Posts from the ‘Onni’ Category



Swedish television and Jens Lind has decided to produce a documentary about Onni Niskanen.
Next week are we going to Dominica to interview and film Daniel Rundström when he talks about his life in Ethiopia.

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The Adventurer # 4

(Interview with Daniel)

The next day, Mr Griffith helped us retrieve the plane. Or rather, he took with him 15 – 20 men with machetes and they helped by cutting away shrubs and bushes to make a runway. Fortunately, there were no tress in the way, only shrubs. Since I was the most experienced pilot, I flew the plane from there to the airport in Marsabit. In the evening, we had a great party!

bushlandning Marsabit 2Scan-111111-0002

(Onni’s story)

In the evening, when we walked over to the building where we should sleep, we had not walked more than ten metres from the main building, when we stopped dead in our steps by a lion’s roar. We could only see a pair of eyes, reflecting the light from the building. The Police Commissioner came running out with a rifle and a lamp, but the lion luckily retreated. The following night, we walked straight into three buffalos that were standing right outside the door. Even that time, we got away scot-free. The biggest problem for the Police Commissioner was the elephants, who roamed around in the area, destroying the small garden that he had struggled to keep alive in the drought.

It was with deep regret that we left the nice family a few days later. Our next destination was Nairobi and we arrived there without trouble. Well there, we could read in the East African Standard that we had been missing and that searches for us had been on. We now had to tell the whole story to the press and the next day, there were flaming headlines on the front page about our rescue and our adventures.
Mary, who was waiting at the beach hotel in Nyale Beach by the Indian Ocean, did not know anything about what had happened to us until she read about the adventure in the papers.

(Interview with Daniel)

This trip to Kenya was great, the highlight of my life. We flew on towards Isiolo and then we landed in Nanyuki on the Equator. We stood there in the bar and toasted from the southern part of the globe to the northern part. The Equator ran straight through the bar there. We flew past Mount Kenya and it was very beautiful.

Then we arrived in Nairobi. De wrote in the newspapers about the plane that had disappeared. They were of course glad we had got back. We stayed a few days in Nairobi. We stayed in hotel “New Stanley”. It was a one of those “with-it” hotels in Nairobi. All white farmers went there but the coloured people were not allowed in. No, that is how it was during that time, not like in Ethiopia where everyone could come and go everywhere as they liked.

Well, about the luggage, we had dinner jackets with us. We know that it was still an English colony, so in all hotels, if you wanted to go for dinner, you had to wear dinner jacket. So we had brought that. White dinner jackets.

We also went to a night club, I think it was called “Equator”. To be allowed in, you had to have been to a certain number of countries. Yes, it was rather fun. I remember that the band played “Tequila”- it was a new, popular tune at the time.

I was rather fit at that time. Lasse and I used to do handstands on the bar counter, both of us at the same time. The one who first fell had to pay. He was better than I was. I only won once. I was taller than he was so I could reach to put my feet against the ceiling. That was the only time I won.

After that, we continued to Mombasa and from there on to Malindi. It was only an around 20 minutes’ flight down to the coast. We had already booked us at the “Eden Roc” hotel. They had a private runway for the guests. Mary came down to Malindi together with Pihlkvist, another Swede. That is where we spent our holiday. Mary had flown with Ethiopian Airlines from Addis Ababa via Nairobi and on to Malindi.


This was the only hotel along the coast that had a swimming pool and where you could go for a dip if you wanted to. You did not need a swimming pool, you had the whole sea there! I think it was one of the best hotels. You could also play squash and rent surfing boards, but we spent most of the time on the beach. Yes, we had a great time there! We used to meet at breakfast every morning. Pihlkvist was with us. He was one of those funny guys who always came up with funny expressions. If something tasted nice, he used to say “This does not taste of paraffin!” We were all at the breakfast table, except Pihlkvist, when Mary said “I think this tastes of paraffin… something tastes of paraffin”. We did not think so, but she may have been a bit choosy. After a while, Pihlkvist arrived and sat down at the table, starts eating and say “This does not taste of paraffin!” It was so funny and also to see how funny Mary looked!

We were later invited to a party at Hotel Sindbad. We had to wear dinner jackets. Lasse and I decided to fly in to Mombasa to buy black socks for our dinner jackets, because we did not have any with us. We took the Auster this time because it did not use as much fuel and the L5.

When we landed at the airport in Mombasa, we met some Englishmen from Nairobi. The also had an Auster. When you were in Africa with two private aeroplanes, you started talking to each other of course. We asked where they were going and they said they were flying south to Jadini beach. “We land on the beach there, so why don’t you come down and have lunch with us?” “Yes”, said we, “we just have some shopping to do first. We will be there later. How do we find you?” “You will see us. Just land on the beach”.

We went into town and bought socks and a few other things that we needed and then, just before lunchtime, we took the plane and went to meet with the Englishmen. But as it happened, we did not pay attention. We flew too far inland so we missed them and flew past. After a good while, we realised that we had flown too far. Too right, as I noticed that we had had an incredible following wind. I had not thought about that but you notice it when you make a turn. I thought “oops, we are low on fuel, I have to check this” I did not trust the fuel gauge so we had a dipstick. We were planning to land somewhere there and check with the dipstick to see how much fuel we had left, so we could be certain that it was enough. I landed on the beach but the runway was too short, so the plane tipped on the nose and hit the propeller so a piece of it flew off. It was a wooden propeller. So, what do you do when you are stranded out in the bush? I always had my tools with me. We stood there on the beach, wondering what we had done wrong. We had landed too far up on the beach and the sand was too soft. If I had landed closer to the water, the sand there was packed solid and we would have had as long a runway as we wanted. We could not continue with one long and one short propeller blade. It causes imbalance in the engine. So, what do you do?

Rundis malindi
I will have to cut the other blade too, I thought. Fortunately I had a hacksaw with me so I set out to repair the blade. While we were standing there, some people came towards us. A couple of beautiful girls, actually. Bare-breasted. De were wondering what was going on. We could of course not talk to them but we showed what we were doing. We cut the long blade so that they were the same length and then we pulled the plane down to the water and decided that we could not stay there. We checked how much fuel we had left and decided that it was enough to take us to the Englishmen. We would certainly find them now! We will fly along the coastline by the water and then we will see where they are.

We were not sure that the plane would work, if it would take off. We had a long runway and I cranked up the engine and it shot up to max rpm because the propellers were short. I could only give half throttle power. We bounced along on the beach and so we finally took off. Lasse laughed. “Look! We’re flying!” he said. We flew some distance along the coast but we still did not see the aeroplanes, because they had pulled them in under the palm trees there. We agreed that this had to be it, because we saw tracks and a hotel, so we landed on that beach. I felt that the sand was packed solid and we continued along the beach. Then an Englishman comes walking along the beach. I opened the window. It was one of those hatches that folds outwards and I shouted to him: “Where is Jadini Beach Hotel?” He starred at us and said: “It’s over there, Sir” and walked on.

