November 13th, 2010

[H&F] "Kaarlo Kurko; the journey to the Polish battlefields, 1919"

Co-blogger Jussi Jalonen continues telling the story of Kaarlo Kurko, an adventurous young Finn who volunteered to fight on Poland's behalf against the Soviet Union in 1919-1920.

After participating in the Estonian War of Liberation and the Yudenich offensive against Petrograd in the autumn of 1919, Kurko was determined to travel to Poland, to fight the Bolsheviks once again. This was by no means an easy feat. Traveling by ship to Danzig was out of the question, because the Finnish consuls in Riga and Tallinn were now unwilling to write passports for the volunteers. The recruitment of soldiers to the White Russian forces was strictly forbidden by the Finnish government, and the same rules applied also to those men who wanted to join the Polish army. Even though general C. G. E. Mannerheim, the former commander-in-chief of the Finnish White forces and the former Head of State, had visited Warsaw and personally met Józef Piłsudski in the autumn of 1919, he had done so as a private citizen. After Mannerheim’s defeat to Kaarlo Juho Ståhlberg in the presidential elections of July 1919, the newly-independent Finland no longer wanted to have anything to do with the intervention against the Soviet Russia.

Traveling overland through the Baltic countries was also next to impossible. The Polish-Lithuanian border was closed and heavily-guarded, with both countries in de facto hostilities against each others because of the Polish conquest of Vilnius and the ensuing Vilnius dispute. The Polish-Latvian frontier was a complete war zone, with the city of Daugavpils still under Soviet occupation. Under the circumstances, the Finnish volunteers who were still in Estonia and Latvia and wanted to join the Polish armed forces could not travel together as a single group, but instead had to make their way to Poland each on their own.

Go, read more. How did Kurko make it, and why did he try in the first place?
forums, me, non blog

[FORUM] Why did you join the military?

History and Futility's Jussi Jalonen has two posts up in his series examining the experiences of Kaarlo Kurko, a young man who volunteered to join the Polish army in the wars it fought after the end of the Russian Empire and the beginning of the Soviet Union and the Second Polish Republic. Why did he join up? His environment growing up and his personality, Jussi suggests, were key factor.

His parents – Tapani Kurko and Hilja Kurko, née Hurstinen – were teachers, members of the provincial intelligentsia, whose friends included people such as composer Oskar Merikanto. Needless to say, his parents also represented the vanguard of the nationally-aware part of the Finnish population, which had, in the aftermath of the Tsarist February Manifesto, gradually developed an openly hostile attitude towards the Russian Empire. Consequently, the young Kurko had grown up in an atmosphere where Russia was considered as the main threat and the foremost enemy of the Finnish nation. Already in 1915, Kurko had attempted to enlist for the 27th Royal Prussian Jäger Battalion, a Finnish volunteer unit in the Imperial German armed forces. After the experiences of the Revolution and the Finnish Civil War of 1918, the Bolshevik menace blended effortlessly with these feelings, thrusting him towards further adventures in the Estonian War of Liberation and the Polish-Soviet War.

Leaving aside the atmosphere at his home and the impact of the revolutionary era, it’s quite obvious that there was also something in Kurko’s own personality which drove him to seek existential fulfillment from the battlefields. He was a restless youth and a free, creative spirit. As one might expect, his school years were quite turbulent, and he always attempted to break out from the conventional lifestyle. As a 12-year old boy, he decided to try his luck as a popular author, wrote a 300-page adventure story titled “The Secrets of Alhambra”, and sent his manuscript to a publisher, posing as an adult. After two weeks, the publisher actually contacted him and asked if “Mister Kurko” would be interested in signing a contract. The promising career as a writer ended when his father, Tapani Kurko, heard of this artistic escapade and promptly chastized his son, ordering him to focus on the school once again.

I didn't join the military, the Canadan Armed Forces or any other. It just didn't appear to me as a possibility, at all. Many of these people reading this blog did, as reservists or as full-timers. I know that some of these people joined the military for reasons relating to socioeconomic mobility. In Atlantic Canada specifically, likely in the world generally, people from relatively marginal regions or classes within a country are frequently disproportionately present within the military's ranks. With incentives like the ones associated with the G.I. Bill in the United States and the chance to acquire skills and connections, it can be one way out. Others have joined for reasons of patriotism, out of a deisre to do something on their country's behalf. Others did because it's the normal thing to do in their community.

Jussi, Wikipedia says that Karlo's home community was Pieksämäki, in the historical eastern province of Savonia. What's that region like?

Thoughts? Discuss, please.