Eeva Saarenpää (formerly Leinonen) was born in Paanajärvi [Panozero], Kuusamo on 23 November 1929. There were 11 children in her family: three girls, including Eeva’s twin sister Kirsti and their older sister Elma who also served as a Lotta, and eight boys.
Before the wars, Paanajärvi was a popular destination for researchers and artists. Many tourists also visited the actual locations captured in landscape paintings, such as Mäntykoski, which was painted by Akseli Gallen-Kallela. Eeva and Kirsti worked as local guides on these excursions.
The war years were hard for the Saarenpää family. The Winter War forced the family to leave Paanajärvi, and their home was burnt in 1939. Mother Kaisa died in the spring of the evacuation in 1941, and elder brother Kaarlo Henrik was killed on the front. After the Interim Peace, they returned to Paanajärvi. They built a new home to replace the one that had been burned. The family lived in the building during the trench warfare 1942–1944, and Eeva worked on the Anttila farm, taking part in haymaking and potato harvesting.
Sometimes we went to the other side of the lake for the night to escape the enemy patrols.
Eeva said that on the northern shore of Lake Paanajärvi, where their house was located, they had to be wary of paratroopers: “Sometimes we went to the other side of the lake for the night to escape the enemy patrols. Finnish soldiers guarded us. They taught us girls to shoot, too, and in the summer, we used to sleep in wooden granaries with firing holes. On many occasions, we noticed signs of enemy patrols moving about in the area, so the concern for safety was valid”.
As the situation with the war changed, they had to be evacuated again. At this point, they did not know that they would not return to Paanajärvi again. In early autumn 1944, policeman Kauppinen came to inform them, by the order of police chief Louekoski, that they had to be evacuated with their cattle. They embarked on their journey on 8 September 1944, and the first stop was approximately 30 kilometres away in the village of Vuotunki. Eeva, who was only 15 years old at the time, walked ten cows all the way from Paanajärvi to Saloinen in Raahe. She was accompanied by her father, Juho Herman Leinonen, and Aune, the war widow of her dead brother Kaarlo Henrik.
They had to travel west along forest roads and swamps, as the main roads were congested by the German troops retreating in the direction of the Arctic Ocean. Eeva said that she still has nightmares about an incident in the Posio region when she stepped into a mire with a cow and could not find a foothold to push herself up. The neighbouring house had some rope, and they looped it around her upper body and pulled her out of the mire – and they managed to rescue the cow, too. “After the muddy bath, I washed myself in a nearby brook and carried on walking in wet clothes”, Eeva remembers.
Their journey took over a month and in mid-October, they arrived in Saloinen. Eeva was later awarded an honorary medal by the president for the events along the evacuation journey.
After the war years, Eeva Saarenpää had a long career as an entrepreneur in the hairdressing sector in Raahe.
The text is based on the archives of Veli Matti J. Leinonen (including a description of the evacuation journey as told by Eeva Saarenpää to her son Markku Saarenpää). Veli Matti J. Leinonen’s book ”Tuhkattujen muistojen Paanajärvi” [Ashen Memories from Paanajärvi] has also been used as background material.