We finally met up with the nice Englishmen and got our lunch at last. We also got some extra fuel so we could fly back to the hotel in Malindi again.

In the evening we went to the party at “Sindbad”, dressed in our new black socks. I did not drink a lot. Neither did Onni, I think. I never saw Onni drunk, he was a moderate drinker.

Though that night another thing happened. I was asleep and in the small hours before dawn, Onni is knocking on my door. “Rundis! Up, quickly! You must fly to Mombasa!” “What? No, I don’t feel like flying to Mombasa now…” “Yes, now” said Onni and explained. The hotel Manager had gone to bed with a cigarette in his hand and fallen asleep. The mosquito net above the bed had caught fire and he was so bloody burned that he was unconscious. It was essential to get him to the hospital as quickly as possible.

Yes, I was game of course. I took the L5 this time; the propeller was not very good on the Auster. I remember, Onni and Lasse, it was those two who took care of the man and placed him on the backseat of the plane. He was unconscious the whole time. The buckled him in and so I flew to Mombasa while the others informed the ambulance there that I was on my way and asked them to come and collect him at the airport. I went with them to the hospital to see how things were and to talk to the doctor. He said that we had saved the man’s life. He would not have survived unless he had come in to the hospital so quickly.

I think I was the most experienced pilot. The others were not so experienced. Onni was a beginner but he got his licence. He was really good at navigation. He was very skilful. What he did later as well, with the Marathon runners. That was really something! But it was typical of Onni, he helped others to the front and it was he who did the work in the background. It was typical of him. He was a very kind person. I don’t think he was angry ever. No, I never saw him angry; on the contrary, if something happened, he always stayed calm.

Well, when the holiday was over we went flying. First we flew to Mombasa, Dar-el-Salam and then we stayed on Zanzibar, where we went swimming for a couple of days. After that, we flew to Kilimanjaro. Moshi was the name of the airport. Then we went back to Nairobi. From there, we were planning to fly the same route back home as we had flown there. We flew to Marsabit and met up with the Griffith family again and then came the worst part for Onni and Lasse…

We stayed over night and started in the morning after breakfast. We had agreed that this time we were not going to miss each other. We were going to keep contact with each other. We should not do as we did last time. But when we had flown a short distance, I see Onni and Lasse start circling and descend. I was wondering what the heck they were doing. I had no idea of what had happened. Suddenly, they just landed, right in the middle of the volcanic landscape! They found a spot to land on. I don’t understand how – it was unbelievable but at the same time lucky that the found a spot to descend and land on. Well, I will have to land as well, I thought. So I landed on the same spot. It was not very good, bumpy but it worked. “Well, you see”, said Onni, “the engine cut out!” It had jammed! ‘So they just had to land.

It was incredible that they managed the way they had! Well, what to do now? Not much choice but to go back to Marsabit. I could only take one person at the time so I said: “I will fly back to Marsabit and leave Aspliden there and then I will come back, pick up one of you and come back later to pick up the other one. Onni was the one to stay till last. That was typical of him, to send the others off first.

Well, they had survived, which was good, but we were not home and dry yet! They had a plane that they could not continue in and I could not take more than one person at the time, so Onni and Lasse were stranded out there in the bush. The next day, Griffith helped out with a lorry and people. It was not so far to the plane, bit still some distance. We all helped to lift the plane up onto the lorry.

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We took the plane to Marsabit and put it in their garden. I had no other choice than to continue with my passenger. We could not do anything to solve the situation at the moment.

Onni and Lasse decided to dismount the engine and take it with them and hitch-hike back home to Addis. They did get a ride now and then… with some old lorry that was passing once a week or so… but one distance they had to ride on donkeys with the engine under the arm…it took them a couple of weeks to get home.

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We knew they were alive and that they would make it, but it must have been a heck of a trip… to hitch-hike from the middle of Kenya all the way up to Addis. But they did arrive, unshaven but in good spirit. That was the end of the journey.

It took eight months before we got a new engine. We ordered a new engine from England, which was sent down to Nairobi in Kenya. I went down, mounted the engine and flew the plane back to Addis. That time I was alone. It turned into an adventure as well… I was not allowed to fly the same route back, so I had to fly an even worse route – back to Nairobi, down to Mombasa and the follow the coast line up to Somaliland – and that was much longer. But we can talk about that some other time…

The Adventurer # 3

Letter from Onni, published in Duvbo IK’s Annual Magazine 1955

I had obtained my pilot’s certificate and was going in my own plane, a three seated Auster 5, on a longer flight, together with a Swedish mechanic from the Ethiopian Air force. We teamed up with another small plane, flown by two other Swedes.

We planned the travel route so that we were flying from Addis Abeba to Marsabit in north Kenya and after that to Nairobi, Mombasa, Malindi, Zanzibar, Dar-el-Salam, Kilimanjaro, Nairobi and back to Addis Abeba. None of the planes had a radio and therefore we could not communicate with each other in the air or with the radio stations at the airports. All we could do in the air was to try to keep together as best we could. And off we went.

When we approached the final destination for the first day, Marsabit, we lost sight of the other plane in the heat haze. We began looking for the airport that should be situated somewhere in the midst of the mountain massif. The visibility was bad, due to the low sun being in front of us. We slowly let the plane descent and started preparing for landing, while eagerly looking for the airfield. Without warning, the engine stopped and we lost height rapidly and the airport was still not to be seen anywhere. We were now on the edge of the massif, which on the south side declined towards vast desert areas. Fast action was required! We decided to stop looking for the airport and instead glide down along the slope in the hope of finding a suitable place for landing. There was a strange silence now that the engine was dead and we soared down like a bird. Then suddenly the engine started whirring again and we breathed out in relief.
It only worked for some 20 seconds and then it went quiet again. That kept happening for a couple of minutes and it helped us gain some height over the slope below us, which had now approached precariously. We headed for nearest level ground, but that was still several kilometres away. Then the engine cut out for good and the altimeter showed that we were descending alarmingly fast and got closer and closer to the undulating hill. A couple of thermal winds helped us gain a few metres a couple of times, but…

Even the edge of the desert, which we were approaching now, showed to be rather undulated and not at all suitable for landing. Now we were only approximately 40 metres over the ground and we could not keep the plane up any longer, so we would have to land. We landed in a curve to avoid a big sandbank to the right and during the last few metres in the air, the landing gear scraped against the dry shrubs on the edge of the desert. We got down without mishaps but it had been an exciting time.


