was it like to be a child and teenager during World War 2 in Finland?
Martin (nee Bäckström),
by Daniel Greef – History Research Assignment 1997
1. What was your
place of birth? Oulu, Finland.
How many were in your family? In my family there were my mother, my
father, then two brothers, me, and then
it went sister, brother, sister.
What were your parents’occupations?
My mother never worked; she did a
lot of volunteer work during
the war. My father was Oulu's city
2. What were some
important events in your
own life, between 1935 and 1950?
In July 1939, my parents sold the house
we lived in, and the family took a trip
all around Finland. One thing
I remember well is, in the south of Finland;
we went to a town called Viipuri
and saw the whole Finnish army marching
through the main street, preparing for war. One of my sisters was born in
the war started my father went to the
front lines; he was a captain in the army.
Everyone had the choice to give up all their jewelry,
including things like wedding rings, to help the war effort; a lot did.
All the jewelry was melted down and
used to buy weapons and other things
for the soldiers and army. The people
who gave in their wedding
were given an aluminium ring as a sort of replacement. People gave any cars
and trucks they had for the army to use. Everyone helped in some way
3. What was
school like; was it the same as
it wasn't like today’s schools. You always had to go
to school six days
a week before the war started- Sunday
was the only day
in the week we had off. There were lots of subjects
we studied. They were Finnish
Finnish and world history, chemistry and biology,
mathematics, scripture and church history,
the Finnish language, Swedish,
We had to learn five languages. There was also art, singing and music,
science (just in general) and various
sports. Some of the sports were skiing and skating in winter,
and a Finnish
version of baseball. All schools had
large gymnasiums for indoor sports. We did six or seven subjects a day.
School started at eight a.m. and went
through until four p.m. Between eleven and one we got a break,
where everyone went home for their main
meal of the day.
When the war started we
only went to school three days a week. In case of bombing raids,
would get hurt. I went to school on Mondays,
Wednesdays and Saturdays.
We didn't get much homework because we
went to school so much.
When you were a teenager
what were the clothes like?
- during the war everything was
rationed and hard to get. When my
aunt didn't want a dress she had she save
it for me and my mother made it smaller
so it would fit me. We didn't throw anything
away. If our shoes -were falling apart
we got them repaired. There was no nylon,
plastic or synthetic material, only
wool, cotton and silk.
Stockings were made of silk. There were only
woollen gloves. Also, there were only
type of music did you listen to?
In the war time we listened to very,
very patriotic songs. Young children listened to funny songs about animals
and things like that. All the songs had nice tunes to them.
you go to the cinemas much, and what
were they like?
We went a bit. There was no
pornography or violence in any of the
movies. There was no kissing either, only holding hands. Movies were about
5. What do you
think the general reaction was when you heard World War 2 had
started, and finished?
When it started everyone was
ready and prepared, because they had
been hearing rumors about one going to start. Everyone was also ready to
give all that they had just to help Finland.
After the War – well,
there was jubilation, but more
thanking God with
heavy heart because of all the land and resources
Finland had lost. Finland had to pay a huge reparation
to Russia, and they paid it and any
other debts they owed.
coming from all over the world to help
Finland, including America,
Sweden and Denmark.
6. How old were
you when World War 2 started?
Well, I was ten years old,
born on the fourteenth of June, 1929.
7. What were
some changes in the world between 1935
the war changed an awful lot.
8. What responsibilities
fell on you when the war started?
I had to look after my two
younger sisters and brother. My grandmother’s house
had a direct hit by a bomb; she was in
the bomb shelters when it hit luckily,
but she lost her memory. She was eighty years
had to look after her as well.
I had to cook,
clean and do the washing. My mother was
looking after soldiers as they
passed through the town. She cooked food for them.
What was the food like during
World War 2?
as I said before, everything
was rationed. There was no real coffee; it
was made out of some kind of crushed seed. Tea had to be made out of dried
raspberry leaves. There were no cakes, buns
or white bread. No butter. Adults got no milk, only a little bit of cream;
children got half a litre of milk. There were no lollies;
none were made because sugar was given
out on its own. We also picked a lot of our own berries,
like raspberries. We made as much food
and clothes as we could so there was less to buy.
