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The Lotta Svärd

Special Features Home Page - Information on the Teräs uniform collection, Lotta Svard, Finnish Army truck restoration, Simo Häyhä, and Letters from the Front Line.

This website has gotten much assistance from our friends in Finland and for this,

we are very grateful!  Jarkko Vihavainen of the Jaeger Platoon Website did the research for this

article and wrote it for KevOs4. 

There are few articles written in English about the famous Lotta Svard organization

and Jarkko has done a wonderful job of research and translations. Thank you Jarkko!

This article cannot be copied or reproduced without permission of the author.  

30th of October 2004

 

LOTTA SVARD

 "Ennen kun Suomessa taisteltiin,

tuli morsioksi hän sotilaan;

Ja Svard kun lähtöhön käskettiin,

han vei Lottansa mukanaan."

 

"Ere the noble king to Finland's shore,

She'd become a warrior's bride.

When the drums beat, and Svard went off to the war,

She followed him stride for stride."

 

(7th verse of poem "Lotta Svard" from Vanrikki Stoolin Tarinat by J.L. Runeberg.

English translation from "The Tales of Ensign Stal" translated by Charles Wharlton Stark,

Clement Burbank Shaw and C.D. Broad). 

Finnish women took part to pro-independence activist movement before Finland becoming independent. When secret activist organization known as "Kagaali" was founded in year 1901 also Naiskagaali (female-kagaali) was organized along it. Naiskagaali concentrated supporting families of those fellow Finns, whom the Russian authorities as part of their Russification-campaign had imprisoned, exiled or dismissed from an office. However, the organization also took part in financing, smuggling and hiding of weaponry, which Kagaali secretly acquired.

 

In 1917 Finnish independence activists started preparing for gaining independence by forming units typically disguised as "voluntary fire departments". At the same time the deteriorating security situation lead into forming of local organizations for maintaining public order. Like-minded Finnish women supported them their activities mainly by providing food and refreshments. As the situation developed these two organization types started emerging into local Suojeluskunta (Civil Guard) type organizations. Already before the Civil War (January - May of 1918) female volunteers supporting Suojeluskunta units formed unofficial sewing- and women's associations, which assisted them with fund-raising and by making them suitable clothing and other needed items (such as bandoleers).

During the Civil War these unofficial associations took part in logistics of Finnish White Army. They typically had no training, but still had important part in providing food and clothing for the fighting units. Besides the more normal clothing items the items they equipped white Army with backpacks, bandoleers and snow-camouflage clothing. Some women followed White Army combat units working as their cooks. Female volunteers played important role in offices of White Army HQ's and as telephone centre operators. In some areas female volunteers also transported ordnance and even did guard duty. Combat units created of volunteer women were suggested in the White Army, but its leadership (and especially Mannerheim) rejected the idea. So, unlike its opponent the Red Guards, the White Army never had any formations with female combatants. However, not being combatants didn't mean that its female volunteers didn't suffer losses in the war. Even if Red Guard artillery fire wasn't usually too accurate the shells it fired still wounded and killed several of women working as cooks and supplies personnel of the White Army.

Lotta Svard
Young members of the Finnish Lotta Svard organization

 

Only few months after ending of the Civil War the volunteer associations, which had formed around local Suojeluskunta units, started looking for a more permanent organization for themselves. Even the names of these organizations had a large variety "Suojeluskunta women's unit" and "Suojeluskunta sewing association" being the most common. The first unit to use name of Lotta Svard was "Ambulance unit of Helsinki Suojeluskunta", which changed its name as "Lotta Svard-unit number 1" in January of 1919. The inspiration for using Lotta Svard name came from patriotic book "Vanrikki Stoolin tarinat" (Stories of 2nd Lieutenant Stool") by J.L. Runeberg. The book contains mostly fictional poems located to Swedish-Russian war of 1808-1809 and giving heroic picture of Finnish soldiers in it. One of its poems is "Lotta Svard", which tells about soldiers wife of that name, who follows her husband to war selling drinks to soldiers and boosting moral. In August of 1919 Commander-in-Chief of Suojeluskunta organization Didrik von Essen used the name "Lotta Svard associations" in his Order of the Day when writing about these volunteer associations. This public use of the name made in spread fast among the associations, who started changing their names according in rapid succession. At the same time large number of new Lotta Svard associations were founded.