When we stepped out of the plane, a heat like in an oven met us, it was not long before the shirt clung to the body from sweat, and we started feeling thirsty. We had eaten our afternoon snack in the plane an hour back, thinking that we would soon land in Marsabit and did not worry about rationing food and drink. All we had left now was a drop of tea and an egg and we did not dare to touch the tea.

We soon discovered that the trouble had been the magnet, but since the sun was going down, we decided to spend the night trying to sleep under the plane. The inside was like a sauna. Darkness fell fast and we stretched out on the warm sand with a seat-cushion each as a pillow. Sleeping was impossible. Loads of insects and bugs irritated us and we had a full time job, trying to get at them under our sticky shirts. In the dark, we heard different sounds from animals that were coming closer, wherefore we preferred to get back into the cabin, even though it was hot and uncomfortable.

The next morning we started repairing the magnet. The work took several hours and the heat increased bit by bit. We were so thirsty now, that we avoided talking to each other. The only place where we could get some shade was under the wings, but it was hot even in the shade.

During the descent down to the desert the previous day, we had lost quite a lot of petrol, when the float jammed. When we measured, we found that we only had around 17 litres left now, i.e. enough for maybe 40 minutes flying. Would that be enough to warm up the engine and fly up to the mountain top? We did not think so. We decided to try to figure out our exact position by pacing the distance to a couple of hills that did not look too far away. We walked for hours, but it turned out to be much further than we had estimated, so we had to return to the plane. Our thirst was almost unbearable now and when my friend offered me a Läkerol (a Swedish throat lozenge), that he found in his equipment, it turned many times worse. The lozenge stuck like a lump of pitch in the dry palate.

On our stumbling walk back to the plane, we caught sight of a caravan of people in the distance. We hurried towards them as fast as we could, shouting and whistling, but the distance was too great for them to hear us. We had to reach them, we thought. They must have water and it looked like they were carrying burdens on their heads. When we came closer, we saw that they were ostriches, walking in line. From a distance, they looked just like people who were carrying something on their heads. We had to sit down, for the run had made us even more tired, hungry and thirsty. We went as far as to try to hit guinea fowl with stones, where they wandered around in the scrubland. They were walking around only a few metres away, without showing any fear of us. When we got closer, they annoyingly moved away a few metres.

We now decided to start the engine and fly northeast, towards the only road, stretching from the south up to Marsabit. After that, we would follow the road as far as we could and possibly try landing on the road and go by foot to Marsabit. The start went well and we reached the road after the calculated 20 minutes flying. The road turned out to be very bad and not suitable for landing. We followed it for some distance and happily spotted a small native village with inhabitants. We now decided to land on best suitable, or maybe I should say “best unsuitable”, spot. Come what may, we needed water. We spotted a little slope and we landed there. That we managed to land without seriously damaging the plane, was more luck than skill. The plane jumped and skipped over tussocks and scrubs and we had to veer to both sides to avoid the small trees.

As soon as we had stopped, a bunch of natives gathered around the plane and they looked a bit suspiciously at us, babbling in a language that we did not understand at all. We tried to sign to them that we were thirsty. They led us into the large hut that probably belonged to the chief, and, from an animal hide that hung off the wall, they offered us some dirty brown water that you normally would not want to wash your feet in. This water tasted like a Godsend. All you had to do was to push the flies aside and gulp down several bowls.

When I had quenched the worst of the thirst, I took out a cigarette, struck a match and lit it. The natives looked at my cigarette and one of them asked to have one. I gave him matches and a cigarette. He put the match to the cigarette without striking it on the striking surface first. Then he waited for it to start burning, but nothing happened and he looked very bewildered. It surfaced that they had never dealt with matches before.

When I later took out a Läkerol lozenge, they wanted to try that. I gave the nearest man one. He sucked it a few times and then passed it on the next man, who did the same and so the lozenge passed round the group.

When I later started doing a few tricks for them, the whole assembly came to life. They drove out the remaining sheep and goats that were still in the hut and instead most of the villagers, there were not very many, gathered inside. I swallowed burning matches and cigarettes and they soon regarded me as a big medicine man and now the atmosphere changed to our advantage.

Through signing and a few words that they understood, such as “Marsabit” and “police”, I managed to make them understand that I wanted a message sent off to the Police Commissioner in Marsabit. After I had written down a message on a piece of paper, they sent a rider off on a mule. He very soon came back, since he had met a lorry that was on its way south from Marsabit. The driver had promised to take us with him.

While we were loading our things onto the lorry, an English military aeroplane came right over us, on its way towards Marsabit. After a while, another one showed up and they caught sight of us and started circling over the place. We understood that they were looking for us and signed to them that all was well. They answered, by sign, that they had comprehended and they continued north.

On the way, we saw very many elephants, which was interesting to us, who now saw wild elephants for the first time. We were overjoyed when we arrived in Marsabit. The other plane with the two Swedes had found the airport. They had waited for a while for us to arrive, but had then started searching. The next day, they had even alerted the English Air Force in Nairobi, asking for scouting help, and it was those planes we had seen.

After a bath and a change of clothes, dinner tasted splendid and, in front of the open fire, we told them about our adventure. We stayed with the hospitable Police Commissioner and his wife a couple of days, during which we picked up our plane and gave it an overhaul. The first night, when we walked over to the building where we should sleep, we had not walked more than ten metres from the main building, when we stopped dead in our steps by a lion’s roar. We could only see a pair of eyes, reflecting the light from the building. The Police Commissioner came running out with a rifle and a lamp, but the lion luckily retreated. The following night, we walked straight into three buffalos that were standing right outside the door. Even that time, we got away scot-free. The biggest problem for the Police Commissioner was the elephants, who roamed around in the area, destroying the small garden that he had struggled to keep alive in the drought.

It was with deep regret that we left the nice family a few days later. Our next destination was Nairobi and we arrived there without trouble. When there, we could read in the East African Standard that we had been missing and that searches for us had been on. We now had to tell the whole story to the press and the next day, there were flaming headlines on the front page about our rescue and our adventures. My wife, who was waiting at the beach hotel in Nyale Beach by the Indian Ocean, did not know anything about what had happened to us until she read about the adventure in the papers.

We spent a week by the sea and had a wonderful time with salty dips, goggle fishing and surfing, before we continued south to Zanzibar and new adventures that would take too long to enter into.

to be continued…

The Adventurer # 2

Interview with Daniel Rundström 2009

We had decided to go on a trip. It was Onni, Mary, Ingvar Aspliden, Ingvar ”Lasse” Larsson and me. We had arranged for permission to fly. We did not have a radio but got permission to fly from Ethiopia. We could not fly direct to Nairobi. There was not a chance to do that because we had to land twice on the way to fill up with fuel. There was no fuel in Ethiopia so we went to Air Force outside Addis. They flew to all sorts of places. We asked them to dump a tank of fuel for us the day before we were to take off, so we could land there and fill up. They did that and it worked very well.

