Friday, 5 September 2014

Of gratitude and family history

My blog is dedicated to my love of stories. Usually, this means works of fiction in one form or the other, but today it'll be something different. Today's post is actually a result of a bizarre coincidence that just begs to be blogged about.

Fact #1: For no specific reason that I can think of, my late grandfather (dead for at least ten years now I think) had been a lot on my mind for the last couple of days.

Fact #2: The media are constantly reporting about the situation in Ukraine.

And the last bit that somehow, weirdly binds the aforementioned facts together in a coincidental way: according to our newspaper today, it's now exactly 70 years since the Continuation War in Finland effectively came to an end. The official peace was made a bit later, but 5th of September was when the fighting ceased. I have to confess I had no idea of the significance of this date until today.

So how are my grandfather and Ukraine connected to September 5th, 1944? Well, it was just a bit of a mind flip that happened when I read that newspaper. I have always been grateful to have been born and raised in a country that has been one of the safest and most peaceful places in the world for all my life, but knowing about the recent events in Ukraine (which feels much closer to home than the Middle East crisis) gave that thought much more weight. This whole day, my mind has been going on and on about how incredibly lucky I am to have never known war. For my grandfather, it was quite different.

I was quite young, 10 or 11 years old probably, when my father's father died, and as all of dad's relations lived on the other side of Finland and visits were not very frequent, I can't say I knew him very well. Even if I had been older, though, I wouldn't have heard any war stories from him – it was a subject he never talked about. But the fact is, he did serve in the Continuation War, for a short time. And in 2001, he wrote down some of his wartime memories, which then became a part of a compilation of memoirs from war veterans of Imatra (Nuoruus sodassa 2 – Imatran sotaveteraanit ry:n jäsenten muistelmia sotavuosilta, published by the Society of War Veterans of Imatra in 2005). The 5th of September seemed like a fitting day to re-read my grandfather's contribution to that book.

Grandpa was 14 years old when the Continuation War broke out in 1941, and he was no older than that when he insisted he must join in. He had gotten the idea in his head that one man from every family should take part, and his own father had been released from war service for reasons that had something to do with his advanced age, his post as a police officer, and the fact that he had already served in the civil war of 1918. I suppose there was some sort of regulation against recruiting underage boys, but there was never enough staff to really oversee these things and the working conditions were more or less chaotic all the time, so nobody asked too many questions if someone came in saying they wanted to serve.

Grandpa writes quite frankly that there was nothing heroic or glorious about the time he spent on the war zone. He doesn't say much about the horrors of war, either. Not that a young boy like him was ever placed in the heart of the action anyway. He writes about a prank he pulled on some new recruits, about a wandering horse that he looked after for two days until the army took possession of it, and how him and his buddy took advantage of their small size when they squeezed themselves under the seats of a packed-full train on their way back home.

The last overall impression that he gives of his thoughts on the outcome of the war is that the only thing that mattered was the fact that the fighting came to an end eventually. He doesn't want to discuss the terms of peace and how much they cost, or how physically or mentally affected the men who came back from the war were. He was silent about the war, yes, but never bitter. I respect him tremendously for that.

The 5th of September is coming towards its end while I'm writing this. I have taken this moment to feel appreciation for a grandfather who grew up in a much more dangerous place and time than I did, and gratitude for the peace that we've had here for so long now. Please keep peace on the comments, too – this is not an expression of political views or patriotism. There was a story, an impact that it made, and a blog post – that's what Music & My Mind is for.

1 comment:

  1. Your grandfather would be proud of you. This is lovely :)