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"The Road to Evacuation"

by Tilda Voipio (Lempinen)

The winter of 1940 was harsh, snowy and cold. A sense of danger was in the air. The sound of terrible rumble came from the border. In the morning of 13th March it suddenly became unbelievably quiet. The sound of ever nearer coming cannons slowed down. Was the war over? It has lasted already for four months. During the last few weeks we had been ready for evacuation which could happen anytime.
I wonder if there actually were any homes around that could be out of these events. Neither was very bright that evening on the Christmas-week, when my 18-year-old brother's clothes were brought back home. With few of his friends he was a victim of bombings at Tolvajärvi while they were serving their labour service there. Despite the tears the funeral ceremony in the church of Sortavala was very devoted and lightful. Internment in a park near the church must be done in silence and in darkness.
This white row of chests in front of the altar is my last memory of so familiar and beloved church. How many times I had listened enchanted the sound of organs played by musician Onni Pakarinen and even sometimes admired his dark curly hair behind the organs when I sat on the loft of women. Those tones he conjured up had fed the hunger of music of a simple countrygirl since I was very small. The chant of dean Hulkkonen was unrivalled. I have never ever heard anyone to chant by singing the Lord's blessing like he did. The deep, massive, mighty voice filled the room. It was always such majestic and festive moment. Only two months after the funeral ceremony, the 2nd of February, this sanctuary met its own destiny.
This was a sunny and bright, frosty morning. "So many birds are coming from Ladoga!" said someone, entering the house. The heavy sound of bomber airplanes followed them. Squadron after squadron came, all in all ten squadrons. Nine planes in each one. They were like flocks of birds. These ninety planes dropped their bombs on our small town, and after this operation they returned back in proper formation following the other side of our village. Small boys skied up the hill to see the destruction of the town. Anjala, our small village on the shore, didn't get any damages yet. But in the evening of this same day about twenty planes returned and continued the destruction. These planes circled over our house too and they shot light rockets. The bright light in the darkness was so scaring that you couldn't feel safe in any hiding place.
When one day afterwards I went to town to handle some matters there seemed to be total emptiness all over. Only some black chimneys stood in the middle of burned wooden-house areas and in some stonehouses you could see only blind windows.
Even on Sunday, few days before the Peace at 3.00 p.m. some planes loaded with bombs flew over towards the Helylä Toy and Furniture Factory. The factory was soon smoking pillars of fire. Our place was saved again though planes flew for a long time round and round above.
Military police came at night and informed us about peace terms. The evacuation should happen within three days. We had no radio then. The next day my mother with my younger sisters and my older sister who had already been evacuated on the Mantsi-island started their journey. The youngest sister was only three months old then. She was put in a basket and the basket to a slide. Warm clothes on, something to eat and then ahead with the road. This 9-person caravan started to walk towards the Sortavala station for a train to some unknown place.
We, the others, couldn't leave home yet. I sacked grains with my sister all night. Father drove them loaded to a horse-carriage at the Helylä station. That was also an official order.
It was hard work for us to slaughter a big pig. One old man helped us. We had to warm hot water in the pot of cowshed and then we dowsed dead pigs bodies with hot water outside in front of the cowshed and we tried to scratch hairs away with knives. Father had no time to help us because he had to handle those grain rides.
Late in the evening the hurries were over, father was doing his last ride, this time some sewing machines and so on. Empty village, only few people in the nearest houses and they were also packing their bags. Very odd feeling; only the cold sense of death, emptiness, misery, longing. Longing for something that is over the perishableness. All that used to be familiar, beloved and own was no longer there. The idyll of a small village was broken.
I just arranged furniture without any meaning. I laid down to a hard bed without a mattress. It was an act lead by instinct as I had known that during the next weeks I won't sleep properly.
Early in the morning we fed the cows. We milked them and separated the milk. For breakfast we had cooked potatoes and pork sauce. A couple of days earlier a 10-litre can of apple jam was brought to the kitchen from the cellar. No one felt hunger anyway.
When we were about to start to eat, our cousin living nearby, ran in and shouted: "Now hurry, the Hiidenselkä bay is full of Russians". She disappeared at once.
We left all the food on the table when we started to leave. In a great hurry we tried to get something to eat because the earlier days had been very hard, especially for the father. And today seemed to be a hard day again.