 The Order of the Day published in 19th August 1919 also formed guidelines for the things to come. Lotta Svard associations became part of the Suojeluskunta local HQ's. The main tasks listed in the document contain:

-         Helping in manufacturing of medical supplies (bandages etc…).

-          Assisting with equipment (mainly making and maintaining of clothing)

-          If necessary (in case of war) being ready to function as cooks and nurses.

-          Fund-raising to finance activities of the association.

 

When exactly the nation-wide Lotta Svard Yhdistys (Lotta Svard Association) was established can be bit unclear. It was added to official registry in 9th of September 1920. However the founding meeting was not held until 22nd of March 1921 and the common rules were not accepted until 12th of September 1921. Not having common rules in the few first months caused some trouble and getting them accepted in all local Lotta Svard units took until late 1920's as some of the old local Lotta Svard associations didn't support having nation-wide organization.

 The first common rules of Lotta Svard Association:

 "The mission of Lotta Svard Association is to invoke and reinforce Suojeluskunta-ideology and to assist Suojeluskunta-organization in defending creed, home and fatherland.

 Lotta Svard Association will implement this by:

1) Acting for peoples will to defend and to uplift moral condition of the Suojeluskunta.

2) Assisting medical functions of the Suojeluskunta.

3) Assisting provisioning of the Suojeluskunta.

4) Assisting fundraising of the Suojeluskunta.

5) Assisting office functions of the Suojeluskunta and by gathering funding for its own work and to benefit of Suojeluskunta-organization." 

 

Before World War 2 several European countries had female volunteer organizations, which had been at least partly modelled after Finnish Lotta Svard Association. These included Swedish "Landstormkvinnor" founded in 1924, Estonian "Naiskodukaitse" founded in 1926, Norwegian "Norske Kvinners Frivillige Verneplikt" founded in 1928 and Danish "Frivilligt Danske Kvidekorps" founded in 1935. Besides these worth mentioning are also Lotta Svard supporters associations founded in United States during Winter War.

 Organization:

 The basic nation-wide organization Lotta Svard adopted in early 1920's was pretty straightforward. As Lotta Svard had district system similar to Suojeluskunta the similarities are fairly obvious. The basic structure of Lotta Svard Association in early 1920's: 

Central Board    

District Boards

Local Units

Village Sections

Early Lotta photo with member of the Finnish civil guard

 

Besides command structure based to geographical locations Lotta Svard Association was also divided in Sections (Jaosto). The number of sections and what they contained developed during the organizations history, but in 1921 it had four sections: Nursing section, provisioning section, equipment section and fundraising section.

 In year 1941 name of the organization was changed. The previous Lotta Svard Yhdistys (Lotta Svard Association) was replaced with Lotta-Svard r.y. (Lotta-Svard registered association). At the same time rules of the organization were upgraded more suitable to the new situation. At that time the organization had five sections:

-         Nursing section

-         Provisioning section

-         Equipment section

-         Office- and signal section

-         Fundraising- and supplies section

 

Lotta Svard

Members: 

Members of the Lotta Svard were called "Lotta". In early 1920's the organization had three categories for its members:

-         Acting Lotta: Lotta Svard members serving in nursing- and provisioning sections. Once they had given their Lotta-pledge they had to be ready to serve when called.

-         Supplies Lotta: Other acting members of Lotta Svard. They worked in their sections.

-         Supporting members: They paid the membership fee, but didn't actively work in Lotta Svard Association. They also didn't have right to vote or be candidates in its elections (unlike other members).

 

Those wanting to become Lotta Svard member needed two well-known and trustworthy persons recommending them. Board of the local unit decided about accepting the applicants. Members younger then 17 could not vote or be candidates if elections of the Association. Lotta Svard being auxiliary of Suojeluskunta the same basic rules about political ideals also applied. The organization was not political by definition, but political ideas of its members covered only certain spectrum, which didn't include communists or socialists. Basically nobody with left-wing political ideas had any real change to join it until year 1940. In which side the applicant's family members had fought in Civil War also carried considerable influence. The acceptable political views covered the spectrum from centre to right. The only time Lotta Svard encouraged its members for voting in national elections was in year 1930: That time they were encouraged to vote "anticommunist forces" (preferably women). However the Association also showed limits to those of its members who went too far: Year 1936 editor of Lotta Svard magazine, who had used the magazine to rally "Lapuan liike" (Lapua Movement, extreme right wing group with had tried coup in year 1931), was hounded off. Lotta Svard member was expected to be religious, moral and well behaving.

