The Arctic Chronicles I Helsinki
“Sometimes a story finds you. It stands next to you begging to be heard. When it is time, you can let it have wings and soar through the keyboard. Even if only for a little while.” ~Maria Lehtman
It was a dark and gloomy winter night in the northern hemisphere. A young boy was hurriedly collecting wood in a small island and throwing every stick and log into the hot pit. The frost was biting through the thin layers of clothing he had on. The dense smoke burned his eyes and surrounded eerily the dark forest around him like tendrils reaching out to him, ready to snatch him away.
The boy had been out with his father and a group of other fishermen for long hours of the day and night. The fires were blazing where ever he looked, lighting up the little islands like fireflies with buzzing and crackling sounds.
He felt the heat from the bonfires on his back collecting the wood and throwing them in. The other side of him was always cold. The northern winds were harsh and tore through his worn-out clothing. He had no shoes to speak of and the hunger was always present. He looked at the few older men gathered around, their eyes burning like hot coals in the darkness of the winter night.
Suddenly a howling sound broke through the skies above. One after another the rumble grew like a gathering thunder. It was time to go. They had been building the fires as high as they would go – fighting every minute for the cold, wet wood to light up. He did not yet know what would happen but he knew enough to be scared. For his father, his family. Two of his brothers were safely away in the neighboring country, refugees of war. He had refused to leave his sickly father and mother and a newborn sister. They meant the world to him. Without them, he thought he might as well die. But that was before – right now he was shivering with cold and fear. He wished he was as far away as he could from these retched islands. His mother had already been evacuated to a country cottage.
A nod from his father and they headed back. The snow was nearly knee-deep and they had to hurry back to the mainland before it all began. The sea was frozen solid underneath. It could carry an elephant he mused. He had once seen one in a circus poster. They had no money, so he had tried to sneak in, but the guards were close by and he had slipped through their hands, just barely.
The air was filled with a roar when one fighter after another followed suit. He and his father were the last ones out, and the boy’s heart was pounding so hard he thought it could be heard from the skies. Further out he could see flashing lights followed by loud booms. First only a few, then more and more until he thought his ears would burst and there was no other sound in the world anymore.
He said a small prayer in his mind while he struggled to keep pace with his father, now only a shadow before him. If they survived this night, he swore he would be kinder to him. The first snowflakes drifted down from the dark grey skies. On they went behind smaller islands until darkness took them.
This story is fictional and related to the Great Raids Against Helsinki during WWII. Overall Helsinki was bombarded by ca. 16’000 bombs by the Russians, but only ca. 15% of them hit the mark. While so many other European cities perished, Helsinki was saved by several wartime maneuvers. One of them was misguiding the aerial attacks to drop off their bombs to the many islands surrounding Helsinki’s capital area by lighting bonfires on the islands. You can read more about the raids in e.g. Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Helsinki_in_World_War_II.
Unfortunately, I never heard anything about the war from my grandfather who fought in both WWs. He passed away several years before I was born, however, he never, ever mentioned the war when he returned. I did hear a story or two from my mother who lived in Helsinki at the time, born in 1942.