Father went to leash the horses in front of the carriage which was already packed from last evening and we girls went to set the cows free. Same rush was going on in the village. What a terrible mess. Cows were stricken by fear and they ran and jumped all over. Some cows sank in snow up to their necks. It was hard work to get them up again. Finally they were in order. Father with his horses rode at the head of the row, uncle from the village was the last and the cattle were between them. It was difficult to control the cattle. All the cows were drunk from sudden freedom.
A horse with its carriage turned to our way from another neighbour's yard. The cattle followed it. The peasant wife wept loudly on the carriage. They had just moved to the village from the outskirts and a new life had started along with hard work. To give everything up seemed to be even harder. The morning sun shone and the frosty snow creaked under the sleighs when we rode down the hill to the river and over the bay through the winter-road. Everything seemed to go quite fine, but then in the middle of the upper hill one of the horses just stopped. It didn't move at all though we tried everything. The horse was stressed. Men had already ridden it for three days and nights. The cattle started to get very nervous too because they couldn't go forward or back and they started to walk in a heavy snow again. Tank thunder approached and the Hiidenselkä bay was full of people. The troops scattered all over, also towards our village that we had just left behind a while ago. If we would have waited a bit more they would have interrupted us.
Our houses were not even cold yet when the new masters were in. First we thought that those were our own soldiers, but when we recognized the pipe-hats our hope started to die. Three soldiers from the squad turned to come towards us. My uncle who could speak a little Russian even exchanged a few phrases with them.
From the same direction ran suddenly with a fast speed a horse with a Finnish soldier and couple of female volunteers on a carriage. They rode by and shouted: "Now leave the cows and follow us, those are all Russians (ryssä). If you would know how horrible they are..."
We had a paircarriage tied with a rope. We threw out from carriage a pot of pork and a box that was full of our best dishes. Wagon started to move a bit lighter and it was now a bit poorer.
When we had driven about three or four kilometres we were at the corner of the graveyard and the military police stopped us and forced to turn the cattle to the Forssunhovi manor where they were supposed to be slaughtered.
At the same time a Finnish soldier passed us by. He was probably out of his mind, his shoulders crouched and trailed arms and he started to follow me. We were lucky enough to turn his attention to other direction.
At the same time a bus from town drove by and the only passengers were one military police and a storekeeper. "Women, in the bus quickly. Russians are in Sortavala. Men must handle the cows!" They shouted to us.
My sister and I jumped in the bus and drove away in it. When we had driven a while the car stopped in front of a country store. We were asked to take whatever we needed. When we were in the store one young lady took a nice green silk fabric from the shop window. We picked up parcels of woollen fabric with my sister. The floor of the cellar was full of shoes. It took a long time before I could find a pair to another shoe.
And then back to the bus. It would have been nice to travel on that bus, but at the first crossing we had to jump out. We didn't know which would be the way our father will go. Besides, we were not in a hurry anymore, because we had no destination either. We started to wait for our father, he was aged, almost 65 years old already. We planned to travel on with him and make some coffee for him now and then.
All the packages we had we took to one empty cottage. We spent our night in a house near the crossing. There was straw spread on the floor and evacuated people sleeping side by side, everyone just passing the place. A day full of events had ended.
The next morning we waited for our dad in that cottage and around the noon we turned back the road to find him. It was gloomy to walk in the woods, especially when no one was coming for us for so long. It was very relieving when we finally saw our own people coming towards us. Lemmikki, one of our cows, had not agreed to stay with other cows and followed our father. When she saw us, she started to bellow and ran towards us. She just ran and bellowed. Oh what an appeal, poor cow.
Some landlord had packed a hall-clock to father's carriage. "We had left our own clock at home, on the wall", father had said. We put our own packages in the carriage too when we were near that small cottage again.
Soon the road that was earlier surrounded by high snow started to seem very unbelievable; dead cow and another, only a short distance from each other, on both sides of the road. Some cow had even given birth to its calf there. Those marks were like sign-posts where the evacuated had walked with their cattle.
When we were coming nearer to Kesalähti, the bellow of the cattle was heard kilometres ahead. It was so miserable sound to hear. The road followed the forest by the high hill. The hill was full of cows like a huge ant-hill. They were going there around and around without any fences, side by side, moving all the time, bellowing, trying to find comfort with each other. Also Lemmikki stayed there, the last of our nine cows.
This crowd swallowed the cattle of our neighbour who walked ahead, too. You just couldn't go through this crowd without such losses. There was a slaughter going on, but those poor cows had to wait so long in cold, without anything to eat or drink, days and nights in frost before they got their rest. Long-sited were those people who had shot their cattle in their yards before leaving their homes.