 As mentioned the Association developed and so did its rules. Year 1939 members had three categories:

-         Acting Lotta (also known as "A-Lotta" earlier in 1930's): They had training for some certain task (nursing, provisioning, air surveillance, signaling etc…) and they were divided to sub-categories depending if they served in their home area or outside it.

-         Reserve acting Lotta: They had similar training as acting Lotta, but they had not orders for serving in any specific place. Basically their mission was to be reserves, which could be called to reinforce or replace acting Lottas. Also they had two sub-categories depending if they worked in their own home area or outside it.

-         Supplies Lotta A: In mobilization they would be called to serve in some certain task or profession that they had been trained for.

-         Supplies Lotta B: All other Lottas not belonging the categories above.

 The members of Lotta Svard were reorganized for mobilization in before Continuation War in early 1941. This last categorization remained in use until the organization was abolished and contained four categories:

-         Field-Lotta category 1: They had already received their mobilization orders, they had training for their work and would serve outside their home area during the war.

-         Field-Lotta category 2: Also they already knew their orders for mobilization and had training for their work, but they were to serve near their homes.

-         Reserve field-Lotta: They had training for their duties and had been reserved as reinforcements or replacements for field-Lottas.

-         Supplies Lotta: They no mobilisation orders and either had or didn't have training for any specific work. 

 

Already during the first year of Lotta Svard Association the number of its member reached almost 34,000 and it was just the beginning. By year 1930 the number of Association members climbed to almost 64,000 and by year 1935 it reached 90,000. The threatening situation only seemed to have increased activity, as in year 1939 the number jumped to about 130,000 and reached almost 173,000 in year 1943. Comparing the data to membership numbers of Suojeluskunta the number of Lottas started from much lower level and didn't reach Suojeluskunta membership numbers until early 1930's, but once that happened number of Lotta Svard members bypassed it easily and remained larger until abolishing of both organizations in 1944. When Lotta-Svard was abolished in November of 1944 it had some 150,000 active members, about 30,000 supporting members and about 52,000 Lotta-girls. Lotta Svard women working in the postal facilities

 

Little Lotta organization was founded in year 1931, during Continuation War (1941-1944) its name was changed as Lotta-girls. Activities of the organization were quite similar as with adult Lottas, they included fixing clothing, training for giving first aid, doing handicrafts and sports. Lotta girls-organization was abolished along Lotta-Svard in October of 1944.

 

Lotta Svards worked in the mess halls and postal facilities

Lotta-pledge (as used in year 1921):

"Minä N.N lupaan kunniasanallani, että rehellisesti ja omantunnontarkasti avustan Suojeluskuntaa sen puolustaessa uskontoa, kotia ja isänmaata sekä lupaan, etten luovu Lotta-Svärd yhdistyksen toiminnasta ennen kuin yksi kuukausi on kulunut siitä, kun olen paikallisjohtokunnalle todistettavasti ilmoittanut haluavani erota Lotta-Svärd yhdistyksestä."

 "I first name surname pledge with my word of honour, that I will honestly and according my conscience to assist Suojeluskunta in defending creed, home and fatherland. And I promise that I won't give up working in Lotta Svard Association, until one month has passed from me verifiably informing Local Board from my desire to resign from the Association."

 

Training:

 Early on Lotta Svard had serious shortage of members with trained, which could be useful in helping defending the country. First courses for Lotta leadership started in summer of 1922. Nursing training was obviously considered important, but early on it was among the ones most seriously lacking capacity. Besides short medical courses (which concentrated gathering bandaging material and medicine) organized by municipal doctors in some localities in year 1917 there was no training in the beginning. Organizing of 2-week medical courses started in areas near the state border in year 1924, but these courses soon proved too short to be really useful. So new much more thorough 6-month nursing courses were started in 1928. First air-surveillance courses and mobilization exercises started in year 1932. New types of training introduced in late 1930's included anti-chemical weapons training (year 1936) and signal training (1937).

