Mirjam Penttilä (formerly Taimela) was born in 1921. During the Winter War, Mirjam served in food distribution duties in the White Guard Building of her home village in Mellilä, and during the Interim Peace, in food distribution duties in Luumäki and Miehikkälä, where the fortification battalions were constructing the Salpa Line of defence. At the start of the Continuation War, she served for a year as a medical Lotta in the field hospital of Kurkijärvi in Kuusamo, and thereafter on the Karelian Isthmus, until she was discharged in autumn 1944.
“With a credit transport ticket in my hand and my thoughts in the unknown future, I started my actual duties as a Lotta at the Mellilä station in August 1941. Then, as a 20-year-old medical Lotta, I embarked on my journey to my first posting, a hospital located in Kurkijärvi, by train towards Oulu. I already had some experiences of different Lotta duties. I particularly remembered the experience of distributing food in Midsummer 1941, when the mobilised troops were preparing their departure to the Continuation War at the Workers’ Hall in Mellilä.
The Lotta duties were based on different divisions: food distribution, medical care, equipment, office and communications, collections and maintenance. I assume I ended up in the medical division because I had previously worked as a naturopath in the Natural Sanatorium in Paimio. In July, I learned how to dress wounds and treat patients on a short medical course in Salo before heading over to Kuusamo. We even practised wearing gas masks – what a sight we must have been, running up and down the steps of Uskela Church in Salo with the masks on our faces! Luckily we never had to wear the masks since.
The field hospital in Kurkijärvi, Kuusamo was an entire village of barracks. Its 22 barracks were full of patients that were slightly wounded or sick in other ways. The wood-burning stoves caused us medical Lottas a lot of extra work. During the night, you had to supervise the patients and the stoves, where the wet wood kept going out.
The year in Kurkijärvi went smoothly. The highlights included three trips home, although it was difficult to travel. In order to catch a train to Oulu, you had to travel from Kurkijärvi to the railway station on the back of a truck, even in freezing temperatures. We were only sheltered by a shabby cardboard hut – and in the middle of the back of the truck, there was a burning stove that provided just enough heat so we would not freeze.
The Christmas of 1941 in Kurkijärvi was unforgettable… we had contracted mumps.
The Christmas of 1941 in Kurkijärvi was unforgettable. Maili Koria and I were like little Christmas pigs in a small isolation booth at the end of the hospital barracks. We had contracted mumps. We managed to get into the Christmas spirit when they brought a Christmas tree with candles to our booth”, Mirjam Penttilä reminisces on her year as a Lotta in Kuusamo.
In 1942, Mirjam was assigned on a Lotta duty to the 40th field hospital operating in the Miettilä village of Rautu on the Karelian Isthmus. She was stationed in the surgical department of the field hospital, and her tasks included cleaning wounds, disinfecting instruments and helping doctors in different procedures.
When the situation with the war changed, the field hospital was first moved to Räisälä, and later up north. When the hospital was not needed after all, the staff, including Mirjam, was discharged in autumn 1944.
The Lotta Svärd Organisation was discontinued on 23 November 1944 on the basis of the Moscow Armistice. After the organisation had been closed down, the Lottas continued their maintenance and relief work in the Finnish Women’s Aid Foundation. In 2004, the Finnish Women’s Aid Foundation changed its name to Lotta Svärd Foundation.
You can read more stories about Lottas on the www.lottasvard.fi website. The field hospital of Kurkijärvi was located in the area of Kurkijärvi garrison in Kuusamo. Author Kalle Päätalo describes the life of soldiers in the Kurkijärvi garrison during the Interim Peace in his book ‘Ukkosen ääni’ [Sound of Thunder] (Gummerus, 1979).
The text is based on the memories of Mirjam Penttilä and archival records of the Lotta organisation, which has been written about in the ”Kasarmista kenttäsairaalaksi – tapahtumia Kurkijärvellä” [From a Garrison to a Field Hospital – Events in Kurkijärvi] book 2017 (ed. Salme Sahi), the ”Kuvia ja kertomuksia sieltä jostakin – rintamanaiset muistelevat” [Pictures and Stories from out There Somewhere – Memories of Women on the Front] book, Rintamanaisten säätiö 2004 (ed. Hely Alhainen) and stories about Lottas published by the Lotta Svärd Foundation.