I think it was a few days before we set off that we were invited to Haile Selassie at the palace … it was a heck of a party! They served alcohol. I don’t know how long it was between… I don’t think we flew the day after, he-he. We had to be in good shape when we left.

We knew that it was rather a challenge to fly over the mountains there, but in Ethiopia I had flown earlier so there it was not a problem. We flew in pairs so we were in contact with each other all the time. Eye contact, that is. We had decided that earlier so we would not lose contact, since we did not have any radio contact.


The first landing was planned for Marsabit in northern Kenya. It was a very special site, I will never forget it, that place… It was situated out in the terrain… there was only one family. He was District Commissioner, Police Colonel, and was from South Africa but of British descent. Mr Griffith was his name. I will never forget him. There was a small airport and that is where we were headed. That was the first stop on the journey, Marsabit in Kenya.

Then it happened… we used to take turns flying. Lasse did one distance and then Onni took over for another distance and now I had flown my distance in Ethiopia. Aspliden was a pilot, too, but he did not have a lot of experience. Lasse and I had the most flight experience so we were so to say ”in command”, the ones who were in charge should anything happen. There has to be someone in charge. I was sitting in the back and Asplind was a teacher in navigation, so I was convinced that he would do OK. There were no problems so I relaxed.

Then suddenly Onni and Lasse disappeared. We could not see them, but there was not point in searching because we only had enough fuel to make it to Marsabit. We had to go on, so we did. But Aspliden could not find the airport, he just could not find it! We found out why. It happens that, on the map, there is s special sign for mountain that looks like a moon on top of a mountain, but when it is a crater it is a crescent and we had missed that. We saw the crescent but thought it was a mountain. It was a crater where we should have landed but we flew past that airport without seeing it and Aspliden was getting nervous. He wasn’t so experienced and now he thought we had to do an emergency landing. We could not fly until we ran out of fuel. We had to land while we had fuel left.

”You have to do this” said Aspliden. ”Well”, said I, ”it’s not so easy from back here”. Of course I sat in the back and you can’t do any emergency landings from there. ”Well, what do we do now then? Can’t we change places?” In that cramped cockpit. ”Let us try” I said. So I crawled up front and sat on the side. I was folded over in 90 degrees and got hold of the control stick so that Aspliden could crawl over to the back seat. When he got out of the seat, I could sit down and buckle up. then I thought that ”now we have to find somewhere to land”.

I was rather experienced at ”bush landings”. I knew the L5. I knew that even when the fuel gauge went down to red you could still fly for a good while. Well, at least for another 10 minutes. I could not find a good place and realised I had to find somewhere. Then I saw a road. We got to the road and I thought it had to go to the airport. And sure enough it did, so after a short while I saw the airport. I had found it. I just dived down and landed, without checking wind or anything. I did that because I knew that the engine would cut out any second. And when we had landed and taxed in, the engine cut out. We had just made it!

We had been so occupied with our troubles so we had not had time to think about Onni and Lasse, but now that we had arrived at Marsabit and landed, we started getting worried. They were not there! What on earth had happened to them, we thought. The Mr Griffith came out and picked us up. It was the first time we met. He invited us to dinner but we were so down in the mouth, thinking that Onni and Lassa had crashed somewhere. The terrain around was very rough with volcanoes and such.

I don’t think I slept at all that night. The Griffith family were very nice and hospitable, but we could not appreciate that when our friends were gone.


Mr. Griffit to the left and Daniel Rundström to the right

Early next morning we reported to the British Air Force in Nairobi that one of our aircrafts was missing. They immediately sent out a plane to search for our friends. Aspliden and I also started combing the area systematically. We thought that they could not be so darn far away. We kept searching all day. Nothing! ”What the heck has happened” we wondered. But during the evening Onni and Lasse arrived by lorry and we were of course incredibly happy! But where on earth was the plane?

to be continued…

The Adventurer #1


This Auster Onni bought together with Daniel Rundström in the beginning of the fifties. Daniel came to Ethiopia 1946 as a young flight technician and worked at Bishoftu for von Rosen.

Daniel is still alive and well and lives at Dominica in east Caribbean. He have given me so many stories from his life that I have material for a book about his fantastic life. He was born 1925 and his dream today is to build an airplane and fly from Dominica to Ethiopia.

This is part one of a story about Onni and Daniel when they made a holiday trip to Kenya when Onni had got a flying certificate in the fifties.

Interview with Daniel “Rundis” Rundström 2009

“That time there in Ethiopia during the 40s and 50s meant a lot to me. I was only 20 years old, not even reached lawful age yet. At that time, you had to apply to the authorities to travel abroad alone if you were not of age.

I arrived in Ethiopia in 1946, just after the war. During the trip there I got to witness all the misery that the war caused in Europe. It started with Amsterdam, where you could see the bomb craters at the airport.

Onni was in Ethiopia when I arrived. He had left the military life. I thought that was good. He was made Secretary General of the Red Cross. The thing with Onni was that he was always in the background. He never made a fuss of himself. But he was behind most things.

He was very friendly with the Duke of Harrar (son of Emperor Haile Selassie). So was I, since I taught him a bit of technical stuff. He was interested in flying and so was Onni. We bought a plane together, Onni and I.

I went to India. Onni was very good friends with Thomson. He was Canadian and worked for the mission there. He was in frequent contact with Onni and it was Onni who hinted a little about me, so that I came to India. I had just got my pilot’s license, Ethiopian certificate, and did not have a lot of experience. I had approximately 80 flight hours behind me.

So I went to India and bought an aeroplane. We bought it together, Onni and I, in 1950. The plane we bought together, I shipped from Bombay to Aden by boat. It did not have a long range. The distances were too long to fly, but I flew another plane, a “Norsman”, from Bombay to Addis Ababa. I landed in Pakistan, in Karachi, and then in Marsays, on the island Masirah outside the Arabian east coast. On to Salalah, that is located between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Aden. Salalah was an English protectorate so RAF had an airbase there. From there I flew on to Ethiopia and Addis Ababa.

Later, after about a month, the plane that Onni and I bought arrived in Aden. It came in a crate, it was almost new but we got it cheap. You could buy aeroplanes very cheap during those years. I went to Aden and assembled the “cart” and flew it to Addis.

About Onni, I would like to say that he had very good organisation skills, he could organise things. It was he who arranged things when IFK Norrköping were in Addis to play football. He arranged it all. It was he who told me to fly over the football ground and drop the ball for kick off, to make it a bit fun, and the Emperor was there. He arranged at lot of things for the Emperor. There were Red Cross parties, motorcycle races. I have a programme from one of those where Onni is listed as organiser. I got along well with Onni. We had a lot of fun together, Onni and I.