 The nurse training proved highly effective. Some forty 6-month nursing courses were organised and by 1938 about 65 % of Lottas belonging to nursing section had participated to these courses. In autumn of 1939 Lotta Svard Association could arrange Finnish military 8 well-equipped field hospitals with some 1,250 beds. Members belonging to provisioning section learned mainly by in work by arranging food supply of various functions. Before the war local Lotta Svard units of many Finnish towns and cities local kept had own café, which also had their role in gathering funds. Also equipment section arranged courses, which in some cases had professional tailors or military tailors as teachers.

  

 

Clothing and etiquette:

 First Lotta clothing regulations were issued already in 1921. The first official Lotta clothing had grey jacket, belt and skirt made from same coarse cloth fabric that Suojeluskunta was using in its uniforms. This clothing proved too warm and limiting for variety of tasks. So, new Lotta clothing was introduced already two years later. During those two years come out large variety of locally designed unofficial Lotta clothing, which over the years got slowly replaced by the new Lotta clothing. Materials of the new Lotta clothing were cotton and wool, but the colour remained grey. Winter trench coat of the new clothing was still coarse cloth, but summer version was raincoat-like. Some items also used with the old clothing remained in use: Field cap for summer use was similar as used by Suojeluskunta and used similar cockade as local Suojeluskunta used. Winter hat was white sheepskin. White collar and cuffs were typically used with the grey blouse shirt. White armband and white glows could be used with trench coat in special occasions. Sports clothing (such as ski clothing) was not as formal and often had pants instead of skirt. The whole Lotta clothing was anything but sexy, and so for a reason. The clothes were loose fitting and the skirt hem remained 25 cm from ground level for duration of the organisation. Only in just before end of Continuation War 5-cm shorter skirt hem was allowed - and even then the reason for this was not fashion but saving fabric. 

 

Probably the most important insignia for the organization was Lotta-pin designed by Eric Vasstrom introduced in 1922. Main motif of the pin was blue "hakaristi" (Finnish variation of swastika) and heraldic rose in every corner. The rules for wearing Lotta clothing were quite strict: Only medals and insignias allowed with it were badges of honour plus of course the merit- and fitness-badges of the Lotta Svard. No makeup was allowed and hair had to be kept inside the hat. Wedding ring and a watch were the only jewellery allowed. Drinking alcohol and smoking were strictly forbidden while wearing Lotta clothing along with immoral behavior. Going to frontline without permission was forbidden during the war. The typical punishments that Lotta Svard organization had for those of its members that broke the rules were transfer and sending back home. The most severe punishment in its disposal was sending the member back in front of a her own Lotta Svard local unit, which could issue official warning, give suggestion to resign or suspend Lotta belonging to it. Officially Lottas were also supposed to salute with soldiers and each other with their own salute, in which the right hand was taken over breast so its fingers extended all the way to point of left armpit - however, in reality this salute never saw common use. Lottas were expected to act in virtuous way and avoid causing disapproval in any way. Discipline was considered important creating correct moral standing. Sports also had their place in activities of Lotta Svard as good physical health was seen beneficial in several ways. Lotta Svards worked in the mess halls and postal facilities

 

The Lotta clothing was also capable causing misunderstandings. The probability of confusion increased greatly after national-socialists got into power in Germany. Grey uniform-like clothing with pin that had swastika-like symbol caused foreigners sometimes mistakenly to think Lottas to have some kind of connection with German nazi-party.

 During wartime the clothing and etiquette rules were slackened a bit. During warm weather Lottas were allowed to open two up buttons of their shirt and roll up their sleeves (which then could be attached to shoulder buttons). During wartime critique started to appear inside organisation blaming that lot of the new members, who had joined during the wars had lacked the high ideological standards, which the pre-war members had. The critique was partly correct, the organisation received huge number of new members in a short time, so some less-then-perfect applicants got membership. However the change doesn't seem to have been so harsh as sometimes have been claimed. During Continuation War some 90,000 Field Lottas served in theatre of operations, but only 346 of them received suggestion to resign or were suspended. 

