The Winter War: November 30, 1939

November 30, 1939, began like any other winter Thursday in Finland. For many families, it was pea soup and pancake day. Daylight hours were short; the darkness came early. There was concern over the international situation, of course, but it seemed far away. Nevertheless, by the end of the day, Finland found itself in a life-and-death struggle for its existence as a nation.

On November 30, 1939, the Soviet Union attacked Finland by land, sea, and air, with no declaration of war. Despite being badly outnumbered and short of everything from shells to anti-tank guns, the Finnish army held on for 105 days. The David-and-Goliath story caught the attention of the world and hundreds of foreign correspondents converged on Helsinki. The Finns sought help from Britain, France, and America, and their Scandinavian neighbours. Help did arrive in the form of volunteers, medical personnel, and offers to take in Finnish children, but the expeditionary force planned by Britain and France was too late, and Finland bowed to an armistice with Moscow in March 1940, forcing her to cede large parts of Karelia to Russia. 450,000 Karelians had to be evacuated and re-settled.

This is how the beginning of the war felt to Tina, the young heroine of Lost Ground:

Out of the rubble, the stark reality emerged that they were alone at war with the Soviet Union…Shock turned to anger, and all the old Finnish divisions–working class and upper class, Swedish-speaker and Finnish-speaker, rural and urban–vanished overnight. For the first time in the history of the young republic, every heart beat as one heart. For Tina,the first days of the war fused into colours–the blackness of their solitude, the ice-white certainty that they would never give in, and the searing red rage that made warriors of them all.

Here is the Winter War in photos. (all photos courtesy of the Finnish War Archives, unless otherwise noted).

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