Later, in the mid 1950’s, I flew with him in a plane from Yemen to Addis Ababa. He had just divorced Mary. She later died before he did. I think she was a plucky girl. I appreciated her, she was fun and always attending all parties. We always had lots of parties in those days. Mary was a very intelligent person. I actually spent rather a lot of time with Onni and Mary.

We did a lot of things together. We were out flying this Auster. But the flight we did together, that is the best. To me, that topped everything!

That was really some flight, I can tell you! I think that is the strongest memory I have of Onni is that trip. We stayed at the same hotel and went swimming at Malindi by the Indian Ocean. Onni did not have a lot of experience as a pilot so I suggested he’d take a more experienced pilot and good friend of mine with him. Lasse Larsson. Ingvar Larsson was his name but everybody called him Lasse. He and Onni went in the Auster and I flew the L-5 together with another special person, who is dead now. He was a meteorologist and named Ingvar Aspliden. He got hold of an American woman at the American Embassy in Addis and married her. He eventually ended up in Virginia, USA.

The plane that Onni flew certainly had room for four, but we had to take a lot of extra fuel, so Mary had to fly Ethiopian Airlines to Nairobi and then we met up at Malindi. There was another man there when we arrived. Pilkvist was his name and I think that he and Mary had travelled there together. We only met in Malindi and then we separated again.

Onni and I flew further south to Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. On my way home I had met a girl who lived near Kilimanjaro. We landed there on the way because I wanted to see this girl. Then we flew back via Nairobi. But this was the most smashing thing of the trip… but maybe I should start at the beginning… but it was just unbelievable!”

to be continued…

Photo Album

Onnis album

DSC_2405 (2)


stadsloppet 1938

The Dream Of Awassa


!971 when we were in Ethiopia Onni took us to Awassa. He had bought about 8000 square meters of land there that went down the whole way to the water. What a loveley place!
Onni had together with his brothers Arne and Erik decided to build a three family house there were they all could live together when they got older.
My father, Erik, made a drawing for the main house and both of my parents where quite exciting about moving to Ethiopia and so were Arne and his wife Karin too.

One year later they started to build a guest house, drilled a well and a septic tank and put up fence around the whole land.
There was also a cave on the sloop that they planned to make a wine cellar of.

I can still remember how my mother and father planned and talked about this and how much it meant for them to move to Ethiopia and live together there with Onni, Arne and Karin.
1972 went my parents to Ethiopia again to plan everything together with Onni, this was their dream…

Then come the revolution and everything was suddenly very insecure and nobody knew what would happen.
The military even come to Onni because they believed that he had used the cave as a hidding-place for weapons. I think Onni was quite surprised of that himself, he that only cared about people and not about politics at all. The dream was gone and it all come to nothing.

A chock by reality

1971 I was a young left radical hippie that thought I had all the answers to the worlds all problems. If that wasn´t enough I also was quite spoiled and saw myself as the center of the universe …I think you know what I mean.

In the beginning of December my father, mother, sister and I boarded a plane to Ethiopia to visit uncle Onni. This trip changed my life. I was a complete other person when we came back home to Sweden three month later. I had realized in to the bone that I had absolutely nothing, nothing to complain about in my life. This feeling I still have, that impact did this first meeting with Ethiopia have on me.

Onni was off course the perfect guide and he showed us places we never could have seen our selfs. When we were there it had not rained for a very long time. I saw the dried riverbanks with no water, cows and other cattle ded or dying along the roads and people to. It was a shock to me, to see it with my own eyes and not be able to just turn off the switch. I cried, but it was more to come.

In those days Onni was Executive Director for A.L.E.R.T. ( All Africa Leprosy & Rehabilitation Training Center) and I followed him there and worked at the orthopedic workshop one week.
They had just started a new project, to produce shoes that fitted their feet with no toes inside, but was normal shoes on the outside. Oh boy, to see these people dancing out from the door so happy, now that no one could see that they had leprosy, I cried and cried…and my eyes getting wet right now when I think about all this.

Onni had three “sevants”, the cook Roman Retha, night guard Berhano Negussie and a gardener Ejigu Demetew. I was very mad at Onni that he had sevants and asked him: how can you?
Onni looked at me a little sad but did not say much about it. It was later I found out that he took care of the three families, putting their children in school and so on…typical Onni, he never bragged or told anyone about all the good he did. We had a good laugh together about this next time we met.

When the Emperror Haile Selassie heard that Onni had relatives from Sweden visiting him we were all invited to the palace for lunch and Onni instructed us what to do and how to behave…it was a Limousine with Swedish flags that picked us up and took us to the palace where the jeopard “guarding” the entrée door. The Emperor, The Empress The Duke of Harrar and his wife were there and they asked us about Sweden and how we lived and it was all very easy and nice.
The Emperors interest for Sweden goes long back in history, when Onni moved to Ethiopia 1946 he was not alone. 700 swedes, doctors, nurses, pilots, electricians, teachers and others went there to help modernize Ethiopia. But for me, a young fool, the big contrast between the unbelievably richness and the starving and dying people was to much, my brain tilted.

One thing that I understood after a while in Ethiopia was that everyone I met was very nice and it was very easy to communicate with the Ethiopians. The food was delicious, the weather was wonderful, the smell of eucalyptus in the evenings when people started their fires, the beautiful girls…I fell in love, with the people and the country.

One occurrence that happened one day also made me see how famous Onni was in Ethiopia. We were driving from Addis to Harrar and we were far out on the countryside when we had a flat tire. I started to change the tire when a small boy crosses the road with six cows. He stops and stare at us and when he see Onni he smiles and shouts: Onni! Onni!

Chapter One

My life is a little like Onni´s right now, I got three parallel projects going on at the same time. I have been filming for two years now together with the film club here in Borlange and we are making a documentary about Onni´s life. I have this blog and the webpage and I am also writing a book wich is not an easy thing… but with a little help from my friends I have chapter 1 and 5 almost ready.

I have chosen to start in the middle of Onnis life with the winter-war and I met one of Onnis closest friends in the war Arne Pettersson three times documenting his story. I have also quoted from the book: Fronten närmast Stockholm, with the righter´s good memory. This together with Onnis own writings and letters make this chapter very authentic and close to the truth i believe. The translation is by my dear cousin Ewa Niskanen. Enjoy…


“Full winter is almost here. The cold is hard and the snow fell rather heavily the other night. When the moon broke through the snow clouds and spread its silvery light over the ground, and the trees stood out as beautiful shadowy silhouettes against the white duvet, it was fabulously beautiful. Such magic weather conditions are not often seen. Then, when the rising sun coloured the sky and together with the moon’s fading light created a colour scheme that was enchanting, you actually forgot that there was a war. I wish I could have painted all that. It was completely silent and calm. The only sound was the birds singing. Birds, that were still there and had not been frightened away by the otherwise predominant sounds of grenades and gunshots.

