April 1918–a celebration of the ANZAAC centenary.
Now let’s pay tribute to fights for freedom elsewhere in the world. Like Finland.
My father’s uncle Edvard Back fought in Finland’s Civil War of 1918, including the crucial April weeks-long siege of Tampere. This battle was a turning point in the Civil War, decimating the Reds and killing many Whites. Red Guards had controlled the south, industrial towns like Helsinki and Tampere. They battled to safeguard Russian trains carrying shipments of weapons.
Germans saved the Finns by smuggling in weapons on the ship Equity to sheltered bays in Ostrobothnia and training the Jäger troops.
During those crucial wars that led to Finland’s freedom, how did his brothers at the other side of the world view the Finland-Russia-German struggle?
To Australians the “Huns” were enemies.
From safe haven in Australia, Edvard’s brothers Wilhelm Anders (my Grandad) and Karl Johan (“KJ”) Back found themselves on opposing sides.
News of the war filtered through, doubtless heavily censored. How did the family reconcile differing allegiances? Blood thirst was rife on both side…The Back brothers came to the right country. They emigrated to escape conscription into the Russian army–a possible five years. Of all nations, Australia was the only country to hold a referendum—twice—that allowed men to choose to fight rather than accept conscription.
Australian Displays of Patriotism
My grandfather W.A.Back made conspicuous donations to the war effort, second only to the mayor’s. WA raised money by driving people in his new automobile to farewell soldiers—for a fee. For “aliens” were regarded with suspicion, likely to be sent to internment camps.
Grandad and other family sent loads of provisions to save Finns and other Europeans from famine.
His office was strewn with sacks of flour and sugar, transferred into kilo–size calico bags. He employed a woman full time and grandchildren were enlisted as a Lilliputian army to pack and stack.
What if the shipments were pilfered, he was asked. ‘Thieves have to live too,’ W.A. replied.
His pacifist dissenter brother Karl Johan protested his patriotism by writing and self-publis
hing books including The Royal Toast.
Locals suspected that KJ spied for the Germans, for he tended his bananas on the ridge by lantern light.
But what is night to a Finn?
The centenary of Finnish freedom from Russian oppression was celebrated on 6 December 2017. But the struggle continued…
Rolf, Edvard’s son, took 30 patrols over the border into Russia, on skis in camouflage white, during the 1940s Continuation War. Read his self-deprecating but inspiring stories in Midnight Sun to Southern Cross.
He SO typified that amazing Finnish spirit of sisu!