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Orvar Nilsson, När Finlands sak blev min - Minnen från krig och fred (When Finland's Cause became my Cause - Memories of War and Peace)

Schildts förlag,  2002. ISBN: 9515012902

Reviewed by Anna-Lisa Murrell in SBR 2005:1

Recent years have brought an onslaught of literature about wartime Finland. In Lånade vingar (Borrowed Wings, 1995) Göran Schildt, writing about the Winter War, makes fun of the heroworship and the nostalgia for a living, frozen hell. Another author concentrating on the light-hearted side of war is Ulla-Lena Lundberg in her novel Marsipansoldaten (The Marzipan Soldier, 2001), where the excitement of war dramatically transforms the lives of a group of young people. Her novel is based on authentic family letters from her uncles, but its frivolousness offended some contemporary eyewitnesses. Something of that positive energy is also found in Lt. Col. Orvar Nilsson’s När Finlands sak blev min, a highly objective and well-balanced memoir. The Soviet attack on Finland in November 1939 was also a major shock for Sweden. In December about 2,000 people attended a meeting in Stockholm concerning Finland, and about 6,000 stood outside listening to the speeches brought to them through loudspeakers. So began a veritable mass movement to help Finland: ambulances, 66 million kronor, clothes, buses, food, medical aid, planes, ordnance and ammunition were collected, and 8,000 Finnish child evacuees were taken in. However, the Swedish government did not at first support this spontaneous, popular movement to help. In advertisements only the word “Finland” and a telephone number could appear, and soldiers and officers who wanted to join the Finnish army had first to resign, but by the end of the year the Swedish Volunteer Corps, consisting of 9,000 men, was formed and ready. The Winter War ended in March 1940, but the hard peace terms drove Finland “into the arms of Germany”, though Finland twice refused to attack Leningrad – and never did. The Continuation War broke out in June 1941. In November 1943 Orvar Nilsson re-joined the Finnish army. His reminiscences about his time in the Continuation War until the armistice in 1944 appeared in his Liten bricka i stort spel (Small Pawn in a Big Game), which has been incorporated into the work under review. The work describes the Russian mass offensive on the Karelian Isthmus in June 1944, in which 16-17 divisions took part, and the great battle at TaliIhantala. In his memoirs Mannerheim wrote: “The great offensive against the VKT defence line... was averted... an outcome that seemed like a miracle.” In this gigantic struggle, reported to be the greatest battle ever to take place on Nordic soil, “our battalion was the only one that didn’t yield an inch but formed a kind of rock in the raging sea of battle” (Nilsson, p. 171). This resulted in the battalion being nicknamed “The Tigers of Tali”. After nine days of hard fighting against overwhelming odds, only 115 men remained alive.

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