Unfortunately, I was woken from all this beauty by a volley from a machine gun that hastily reminded me that I was on dangerous ground, in close proximity to the enemies.

That was fortunate, because I had to finish my job before it turned light. My task was to check our telephone lines that were not working. The connection to the firing range had to work, so that from our advanced position, we could lead the fire, make observations and make changes, so that the missiles from our canons did the greatest possible damage to the enemy.

Such is life here: a mix between dream and reality. And reality is at present far from pleasant.”

Warrant Officer Onni Niskanen crept on, closely followed by a Signaller. They exchanged password with the guard where he stood on his watch on the lookout for the enemy. They nodded and he nodded back to them when they slowly and carefully passed him and continued out through the dangerous area, over to the intended site. The Signaller peeled the insulation off the cables, so that he would not have to cut them, and connected the telephone. He tried to link up but there was not a sound from the firing range. He checked his cable connection for faults but all looked fine. In spite of that, there was still not a sound over the telephone.

Time was valuable, so a new inspection of his connection and the cables was carried out. “You haven’t connected both cables”, said Onni. “Of course I have” said the Signaller and showed Onni the telephone. At close inspection, they saw that he had connected one pole to the ignition cable to a detonator that was close beside them. If they had carried on a bit longer, there would possibly had been a very loud and painful sound in the receiver.

They had built the shelter (Korsun in Finnish) during their first days after arrival. They had dug a big hole, approximately 3 by 5 metres, and boarded up the walls the whole way round. They had covered the dugout shelter with thick firs that they had cut down and pulled up to the shelter. A range for cooking and heating had quickly been concreted up indoors. The sleeping area, for eight people, was covered with fir twigs acting as mattress. The constantly running water from the swamp area almost reached up to the sleeping platform every morning and they had to duck down not to hit their heads on the top of the entrance when they stepped inside. The christened the shelter “Grand Hotel Lappvik” (Lappvik being the name of the area).

The “Winter war”

This was the second time he was in Finland as a volunteering soldier. His older brother Wäinö, who was still a Finnish citizen, had been drafted in under the flag, and when his three years younger brother Erik volunteered, Onni could not remain passive. He had never hesitated and he too wanted to contribute. The youngest brother Arne was doing his military service in Sweden. On the 3rd of February 1940, he, together with the other Swedish volunteers in the “I.stridsgruppen” (1st Battle Group), took part in the “Great March” on skies from Kemi to Rovaniemi in Finnish Lappland.

Lieutenant Colonel Magnus Dyrssen led the 1500 men strong “I.stridsgruppen”. Some of the nights it was very cold and the temperature could plummet to minus 46 degrees Centigrade. Many of the volunteers had insufficient clothes and froze their hands and feet. Onni was probably happy about his Finnish winter clothes, especially the felt boots and the hat that covered the back of the neck.

They went by train from Rovaniemi to Kemijärvi. There they were merged with the “II. stridsgruppen” (2nd Battle Group), that was lead by Lieutenant Colonel Viking Tamm. The two groups of Swedish volunteers had marched together towards the frontline to relieve the Finnish troops at Märkäjäärvi.

The Winter War had been a fight between David and Goliath. You have to go far back in history to find a war where such a superior great power country suffered such humiliating defeats as the Russians did at the beginning of this war. On the 30th of November, the Soviet troops crossed the Finnish border at the Karelian Isthmus without a declaration of war. At 9.30 a.m. Helsinki was bombed. Stalin calculated that Finland would be taken over in two weeks. Finland turned out to be a prickly fruit to swallow.

The Soviet power was superior. A total of four armies of 24 divisions, six tank brigades and a number of special forces were employed. The Finnish army consisted of nine divisions. A Finnish division consisted of 14.000 men while the Russian division contained 18.000 men. In spite of the fact that the Finnish army was small compared to the Russian army, the Finns had certain big advantages. They were used to the cold and the snow, they had warm clothes and boots and they were good skiers.


The Russian tanks were big and heavy and often got stuck in the swamps. There, they were easy targets for the Finns. The Russian soldiers had the choice of staying put and freeze to death or try to run. If they chose to run, they risked being shot down by the Finnish soldiers who were hiding in the woods all around. The Russians wore their green summer uniforms, many lacked warm shoes and very few had skies. They had to stick to the roads and formed convoys that were kilometres long. The Finnish soldiers came quietly whizzing on their skies, threw grenades and “Molotov cocktails” at the stationary vehicles and disappeared quickly back into the woods. In similar ways, the Finns sometimes managed to split the Russian troops into smaller groups that the Finns called “motti”, so that they could attack each group separately with their full force.

Slowly but surely, one Soviet “motti” after the other perished from starvation, cold and the continuous guerrilla attacks by the invisible enemy. Many fled in panic. The Russian 44th division perished this way and the Finns took rich spoils of tanks, trucks, rifles, machine guns and huge quantities of ammunition.

Finally, the Soviet forces were too superior. By Christmas time, Stalin replaced the military command and sent over Semjon Timosjenko as the new Commander-in-Chief. He changed tactics and moved 500.000 men to the Karelian Isthmus – the bridge to Helsinki. The Finns held out against the horrible cannonade for twelve days but were finally forced to surrender to the superior forces.

Under the heavy peace terms, Finland was forced to hand over large land areas to the Russians and the harbour and seaside town of Hangö in southwest Nyland, including surrounding archipelago was compulsory leased to the Soviet Union for a period of 30 years. Stalin envisioned that the Russian base at Hangö, together with similar places on the Estonian side of the Gulf of Finland, would close the entrance to the Gulf. Thereby, Tsar Peter the Great’s sea fort from 1914 would be resurrected.

The Continuation War

One year later, in 1941, Onni was at Hangö in the Gulf of Finland as a volunteer in the so-called “Continuation War”. The two wars were very different from each other. At Salla up north, they had fought a mobile war; at Hangö, they fought a stationary positional war that was more stressful on the nerves and the mood. The constant tension, the guard duty and the inactivity took its toll on the psyche. It was essential to keep the spirit up and resist the negative thoughts that occurred.

Onni’s suggestion that they could read poetry to each other in the evenings was received with joy by his comrades and, as soon as they were inactive for a while, there was always someone who reached for a book or recited a poem by heart. One of Onni’s best friends, Second Lieutenant Arne Pettersson, also wrote poems of his own. Onni himself had a copy of Fänrik Ståls Sägner from which he read to the others when his turn came.

