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The Angels of the Winter War: The Lotta Svärd
by: Jarkko Vihavainen, Finnish Historian

Introduction by Brent Snodgrass, Winter War Historian

Lotta Volunteers Sewing for the Red CrossThe Lotta Svärd is a difficult group to explain to Westerners as both the Lotta Svärd and the Suojeluskunta (the Finnish Civil Guard) do not have contemporaries in the United States, Great Britain, or other Western European nations. Unlike America’s USO or the English ENSA, the Lottas duties were much more connected to the day to day needs of the Finnish nation and military. Lotta’s served as nurses, typists, translators, air raid wardens and organizers of various war-based drives. Their duties directly assisted in the war effort.

Members of the Lotta Svärd had a supreme sense of duty to the service of the Finnish nation and the pride in this overriding duty had always been a factor in the internal doctrine of the organization. The ideals of dedication, service, and pride in one’s nation were all important beliefs to Lotta members.

The Lottas were key in altering the viewpoint of a very male-dominated society as the members of the Lotta Svärd proved that a woman’s role was important to the survival of the Finnish nation. The members of the Lotta Svärd served the Finnish nation as they felt it was their calling, and with pride they took on the duties that needed to be done for Finland to survive. There were many Finnish soldiers who called the members of the Lotta Svärd angels and these angels shined when their nation called for them.

Finnish researcher Jarkko Vihavainen is well known by English speaking researchers of Finnish military history, as his various efforts in expanding knowledge of his native land in the English language have been noteworthy. Much of Vihavainen’s research has dealt with the formation, armaments, and supply of the Finnish Army and Finnish Civil Guard, but his exploration of general Finnish military history has been beneficial to non Finnish speakers. Vihavainen served in the Finnish Army as the member of a Jaeger battalion and is currently a reservist who can often be found in his free time at the Finnish National Archives adding to his wealth of knowledge.

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The Lotta Svärd

The origins of the Lotta Svärd are rooted in a long standing Finnish tradition of unofficial female groups that supported various civil organizations. As Finland prepared for independence, these organizations were a public service, providing food to volunteer fire departments and local governments.

As war approached, Finnish activists blended into the Suojeluskunta (the Finnish Civil Guard) organization. Under the umbrella of Suojeluskunta, unofficial women’s organizations developed that provided food, clothing, and organized fund raising activities for the organization and their local community. As the Finnish Civil War erupted, the efforts of the Suojeluskunta were directed to support the Finnish White Army. Activities for these women branched out to more specific tasks such as creating army equipment, cooking for soldiers in camps, and acting as telephone operators. In some areas, female volunteers were messengers and even acted as guards.

 

Next - The Creation of the Lotta Svärd

 

Jarkko Vihavainen is a Finnish military history enthusiast and collector of military memorabilia. A Member of Finnish Reservists' Association., Vihavainen has written numerous articles on the Winter War and the conflicts that surround this turbulent time in Finnish history.

Brent Snodgrass is the USA Group Leader of Battletours, an organization that directs battlefield tours of Finland, the Baltic States, and Russia. At the 2005 Grand FinnFest heritage event in Marquette, Michigan, Brent was a featured speaker on Finnish military history and the Soviet attacks in June of 1944.


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When to Watch

Fire and Ice: The Winter War of Finland and Russia premieres February 1, 2006
Check your local listings.