Kalle Päätalo is one of the most well-known and prolific Finnish authors. He is particularly known for his Iijoki series and his descriptions of Koillismaa.
He was born in Taivalkoski on 11 November 1919 as the second oldest child of the family’s eight children. After finishing his elementary school, Kalle was kept busy doing forest work and log driving. He also liked to read and write.
Kalle volunteered for the Winter War in December 1939.
This is a story about Kalle Päätalo’s life during the time between the Winter War, which ended in spring 1940, and the Continuation War, which started in June 1941. This period is also known as the Interim Peace.
In late summer 1939, Kalle was working on the construction of an elementary school in Inkeenkylä, Taivalkoski. At the same time, the threat of war started to become visible in everyday life. At first, sugar and syrup were rationed – soon followed by coffee. In general, access to food became more difficult, but no further rationing was required during the Winter War.
When the Interim Peace started in March 1940, the situation rapidly changed: in May, bread was the first product to be rationed, followed by fats a couple of months later. In October, tea and imported fruits were added to the list. At the end of the year, when Kalle’s pioneer battalion was transferred to Kestilä in Ii, milk, meat and meat products were rationed– and before the end of the year, the Ministry of Supply added reindeer meat to the list. The civilian population suffered the most from rationing. These changes did not affect the food allocations for conscripts all that much. “In Kestilä, the portions also stayed the same. We were even offered coffee every now and then”, Kalle writes.
After summer 1940, Kalle was again drafted to the army, as were many of his friends. In their letters to Kalle, some of them cursed their term of enlistment, which had been extended to two years. Kalle himself was happy with his situation in the pioneer battalion, which had been stationed on the western border for the winter; the soldiers were off duty in the evenings and there were plenty of girls around. In addition, the process of supplying food was more successful than on the eastern border. Although the new year started without any noteworthy festivities, according to Kalle, members of his battalion were offered such rare delicacies as marmalade and dried fruit with their coffee and crisp bread at Christmas.
In late January and early February, rumours began to circulate that there were plans to transfer those pioneers, whose home town was located in the Civil Guards’ infantry district, to infantry units. Kalle was not sure whether Taivalkoski was part of such a district, but he had a bad feeling about it. Private First Class Karlsson, who worked as a scribe, confirmed that this was indeed the case. He consoled Kalle by saying that the plans were not set in stone yet. However, soon the corporal scribe of Kalle’s company gave him an order of transfer. Kalle visited his friends in the company until late in the evening, saying his goodbyes. At the same time, he made a suggestion to the company commander that Antti Papusniemi could replace him as a provisioner. Kalle told Papusniemi that he had accidentally managed to store an extra day’s worth of provisions for the battalion, such as butter, cheese, sausages, sugar and coffee substitute, in the autumn. He had then divided the food to his friends – but he did not mention that he had also given some sandwich ingredients to his girlfriend Enni.
It was time to depart for Ii. The twenty-man detachment travelled first to Hyrynsalmi by train, without knowing what the final destination would be. In Kontiomäki, they changed trains and the party was moved onto a freight train, which stopped five kilometres away from the centre of Hyrynsalmi. The travellers then got a lift from some car-owners. Once they arrived at their destination, the brigade’s headquarters, they heard where they would be stationed: “The detachment was divided into two parts. The bigger group will be stationed in the artillery company at the training centre by Lake Kurkijärvi in Kuusamo. Private First Class Päätalo shall serve as the senior officer of this group. The smaller group will be stationed in Suomussalmi”, the commanding officer’s adjutant said.
The following morning they travelled by truck towards the community college of Kuusamo, from where their journey continued on horseback to the new unit by Lake Kurkijärvi, a few miles northwest of the town centre. The men were freezing from the icy blast on the truck bed, but every now and then, they had push the woodgas-powered truck up the hill, which warmed their minds and bodies.
“…The stink of burning birch from the gasifier is going up my nostrils…”
Kalle Päätalo describes the journey from Hyrynsalmi to Kuusamo in “Ukkosen ääni” [Sound of thunder] (Gummerus, 1979)
They stopped in Haukiperä, Suomussalmi, to drop off the men that were to be stationed there. The journey continued until the evening. Kalle was happy to hear that they would go to Kuusamo via Taivalkoski, his home village. After driving to the Crossing of Four Roads, the car steered into the yard of Cooperative Otso, and the men had a chance to warm up in the café next door. After Kalle had managed to heave himself off the truck, he spotted Uuno Nevanperä and other familiar faces from the village. They only had time for a quick hello before continuing on their journey. At three in the morning, they arrived in the centre of Kuusamo, where they spent the rest of the night in the cold classroom of the local community college. Finally, they rode to their destination, a forest garrison by Lake Kurkijärvi, in the sleighs of the artillery company’s cavalrymen. And then, their training started, aimed at turning the pioneers into gunners.
