost earlier in the year, and to occupying East Karelia, which had always been Russian. This led to Britain declaring war on Finland and launching unsuccessful expeditions against her - forgivable, given that the USSR was Britain’s ally at the time. But, as the Finns were caught between the ultimate rock and the ultimate hard place – Hitler and Stalin – it’s hard to see what else they could have done.

Eventually, after the exhausted Finns had signed a peace treaty with Russia in 1944, they set about driving their German allies out of Finland, at the behest of Roosevelt and Stalin. The Lapland War (as it’s known) led to the Germans laying waste to the entire northern half of Finland as they retreated.

Finland was never a true member of the Axis. It handed over a total of eight Jews, for which it later apologised. At the end of the war, it was the only European country bordering the Soviet Union that hadn’t been occupied. Helsinki was one of only three capital cities of countries which had fought in the war not to be occupied: the others were Moscow and London. And it was the only combatant country in mainland Europe which remained a democracy throughout.

It’s more than likely that the Grønmarks originally hailed from Finland. Although it translates as the rather humdrum “Greenfield” in Norwegian, it’s a very uncommon Norwegian name, whereas Finland seems to be crawling with them. I’m very proud of my Norwegian heritage, of course, but given the extraordinary courage shown by the Finns in WWII, I’m only too happy to claim Finnish ancestry as well!

You can see a whole host of photographs of Finland during the Second World War here.

In memory of the good soldier Hyvönen – and all the other Finns whose courageous defence their homeland once astonished the world – I’ll leave you with Sibelius’s glorious Finlandia, performed in Helsinki:


  1. IIRC at the time of the Winter War the British government seriously considered intervening on behalf of the Finns since the USSR, having signed the non-aggression pact with Hitler and carved up Poland, was - as viewed in British official circles - an ally of Germany. (Also, like "neutral" Sweden, the Russians provided nazi Germany with all kinds of industrial and war materiel.)
    Certainly, the less than impressive record of the Red Army against the Finns underlay a pessimistic British assessment of the likely outcome of the 1941 German invasion of the USSR.

  2. Trevor Sibelius25 May 2013 at 23:27

    Great photographs. Thank you. Re the 1939/40 Winter War there is a famous novel [famous in Scandinavia, at least] called "The Unknown Soldier" by Vaino Linna [1954] and two film versions of the same title [1955, dir. Edvin Laine and 1985, dir. Rauni Molberg]. They are both very good - realistic, unsentimental and gritty. Bit like the Finns, in fact. You may want to drop these facts in to your dinner party conversation.

    1. I will indeed, Trevor. I shall look out for the film(s), and save up fo the book (which, unfortunately, costs between £33 and £70 on Amazon!). There's a clip of the earlier version of the fim on YouTube ( - unfortunately, no subtitles, but it looks good.