A sad thing happened on the 14th of October, when three soldiers from the platoon were injured by shards from a shell that exploded in a treetop. Sandberg, an unusually fine and quiet young man, died from his injuries. He had his arm torn off and a shard penetrate the left side of his chest. Another one of the three, Thomas von Kantzow, had one of his buttocks ripped off and the blood flew copiously. Thomas was nearly two metres tall and most probably weighed 110 kilos. Arne Pettersson, in his white winter uniform, grabbed Thomas and carried him through the woods and over a big mere. Muddy, bloody and dripping with sweat, he managed to where a horse and carriage stood. Thomas was taken in the carriage to the road where the ambulance was waiting. From there they took him to the field hospital.
The “Snuff Line”

On the 30th October, it was Arne Pettersson’s 23rd birthday. All “guests” from the heavy company has gathered at “Grand Hotel Lappvik”, where they presented an address and a big bunch of carrots to Arne. Greatly appreciated! He had also received a parcel from his mother in Sandviken, a pair of fine gloves. In the afternoon, Onni and Arne crawled over to the so-called “Snuff Line” to look for a firing place for the grenade-thrower. The “Snuff Line” was a boundary-line, which the Russians had chopped clean and that divided the two countries’ frontlines. Simply like a “no man’s land”. That boundary-line was covered with sand. The Russians raked the “Snuff Line” every day and kept it nice and smooth. That way they could easily see if an enemy patrol has passed over it during the night and so they knew what to expect. Strong machine-gun nests were placed along the open area. Arne was just about to pass a thick, felled tree-trunk when a bullet, from a sniper in a tree on the Russian side, went through the new glove and gave him a bleeding wound on the back of his right hand. It could have been Arne’s last birthday. In the evening, a nice fruit soup was served as a change from the unbalanced diet.

“It is night. It is freezing cold and the moon lights up the terrain and makes it hard to move around, both for the Russian and for us. To go on a reconnaissance mission is such weather conditions can be risky. You are too visible.

Hush! I listen. A faint crackling sound is heard. Slowly I raise my weapon. Now I can clearly hear that the sound is approaching and I prepare to meet the enemy. Then all is quiet again. I hold my breath to be able to hear better and not lose contact with the enemy. But everything is quiet. Quite some time passes without anything happening.

Had I really been mistaking? No! Now I clearly sense the suspicious sound again. Some exciting seconds pass. Long seconds. Now I can clearly hear the sound getting closer. I hold my breath and slowly raise my arm with the weapon. Cannot see anything suspicious but hear that the sound from the enemy is quite close. Will I be able to get him? My hand that holds the weapon is almost trembling from the effort to hold so still. It is exciting. Will I succeed?

But no. Quick as thought the rat scurries out of its hole and over to another hideout and I squat down in the shelter with the knife still raised. Fooled by the quick enemy. The moon is still spreading its silvery light over the front-line with its trenches and barbed wires.”


The Russians had kept a strong offensive fire towards the frontline in the Lappvik area. Onni, who was the commander of a machine-gun troop, had to get to the new machine gun, which was taken as booty from the Russians and had a very important task to fulfil in the defence of the left wing opposite Ekön. The Russians knew it as well and preferably aimed their anti-tank missiles at the strategic area. The Russians had twice had direct hits and twice Onni had been forced to renew people and material. This time, the Russians obviously regarded as third time lucky. The Russian anti-tank cannonade was terrifying with the drumfire of seven canons.

Onni, who had crept far in front of his piece of ordnance, pressed, pressed and pressed to the ground for all he was worth. It is his only chance. Crash-bang followed by a nerve wrecking “spsi-spsi” as if the air was filled with swarms of buzzing bumblebees when the splinters from the shell fire established its wild war dance in the air. Onni crawled metre by metre, back from the target area – the inferno. In the evening, they served yellow pea soup for dinner at “Grand Hotel Lappvik”.

The following morning, running water from the swamp area almost reached up to the sleeping platform. Someone started bailing out the water, someone else started making breakfast, and as usual, it was porridge. Porridge for breakfast and yellow pea soup for dinner, day in and day out. Everyone longed for something else but nobody complained. There were those who had a worse life.

Onni put on his warmest clothes and went out to see what had happened during the night. He had finished inspecting his second machine gun group and was on his way to see the first group, the one based opposite Ekön, when, without warning, a Russian anti-tank canon started “playing”. He just caught the characteristic sound of the launch and threw himself face down on the ground. A single thought kept going round in his head. It was “get away from this dangerous spot before they fire the next shots”. It was not until he stood up to run that he noticed that he could not put any weight on one of his legs. At the same time, he felt a pain in his back and saw that he was bleeding from his right hand. The shell splinters had done their job. He was injured. He eventually managed to crawl over to the shelter. His friends telephoned from there for a couple of paramedics, who carried him through the forest to the road where the “death cart” waited. Onni lay on his back on the stretcher that the paramedics had to put down on the ground to take cover from the Russian anti-tank cannonade. The trees around them broke likes matches. The paramedics lay in hiding in a small hollow in the ground a short distance away. The cannonade was terrifying and aimed directly at them. He opened his eyes… “If I make it this time, I’ll survive anything”

It was as if “Ivan and his crew” had decided to do anything to bump him off. He felt hopelessly helpless just lying there not able to do anything. He felt the pain from the grenade splinters in his back and in his foot.

Lying helpless on a stretcher in the Finnish forest with the Russian offensive booming in his ears, a memory from an orienteering competition outside Stockholm popped into his head. This was not the first time he was injured.


There was a club championship in orienteering in the terrain outside Saltsjöbaden on the 20th of September 1936, and Onni was there with his friends from Duvbo IK. Onni was in a good position when he arrived at Källtorpssjön, on top of a hill that was 10 – 12 metres high. “Crumbs”, he thought. “Do I really have to get down on the side of the hill and run around it and lose several minutes”? Then he saw a tree, a Birch that grew on the steep side of the hill. “If I lean out and grab that, I can make it”, he thought. “Then I will slide down the trunk of the tree to get down from the hill”. He leaned forwards and fell headlong down. His feet slipped on the wet moss and could not get any grip.

