The evacuation of civilians from Kuhmo to East Bothnia

When the Winter War started 30.11.1939, most civilians in Kuhmo were still at their homes. The county administration gave the permission to evacuate only at the last moment. In Kainuu the civilians in Sotkamo, Kuhmo, Suomussalmi and half of Puolanka were evacuated. The evacuation in Kuhmo was organised by the local chief of the civil guard Aarne Kontio and the district police chief Lauri Korteniemi.

The evacuation begun after the war had already started. Frontier guard patrols delivered the evacuation orders to all the houses in the area. They told the civilians to move to the nearest road and wait for a car to take them further. The most far-away farms had a several kilometre distance to the nearest road. All civilians didn’t have horses, so they had to use skis and sleds. Travel was slow, because all men had been called to the refresher training. The women had to take care of evacuating their families. Civilians were scared because the battles were very close, and they also worried if their homes would survive the war. There was not enough time to take all the domestic animals. Some of the remaining animals were shot and burned, so that the attacking Soviet troops could not use them.

The evacuees gathered at the elementary school in Kuhmo village. They were fed and directed to their transportation points where they were transported further by cars, trains and horses. There were not enough busses, so some civilians had to travel on the back of lorries. Trains had to put passengers in boxcars because there were not enough passenger coaches.

The evacuees from Kuhmo were placed in Haapajärvi, Nivala, Pyhäjärvi, Ylivieska, Alavieska, Hattula, Kärsämäki, Lumijoki, Oulu, Pulkkila, Sievi, Kalajoki, Kestilä, Kajaani, Paltamo, Sotkamo, Vuolijoki, Säräisniemi, Tornio and Vieremäki. Evacuees from the same village were placed together, when possible. There were about 8250 evacuees from Kuhmo. 127 of them died (mostly young children and old people) and 151 children were born.

Life of the evacuees

The life of the evacuees was at first made difficult by their dialect. They used different expressions than the local population and there were some misunderstandings. For example the word “kehtaa” means in Kuhmo: “I don’t want to do this” but in the Kalajoki valley it means “I’m too tired”.

The culinary cultures of Kuhmo and East Bothnia were different. People in the west ate lots of porridge, dumpling soup and oatmeal. The evacuees from Kuhmo didn’t use as much grain products, they were used to fried meat. The government paid a special maintenance fee, if the evacuees used their own food. If the evacuees used the food provided by their hosts, the house owner received the fee. The fee was 7 marks 50 pennies for adults and 5 marks 50 pennies for children (1 euro = 6 marks).

Accommodation was often crowded. Up to three families might live in one room. Families had several children and grandparents were often with the family. The women helped their hosts by taking care of the animals, cleaning and carding wool. Young boys made firewood and carted hays with a horse.

The children found it easy to make friends with the local population. Some even thought that it was exciting to see new places and make new friends. Their parents were slower, because of religious differences and other factors. There were many Pietists on East Bothnia, and the evacuees found them strange with their different clothes and hairstyles. But after the initial difficulties the relations became closer. There were even some romantic affairs. After all there were many young women among the evacuees. Some pairs even married after the war and stayed in the west. Many friendships survived, people wrote letters and visited each other even after the evacuees had returned home.