 

Lotta Svards worked in the mess halls and postal facilities

The Wars - Lotta Svard as auxiliary of Finnish Armed Forces

 Before Winter War Lotta Svard Association had been female volunteer auxiliary organization for Suojeluskunta (Civil Guard), but during the war it became auxiliary of Finnish Armed Forces. In summer of 1939 Lottas were provisioning volunteers building defense lines to Carelian Isthmus. Once mobilized Lottas helped evacuated civilians, served in air-surveillance posts and area centres of air surveillance, worked as nurses and arranged food for countless occasions. Lotta nurses worked in hospital-trains, field hospitals and military hospitals everywhere. Besides all this they also gathered and manufactured large amount of clothing for soldiers and gathered supplies for them. Already during the few weeks before Winter War Lotta Svard Association was able to deliver enough clothing to help equipping tens of thousands of Finnish soldiers for the war. One part of supplying that Lottas took part was baking massive amounts of bread for the Army. Once the war started Lottas worked in field post offices, handled intercommunications and worked in offices of various headquarters and home front troops. Maybe the most hardest work was had those Lottas who served in the KEK (kaatuneiden evakuointikeskus = evacuation centre for the fallen. Personnel of KEKs washed and otherwise prepared dead soldiers before sending them to their home cities, towns and villages for funerals). During Winter War bit under 100,000 Lottas served in these works. Their work was true volunteer work - only compensations they received for their work were free food and lodging. Only later Finnish Defense Ministry started paying small daily allowance for them and even then the allowance was given only to those who had been ordered to serve Armed Forces outside their own locality.

 

Winter War created new spirit of national unity. In February of 1940 Suojeluskunta and Social Democratic Party  (SDP, leading moderate left-wing party) declared official reconciliation between the two organizations. The reconciliation included also Lotta Svard Association. After this members of SDP were welcome to join Suojeluskunta and Lotta Svard. While the practical result of this wasn't too large with Suojeluskunta Lotta Svard Association started soon receiving large number of new members for this.

 Once Winter War ended the Finns needed to start fortifying the new border. Just like before Winter War Lottas arranged food supply for builders of new Finnish main defense line - Salpa-line. When Continuation War in June of 1941 Lottas were again mobilized in similar works as during Winter War. They continued to work in these works until end of Continuation War in September of 1944. 

 

As a rule Lottas were unarmed and had the organization didn't give them weapons training. By definition Lottas also were non-combatants and they didn't take part to battles. However, it seems that some individual Lottas serving near the frontline sometimes got pistol or rifle and possibly bit of training for using them. But the weapons and training don't seem to have originated from official channels.  The likely unofficial arms-suppliers were friendly soldiers worrying safety of unarmed women in dangerous area. However, armed Lotta was a rarity and the large majority of Lottas never had a weapon. The only notable exception to the rule was 14th Search light Battery (14th Valonheitinpatteri) of Air Defence Regiment 1 defending Helsinki. This air-defense unit existed from June to September in 1944 and had personnel of 145 volunteer Lottas. These 145 Lotta Svard members used German AEG 150-cm searchlights and were armed with Italian 7,35-mm Carcano m/38 rifles, for which they also had received training. Typical Finnish Continuation War era Division had 12,000 - 15,000 men and 100 - 200 Lottas. Lotta Svard women attached to a hospital unit.

 

Even if Lottas were not combatants serving in Lotta Svard during the war wasn't risk free. Total number of Lottas died during WW2 was 661. During Continuation War 228 Lottas lost their life while serving in locations where they had been ordered to serve, 64 of them died for enemy action. In addition 4 Lottas went missing.

 After Continuation War Soviets demanded several Finnish organizations to be abolished according 21st paragraph of Finnish-Soviet peace treaty. These organizations to be abolished as "fascist" included Suojeluskunta organization and Lotta-Svard ry. 23rd of November 1944 Lotta-Svard ry was abolished. Large part of its property was moved to "Suomen naisten huoltosaatio" (Aid Foundation of Finnish Women), which was founded the same day as Lotta-Svard was abolished. The new organization continued the work of Lotta-Svard by assisting war-invalids, war-orphans and former staff of Lotta-Svard. Large part of Lotta-Svard property was also given as donations to various sections of "Sotainvalidien veljesliitto" (Fellowship of war-invalids) and to other non-profit aid organizations.

 

SOURCES:

Suomen lotta by Airi and Rafael Koskinen

Suomen lotta by Vilho Lukkarinen

Suomen lotat by Annemaija Kataja

Lotta Svard - Uskonto ja Isanmaa by Kaarle Sulamaa

Suojeluskuntain historia, parts 1-3

Lotta Svard watching for Russian planes as part of the early warning system.

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Revised: January 27, 2010 .