10 March 2018

“Finland at War” with Michael Elliott FRPSL

Our President, Richard Berry FRPSL, introduced Michael Elliott FRPSL to give a display on military mails of Finland under the heading “Welcome to Finland”.  He explained that Finland was involved in three wars during the period 1939-45 as follows:

  • The Winter War which was a conflict between Finland and Russia (USSR) which lasted just three and a half months from 1939 to 1940
  • The Continuation War which was a conflict fought by co-belligerents Finland and Germany against Russia (USSR) from 1941 to 1944
  • The Lapland War fought between Finland and Germany effectively from September to November 1944 in Finland's northernmost region

The Winter War began with the Russian invasion of Finland on 30 November 1939, just short of three months after the outbreak of World War II, and ended with the Moscow Peace Treaty on 13 March 1940.  The Continuation War began some 15 months after the end of the Winter War, with the Finnish decision to invade Russia in order to regain territory lost during the Winter War being regarded as the main reason for the conflict.  During this conflict Finland joined forces with Germany, although it was not formally a member of the Axis Pact.  Initially Finland regained some territory but eventually the conflict stabilised with only minor clashes until a Russian offensive crushed Finnish defences in June 1944.  Hostilities between Finland and the Russia ended with a ceasefire on 5 September which was formalized by the signing of an armistice agreement in Moscow on 19 September.  One of the conditions of this agreement was the expulsion, or disarming, of any German troops in Finnish territory, which led to the Lapland War between the former co-belligerents.

He went back to the 1928 mobilisation exercises, which included a forces postal organisation (forces post office was abbreviated as KPK in Finnish or Kenttäpostia), but had not seen any material from that period.  In 1940 Finland were due to host the Olympic Games as Japan had invaded China, but with German activities the Olympics were cancelled.  He showed some Olympic letter sheets that had been produced.  After the exercise period the Finns did not stand down as they knew what was coming.  In August 1939 Finland was invited to go to Moscow for “discussions” but declined and so Russia invaded Finland on 30 November 1939.  This was a period of mobilisation for the Finnish Army and Michael showed a number of covers from the period with various unit cachets.  He showed covers from the Winter war, including naval mail and also newspaper clippings.  There was also mail from a Russian POW (actually a Ukrainian). There was also shown a requisition notice for maps.  During this war the Russians lost some 800,000 men.

In showing various items of military mail Michael made reference to an essential book - “Finnish Fieldpost 1939-1945” by Les Freestone & Eric Keefe and published by the Scandinavia Philatelic Society, 2001.  This publication of 120 pages, 6 maps and 80 illustrations is the essential reference book for the English speaking collector of Finnish military postal history of the Second World War.

Some 8½ Swedes volunteered to help Finland as the Swedish Volunteer Corps (SFK) during January & February 1940 and set up their own postal system to get mail home.  Three different cancellations are known to have been used on such mail.  Initially stamps were used to pay postage, but then the Swedish authorities allowed free mail.  There were more volunteers with a small contingent from Denmark and also from Britain - and he showed mail from both groups.  The Friends Ambulance Service also operated in Finland.  The couple of hundred British volunteers arrived just too late to become involved in actual warfare.  On 13 March 1940 Finland signed a treaty with Russia which required the Finns to give up some territory and the period until 22 June 1941 was an interim peace period.

Prior to the start of the second round, I had mentioned to Michael that Les Freestone had been a former member of the FPHS, something which he was not aware of, and that many, many years ago he had given a display to the Society.  At the start of the second round he praised Les and his work and mentioned that he had purchased the Les Freestone collection via Phil Kaye from Argyll Etkin and had also purchased some John Daynes material.  He went on with the Continuation War from June 1941 - Hitler declared war on Russia and Russian declared war in Finland.  Like a lot of postal history collectors, Michael likes to collect actual correspondence with the envelopes and showed a number of examples.  He also showed a Russian letter sheet used by a Swedish volunteer as well as a selection of mail from Swedish volunteers, both covers and postcards with a variety of cachets and some with postage stamps.  The display also included a selection of registered mail.  He also had a selection of German mail from units located in Finland - the Germans were not considered allies, but co-belligerent’s and also a cover which showed checking for secret writing.  There was also a section on mail from females in an organisation which supported the Finnish troops on the front line - such mail enjoyed the full privileges of the forces postal system.  This came about as he had acquired a collection of material from a woman who was in the Lotta Svärd as this female organisation was called.  Originally formed in 1918, during the 1939-44 war it mobilized to replace men conscripted into the army and its members served in hospitals, at air raid warning positions and other auxiliary tasks in close cooperation with the army.

The Finns also volunteered to fight for the Germans on the eastern front - they formed the Viking Battalion of the Waffen-SS and he showed several letters addressed to the same individual in that organisation.  He had ten sheets on Estonian volunteers in the Finnish army and navy in 1943/44  using the title “Feldpost Estland” and finally five sheets on the Lapland War which involved the Finns driving out the Germans through Norway.

As a “thank you” to Michael, our President Richard presented him with a complete original of the Egyptian Gazette newspaper of Monday 23rd June 1941 to replace the photocopy cutting of the headline he had on display.  All-in-all this was a fascinating display of a series of conflicts which we very seldom see.

© Forces Postal History Society 2018