10. What was the
reaction when Russia took parts of Finland, and what parts did Russia
There was sadness and crying.
Everyone from the parts Russia took had to be re-settled in the rest of
Finland. They had to leave practically everything they had. The people of
Finland were really devastated. They took the southeast part
and where Finland had access to the
the war were you worried about Germany or Russia invading Oulu?
We were scared of Russia, not just
invading Oulu, but invading all of Finland. They had a much larger
population than us, and more tanks and other
weaponry. But Russian soldiers were terrible at fighting in the
12. What do you
think the general attitude towards adults from
your age group was during World War 2?
Respect. Girls always curtsied and
boys always bowed. There were always handshakes, no kissing. Respect,
respect for the elders. You never dared call anyone by his or her first
name. There were no swear words, dreadful people used swear words. Everything
was sort of beautiful.
13. Was anyone else in
your family involved in fighting in the
war, other than your father?
my two eldest brothers fought. The younger
one, Velse, (served 1943-45) had to
search the sky with binoculars to find any enemy planes. And the other one, my
eldest brother Einari,
(served 1943-44), was taken out of
school. Anyone in their final year had to leave school and join
the army. They were given
three months training and then put in
the front lines against Russia. My
eldest brother was shot. He was in the front lines,
he was shot with a bullet in his stomach
that went through his pancreas,
intestines and bowel. As soon as he was wounded he was picked up by a
friend of his and carried for ten
kilometres through the forest. They had
no food; they only drank water from
streams. They got
to a road.
Blood and faeces were both coming out
of the wound and dripping on both of them. They found a horse and cart,
which they both got on to, then
eventually they found a car with some
soldiers that took him to the closest field hospital. He was operated on immediately.
His intestines, pancreas and bowel
were all sewn up and within a few days he could walk, with help. Because
of the amount of injured people coming into the hospital my brother had to go
to another hospital. They sent him by train to a hospital in the
southwest of Finland. The train was bumping the whole trip down and his
wounds opened up. When he got to the hospital, no one
could stop the bleeding. As soon as my parents heard they got
on the first train to where he was.
They arrived too late; he had already
14. What did you do in
your free time during the war?
We went to dances. All you did was, a boy would ask you to dance;
you link arms and walk around until the
music stops. We visited our relatives a lot. In winter, we did a lot of
skiing, and skating on open-air rinks.
On Sunday, we got
into our best
clothes and went to church and Sunday
School. In the afternoon, we would as
a family go on long walks. It was
15. What did you do for
You always had a real Christmas
tree, with real candles and bright
decorations. There were special foods.
Santa Claus came personally to give out
presents to everyone. On Christmas Eve everyone visits the cemetery
and puts a candle on there closest relative’s grave.
This was to remember them, not
worship the dead.
16. How big
was your house and was it near the
We lived in a flat,
because we were going to build another
house after we got back from our trip around Finland but the value of
money went down so much we couldn't.
It was a two or three bedroom flat with a kitchen, dining room, lounge room
It was in the city, so we could be
close to my aunt because all the men went off to fight.
In summer my sisters and I and my
brother went to our friends’ farm in the country
because of bombings.
17. What was your age
at the end of the war?
I was sixteen years old then.
What inventions or discoveries occurred
while you were growing up?
After the war, one of my friends
went to America for one year. When she came back she brought back nylon
stockings and clothes that didn't
need ironing. Everything
needed ironing before and during the
war. Plastic and penicillin were
invented and discovered after the war.
Penicillin was huge. Television
was in America only but it was
When did you migrate,
from Finland? I left in 1948.
I already knew English. And, no – it wasn’t hard to adjust. I had learnt a
lot about England in Geography.
Where did you go? England. I studied there to become a nurse.
Was it hard coping at first? And
was it hard to adjust?