The road was getting worse all the time, with bumps on it and bushes all around, a kind of winter-road. It was hard to ride a horse. When we reached the next place for night-sleep we left half the stuff from carriage there again. There were some soldiers resting and we left them a heavy box full of jam and juice. When leaving in a hurry you just couldn't think clearly what to take with you and what to leave. These jams and juices were so unnecessary to carry too. But now they were needed. They said that one old man had came to Sortavala station with a flourishing geranium flower in his armpit.
Every day we stopped for a while for rest. We made coffee if it was possible and ate our sandwiches, just like those who are camping without worrying about the next day. There was enough trouble for each and every day. And somehow we got a roof over our heads for every night.
The evening started to get dark. We had travelled a long way but we had seen no house for a night. Then at last near the forest on the side of a road a white house came in sight. We went to the yard. But oh, how depressed the lady and the landlord of this house were. I don't know what losses they might have had, but at least they had been able to keep their house and farm. During that evening I were about to burst when some sweet soprano-voice started to sing beautiful and melancholy Karelian songs like "Jo Karjalan kunnailla lehtii puu" . We went out with my sister and there on high stairs of the kitchen, under the wide and cold starry sky we sat and cried. So much unexpected misery came over us during the last days and the ice was bound to break.
In the morning my mind was somehow lighter and brighter and I took a bucket and went to the cowshed to help this lady milk the cows. But unfortunately the same gloominess was there again. This kind of attitude can be killing. It was such a relief to get back to road again.
The weather has turned to thaw. The sun nicely warmed our tanned faces.The traffic on the road was very busy and that's why the road was covered with brown mud. We were approaching Savonlinna. The warmer weather caused problems with pork on carriages. When it was colder there had been no problems with the meat, but now they started. We had to sell the pork in town, for half-price of course. We ate in town, but then there were problems with finding some shelter for horses and for ourselves
It was late at night already. The lightened Savonlinna plywood factory was crowed. Only a small corner near the door was free. People were coming and going through that corner all the time, but here we had some room for us - and even more. We rested on a plywood that was on the concrete-floor, better to be on the plywood than on the cold concrete. Despite all the noises, commotion and wind, we could sleep quite well.
When I woke up in the morning there were also two or three soldiers in deep sleep at the same little corner where we were.
We handled some things in town. There was a small hope to go on by train. In the afternoon we reserved a place in the factory. Now upper on the racks. There were many racks and some brave people had climbed very high there. It was more room there and we had no desire to stay another night down on the floor. It was kind of interesting to look all the fuzz down there. Everyone was coming and going. There were handsome Swedish volunteers in their white furs, our own soldiers in grey and then lots of second-class people like us. We stayed there in this mix-up a day or two. When we lost our smallest hope to get on a train we just continued to walk as usual.
Oh how we wished to use the sauna. Grey houses near the road were so tempting and difficult to pass by. To wear those same clothes all the time was humiliating. But no, you just have to go on. You couldn't just stay and settle down on the road.
It was already Easter. The weather and conditions were constantly changing as they normally are at these times. Sometimes it snowed and was freezing, but at the same time you could feel the coming spring, bright and clear. And right now we had an evening like this. We had tried to find a place for the night in a house that I thought to be an inn (my sister said that it was no inn, it was a vicarage and we spent our night in the sauna of this vicarage where they had a party at the same time). We had no room in the house and they asked us to spend the night in the sauna. The sauna had been heated a night or two ago. There was also a small dressing-room behind the bath room. We slept on a bench in the dressing-room and our dad and our uncle's family slept in the bath room. But oh how gloomy can a cold sauna be. We couldn't sleep at all. We were freezing though we were totally dressed the whole night in this cold sauna the night before Easter.
When the morning finally came they brought us some cold potatoes from the house. We tried to find some unburned sticks from the oven and then to get some warm coffee, but we didn't succeed. It was much warmer if you only kept walking.
When we reached Rantasalmi in the evening we were lucky. The cottage was small, only a room and a kitchen. The lady and the landlord were very kind to us. It doesn't cost anything to be kind and no-one is ever so poor that can't give to others a bit of joy, if not with acts then with words. All together we were in the yard watching the Northern Lights on the sky and they were burning in red. "There will be a war", they said as we did too.
The lady made a bed for me and my sister on a sofa in the kitchen. They gave us their own bed. They slept on the floor in the room next to the kitchen together with men. It was so wonderful to finally take off all those clothes, even socks and shoes, and to lay under a blanket. Such a rare luxury on this trip. A new surprise was waiting in the morning: there was coffee and sweet buns for all of us. The joy of Easter came straight from those people's heart and it gave us new hope too. How different was this place from the place before. We promised to stop here again when we return.