Kalle started settling into his role as a Private First Class by Lake Kurkijärvi, and the soldiers started having evenings off. They were already talking about the upcoming Midsummer. “Midsummer was just three months away! Then, many young people from Kuusamo and the nearby villages would come here. Despite the recession, guests would probably travel all the way from southern Finland to Kuusamo, particularly to Rukatunturi, to watch the midnight sun. The upcoming Midsummer would also be a true celebration for those of us boys, who were born in December, as we would only have three more days of service left!”, Päätalo writes in his novel “Ukkosen ääni”.
Their wishes never came true. Before the summer, the company was commanded to participate in constructing a fortification in Säynäjävaara – and when the officers started having training days by Lake Maijanlampi in Taivalkoski, the scribe said to Kalle: “There’s trouble in the air again”. As the spring advanced, a large-scale manoeuvre was added to their service programme. That did not cheer Kalle up, as he knew that the same had happened earlier when conscripts were taken away from their barracks in order to acquaint them with emergency conditions, in case a war broke out. Upon their return from combat training, the garrison’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Heimonmaa greeted the men on the ice of Lake Kurkijärvi and stated: “… the autumn of 1939 and winter of 1940 have demonstrated to us how unexpectedly things can change in the world… let us hope and believe that our tiny Finland can stay outside the conflict of interest between the large countries”.
The freezing temperatures continued unusually long into the spring, and Kalle was given the role of provisioner in his company. On 29 April, he advanced to the rank of corporal. In May, he went on a military leave to his home village of Taivalkoski. As soon as he arrived there, he headed towards the summer cottage of his father’s cousin, Tuomas Päätalo. While spending an evening together with Tuomas and his wife Hilda, they started talking about the difficult world situation, which seemed to concern the master of the house. During his leave, Kalle visited his parents in Kallioniemi and called on his local friends on skis.
However, military life was already awaiting by Lake Kurkijärvi. Commander of the company, Lieutenant Astoo, surprised Kalle by asking if he wanted to stay on in the army as a junior sergeant after his military service. Kalle was doubtful but promised to think about it, as he would also have received a payrise. Eventually, his decision was clear and Kalle informed the lieutenant that he was not cut out to be a professional soldier.
On Tuesday 10 June 1941, Kalle harnessed a horse to a food supply wagon with Artillery Jäger Niskala and headed towards the centre of Kuusamo. Summer had arrived. Lake Kuusamojärvi was glistening, free from ice, and birch trees were turning green. “In a couple of week’s time, the day will be at its longest and the bird cherry trees will be blooming, but before then, I will walk along Kitkantie Road in civilian clothes”, Kalle wrote. Upon his return to the garrison, the mood changed: Finnish men had been called to additional training again. Kalle could not believe what was happening. A mobilisation!
He was told to pack his things together. Thereafter, they would start loading the equipment and other necessary material. Kalle packed up his civilian clothes and wrote his home address on the parcel: Kalle Päätalo, Taivalkoski, Jokijärvi, Kallioniemi. After dropping off his parcel in the warehouse for home delivery, Kalle had to put everything in order in the kitchen, just in case they had to leave abruptly.
The garrison was preparing for departure. Once more, Kalle travelled to the centre of Kuusamo with Private First Class Kuorttila to acquire food supplies. Soldiers on leave were called back to duty and had to return to the garrison. At the same time, rumours started spreading that Soviet troops had crossed the border here, there and everywhere. They also heard that German soldiers had been transferred from Norway to Finland. Five days after the garrison had been made battle-ready, an order was given to leave Kurkijärvi. The first stop was by Lake Helilampi, on the northern side of Kuusamo town centre. There, it was confirmed that columns of German troops were moving in the area, and Kalle soon spotted some of them on Kitkantie Road.
The summer days by Lake Helilampi were ticking away slowly, and men were even given evenings off. On June 24, news started spreading that Germany had launched an attack into the Soviet Union. At that point, Kalle understood that the reservists would not be sent back home for haymaking that year…
Things started happening fast and the company was ordered to march towards Lämsänkylä in Kortesalmi, east-southeast from the centre of Kuusamo towards the new border. Late in the evening of the last day of June, they were ordered to march towards Penninkiluoma. Everyone understood that this direction meant crossing the border. The spearhead groups had already crossed the border when Kalle’s company arrived. Large troops of soldiers continued on their journey towards Kiimasvaara and Kiestinki. The Interim Peace had ended, and the Continuation War had started.
Kalle Päätalo was injured in the Kiestinki region during the Continuation War in 1941. Thereafter, he served as a non-commissioned finance officer in the Siiranmäki prison camp. After the war, he moved to Tampere, and two marriages followed. At the same time, Kalle worked as a carpenter and completed the degree of master builder. From 1951 to 1952, he worked as a master builder in his home town of Taivalkoski. His first book was published in 1956, and he was granted the title of professor in 1978. Kalle Päätalo died in Tampere on 20 November 2000.
Kalle Päätalo had a special fondness for his home village of Taivalkoski. To find out more about Kalle Päätalo’s life, visit the exhibition in the Päätalo centre in Taivalkoski, where you can also take a look at a room modelled after the author’s workspace.
The text is based on various studies and articles about Kalle Päätalo’s life. The quotations are from the novel “Ukkosen ääni” [Sound of thunder], Kalle Päätalo (Gummerus, 1979).