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The Angels of the Winter War
Being a member of Lotta Svärd

To become a member of the Lotta Svärd, applicants needed two well-known and trustworthy persons to recommend them. The board of the local unit evaluated the applications and accepted new members. Upon acceptance, members took a pledge to the organization.

Lotta-pledge -1921

"I [first name surname] pledge with my word of honor, that I will honestly and according my conscience to assist Suojeluskunta in defending creed, home and fatherland. And I promise that I won't give up working in Lotta Svärd Association, until one month has passed from me verifiably informing Local Board from my desire to resign from the Association. "

Training:
In the early years of the Lotta Svärd Organization, members were not formally trained well. The first courses started in the summer of 1922. Nursing training was in high demand, though teachers were scarce. Short medical courses, concentrated on gathering bandage material and medicine, were organized by doctors in the area. The two-week medical courses started in 1924, but these courses were not useful and replaced by 6-month nursing courses in 1928 which proved to be highly effective. Around forty 6-month nursing courses were organized and by 1938 about 65 percent of Lottas belonging to nursing section had participated in these courses. In the autumn of 1939 Lotta Svärd Association could arrange eight well-equipped Finnish military field hospitals with some 1,250 beds.

Members who belonged to the provisioning section received on-the-job training by arranging food supplies for various functions. Before the war, local Lotta Svärd units of many Finnish towns and cities had their own café, which also raised funds.

The equipment section arranged courses on gathering materials or creating supplies, in some cases professional tailors or military tailors taught these courses. Air surveillance courses and mobilization exercises started in 1932. Further courses were added in the late 1930s which included anti-chemical weapons training in 1936 and signal training in 1937.

Clothing and etiquette:
The first Lotta Svärd clothing regulations were issued in 1921 and comprised of a grey jacket, belt and skirt made from the same coarse fabric that the Suojeluskunta (the Finnish Civil Guard) used for their uniforms. This clothing, too warm and constrictive, was replaced two years later. Materials of the new Lotta Svärd clothing were cotton and wool, but the color remained grey. Winter trench coats retained the coarse cloth from the old uniforms, but the summer version was similar to a raincoat. Many items, such as the summer field caps were similar to those used by Suojeluskunta.

Sports clothing (such as ski clothing) was not as formal and often had pants instead of skirt. The clothes were loose fitting and the skirt hems remained 25 centimeters from ground level for duration of the organization.

The rules for wearing Lotta clothing were quite strict:

  • The only medals and insignias allowed with it were badges of honor plus of course the merit- and fitness-badges of the Lotta Svärd.
  • No makeup was allowed and hair had to be kept inside the hat.
  • Wedding rings and a watches were the only jewelry allowed.
  • Drinking alcohol, smoking and immoral behavior were strictly forbidden while wearing Lotta clothing.
  • Going to the frontline without permission was forbidden during the war.

Probably the most important, and at times controversial, insignia for the organization was Lotta-pin designed by Eric Vasstrom and introduced in 1922. The main motif of the pin was blue "hakaristi" (Finnish variation of swastika) and with a heraldic rose in every corner. The probability of confusion increased greatly after national-socialists got into power in Germany. The grey uniform-like clothing with a pin that had a swastika-like symbol caused foreigners to sometimes mistakenly think Lottas were connected with the German nazi-party.

Officially Lottas were also supposed to salute with soldiers and each other with their own salute, in which the right hand was placed over the breast so its fingers extended all the way to point of left armpit. However, this salute was rarely used.

Lottas were expected to act in virtuous ways and avoid causing disapproval in any way. During wartime the clothing and etiquette rules were slackened a bit. In warm weather, Lottas were allowed to open the two top buttons of their shirt and roll up their sleeves (which then could be attached to shoulder buttons).

During wartime, critics within the organization claimed that many of the new members who had joined during the wars lacked the high ideological standards of the pre-war members. In a way the critics were correct, the organization received huge number of new members in a short time, so some less-then-perfect applicants got membership.

The typical punishments that Lotta Svärd used for members that broke the rules were transfer and being sent back home. The most severe punishment was sending the member back in front of her own Lotta Svärd local unit, which could issue an official warning, or suggest the member resign. During the Continuation War some 90,000 Field Lottas served, and only 346 received suggestions to resign, or were suspended.

Next - Lotta Svärd during the Winter War

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Fire and Ice: The Winter War of Finland and Russia premieres February 1, 2006
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