It was probably in the village of Joroinen where one landlord was standing on the side of the road and he asked people to stop and rest in his house. The house was big, the lady and the landlord were also big and wealthy. Their children ran to the kitchen to see us - oddities. We were given permission to make coffee in the kitchen and we drank it with our bread. Then we laid down on the floor to sleep. My sister always put her knapsack under her head as a pillow. Our coats were our blankets.
Early in the morning the landlord came to the kitchen and counted how many of us were sleeping there. Then he collected one markka per person for the room and an extra fee for the horses. And there were many others besides us and our neighbours.
At Pieksämäki we were settled to a barrack that was especially prepared for evacuated people and those barracks were crowded. There were small cabins and bunks. Dirty, tired and numb we were there as birds in a cage. During those three weeks we had walked a great distance. It took many steps From Sortavala to Pieksämäki. Only when there was a longer downhill we stood on sleigh blades. We had seen all kind of sleeping-places. I can only remember those which were somehow special.
After few boring days we could get our horse and packages to the train. The destination was Liminka. We girls were in a passenger wagon, cold and with hard benches though.
Things looked better at Liminka. They have reserved to meet evacuated people there. We had the same row for food for country people and for gentlemen. Also potatoes were cooked in a huge pot. They stood there in hot water and were wet like potatoes for pigs. All that has been delicious for us was not there anymore. You just had to be satisfied with what you were given, or not have anything at all.
We got a chance to take a sauna. You start to feel human again after you have washed yourself and put clean clothes on.
All we wanted now was to get all the family back together. We travelled with my sister to Ostrobothnia to ask where our relatives might be. There was no regular transportation. The buses came and went at random times. Anyway how different was it to start a new day. Clean, rested and without a hurry. Without that fear and running.
We still had to search for places to spend the nights. Once we had a place in one school. We met there a familiar girl from Sortavala and she was looking for her relatives too. She had a piece of rye bread and a bit of rancid butter for eat. We shared it with joy.
Also a couple of soldiers homeward bound stopped there for a night-sleep. Everyone was happy having some place to sleep. Another soldier climbed up on a high cabinet to sleep on. No one wanted to sleep on the floor though.
Finally we found our relatives with good health in the school of Sievi village. They had just been in a place full of louse and so they were ready to leave with us.
But in Liminka we had no room left and then we had to travel to Lumijoki, to a village of Varjakka. The last part of this road, six kilometres from Lumijoki to Varjakka, was a smallish and muddy road. The baby was in the slide again surrounded by furs. There was freezing wind and it snowed again. The wind from north blew very strongly.
There we were again, our dad and uncle with their horses ahead and about twenty people following, from babies to old men. And all you could see was the back of the one who was walking in front of you.
Finally we found that old cottage that was meant for us to settle. It was called the cottage of Koivula. It was grey outside but even more grey inside. Small house, a kitchen and a room so small and in bad condition. The view from it was sad, no hills anywhere. The edge of forest was very far, it was our fence.
Here we were doomed to live, three families all together for a start. Those dishes we had thrown away some time ago on the side of the road would be useful to us now. The meat we had to sell would be useful. And the sweet jam we had to give away would have refreshed our brains now. And what about all the grain we took to the station with such hard work? The state took it all as the state needed it. "Didn't you take that big pillow?" asked somebody. Another asked: "Why didn't you take that harmonica with you?". Take and take and take. Why didn't they take those things themselves with them. They left the same place as we did. You only should be patient. This was only a start for our wandering in desert and no end to it was seen.
Some people from a cottage nearby came to say hello with some warm bread. And a while after that some people from the village also showed some interest in us.
The winter was also ending bit by bit. We the young ones went down to the sea shore now and then as the road ended there. You felt delivered there in front of open seas. Even then when it was covered with ice and snow. It was like a window to a place you used to call Home before.
Flocks of birds were coming from south to north again and you could see them every day now. Screaming flocks of cranes were flying towards the north and they could be seen in the sky that was already bright and clear late in the night.
The ditches on both sides of the road and our unserviceable well were full of brown and rusty water. To wash your clothes with this water? Difficulties seemed to come one after another.
But when the spring came a new hope for better tomorrow started to appear. You can never know what the future can offer for you or for me.

by Tilda Voipio (Lempinen)

Translated from Finnish by Jouni Koivisto

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