There he was lying unconscious among rocks. He had got the first hit on a small ledge on the way down. That is where he cracked his skull. That emerged later when they saw that there was blood on the edge. When he woke up and was alive, he thought he was in Heaven. “It is incredible, how beautiful it is”, he thought. Then he wiped his eyes and could see again. There was blood everywhere. He had not been able to see anything at first, because he had blood over both eyes. His whole shirt was full of blood. Everything was full of blood. He lay there and thought, “Now, what do I do?” Then he looked at the map that was tied to his wrist. He saw that there was a stream right below. He crawled down to the stream with his cracked his skull. Not only that, all his teeth were loose. He could have played the piano on them. When he pushed them up, they fell over again. He lay there in the stream for a while and just let the water rinse through his mouth. Then he washed his face, covered with a large leaf and over that a handkerchief. He started walking in the direction he was supposed to go and after a while he ran into a friend, “Muren” Strandberg, who was also one of the good runners. He had started after Onni so he had caught up with him. He had lost his check card so he was in trouble as well. They teamed up, walked to the next checkpoint, and asked if they could help them with bandages. They did not have any, but they gave Onni a cup of coffee, which he hardly dared to drink. They stamped their cards and walked to the next checkpoint. The same thing happened there – they did not have any dressing material. Onni looked horrible! They met a Scout patrol and they dressed Onni’s wounds, very quick and very nice. His whole head was covered in dressing material. They gave him a pack of cotton wool to put in his mouth to keep his teeth in place and so that he should not poke them with his fingers. They arrived at the finish. “Muren” won and Onni was third – can you imagine? He did not miss a metre to the last checkpoints, and he must had done a good race before that as well.

They took Onni to the hospital in Saltsjöbaden, where they stitched up his head and brushed his mouth clean. They gave him a rubber plate to put in his mouth. “What will happen to my teeth?” he asked. “Time will tell”, said the doctor. Then he just pressed them back up and put the rubber plate in. “If your teeth are good, nothing will happen, but the can turn black after a year”. Then they sent him home but told him to go to a hospital if his pulse got very low during the night.

At that time, Onni lived at Observatoriegatan, next to Sabbatsberg Hospital. His pulse went down to around 35 during the night, due to the concussion and the bleeding. The doctor should not have sent him home.

He was sent to Sabbatsberg Hospital. Professor Crafoord was there and he called the other doctor in Saltsjöbaden Hospital on the telephone and gave him a real telling off! The idea to let a patient with concussion and such serious injuries out, that was inexcusable.

He had a concussion and he was not allowed to read, but the let him draw since that affected different nerves. The nurses fetched a drawing-table that they mounted above the bed. There he was, drawing and making pictures. His teeth grew back onto the jaws. Time and again, he got up to look in the mirror. He was in the Sabbatsberg Hospital for over a month after that incident.


Now, he was lying in deep pain on a stretcher in the middle of the firing line in a forest in Finland and felt hopelessly helpless. The end felt nigh…

“If I make it this time, I’ll survive anything”

The paramedics carefully lifted the stretcher and hurried through the forest to the battalion’s site, where he had a bandage and an injection for the pain. After that, it was a 20 kilometres ride in the ambulance to the field hospital.

The Chief Surgeon, whose name was Pitkäräinen, made a deep impression on Onni with his excellent calm and amazing skill. He managed to locate and remove every splinter, except for one that had unfortunately lodged itself crosswise between the bones in the right ankle. Pitkäräinen regarded an operation in that part too risky. It could cause disablement for life for Onni. His advice was to leave it to, so to say, grow together. The soreness would go away in time and he promised that Onni would be able to manage without crutches in a relatively short time. However, any more athletes’ competitions in the future were out of the question.

Onni eventually came to the war hospital in Paimo, 10 kilometres east of Åbo (Turku), to recover. He got round on crutches. Onni celebrated Christmas here together with several injured friends from the Voluntary Army. I was a bit of bad luck that it was at the end of the war that he was injured. To avoid transporting all ammunition away from the place and also to cover up the retreat, the Russians had started a manic cannonade towards the enemy, which was later named the “Hangö Concert”.

The Soviet supreme command had ordered evacuation of the Hangö base. On the 30th of November, a large marine division arrived to evacuate the men at the Soviet base. The cargo ship “Josef Stalin”, which was full of people and equipment on the return trip, was seriously damaged by a mine. The surviving passengers were taken prisoners by the Germans on the Estonian coast.

Early in the morning of the 3rd of December, the Swedish Voluntary Army and the Finns started the advance towards Hangö.

With the fall of Hangö, the Swedish Voluntary Army’s mission was accomplished and they faced disbanding. In a roaring snow storm on the 15th of December, Field Marshal Mannerheim formally discharged them at a farewell parade at Harparskog. After having inspected all the companies in the Voluntary Army, Mannerheim stopped in the middle of the parade square, where all the officers had gathered in a line. The Field Marshal here started awarding the Cross of Liberty 1st Class. In a strong and powerful voice, the Field Marshal then read his order of the day to the Swedish Volunteers.

“It is with warm feelings, filled with devotion and gratefulness, I remember the brave Swedes who sacrificed their lives for our joint mission, for the future of the Nordic countries. My grateful thoughts also go to those among the volunteers who were wounded in battle and have lost their ability to work. The Finnish people’s gratitude shall endure for all time.”

The finish

Three days later, the battalion was transported by train via Skogsby to Turku (Åbo). They were drawn up for formation outside the railway station and then marched a short way to the market place. Onni, who had been transported there from the hospital, was reunited with his friends and they were formally discharged again. After a quick feeding on pea soup and sandwiches in an old girls’ school, the heavy company marched down to the harbour. After a long wait, the boarded the S/S Mode, that would take them home, and were sent down into the front port cargo hold.

On Saturday the 20th December, the ship called at Skeppsbron in Stockholm. When Arne and Onni were unloading their belongings, two shabby boys came up to the fence and called out to Arne, who was inside: “Come here!” “What do you want, lads?” said Arne. One of the boys took out the snuff he had under his upper lip and said “How the hell can you ally yourself with those slant-eyed Japanese?” Arne was somewhat stumped. The Germans helped the Finns and the Japanese were allied with the Germans – there by that comment. He threw the lump of snuff through the fence but missed Arne, who said. “I know why I was in Finland, but you don’t. Oh, sancta simplicitas! Long live Finland!”

Their luggage was picked up and loaded on trucks and the men were drawn up for marching off. The battalion Commander, the battalion Aide and the company Commanders all rode on horseback. All other men walked. On Skeppsbron, a large crowd was waiting, among them Onni’s mother, father and brothers. Everyone was cheering and shouting. It was the same all the way to Storkyrkan. Lots of people everywhere who were shouting “Long live the Voluntary Battalion!”, “Long live the volunteers!”, “Long live the heroes from Hangö!” A lot of policemen were out, also some on horseback.

In Storkyrkan was held a memorial service for the volunteers who had been killed in action. Their names were read out. The battalion’s pastor, Hans Åkerhielm, gave a speech. Thereafter, they were gathered on parade and marched past Crown Prince Gustav Adolf and several others.

After that, they marched on to the City Hall. The streets were filled with people who were shouting and cheering. At the City Hall, Governor Nothin greeted them in the Blue Hall. The whole thing was concluded with a banquet, after which the volunteers dispersed. The Swedish Voluntary Battalion, or the Hangö Battalion as it was also called, had thereby gone down in history.