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Bror and Gunnel Hedman – War Children with Good Memories

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Picture courtesy GSF
Siblings Bror and Gunnel Hedman from Karleby traveled in 1941 to Gällinge in Halland, Sweden as war children. The Hedman family had 17 children. Of these five went to Sweden during the war. Bror, Gunnel and another sister went to Sweden for the first time in 1941. During the armistice they returned to Finland; then went back to Sweden when the war started again. There they met the other two Hedman children.

In 1941 Gunnel was five and Bror was four years old. Bror remembers nothing about going away. His father later said that Bror clung to him when they went to the railway station. Bror said, “What have I done that you send me away?” His father remembers that with a heavy heart.

Gunnel was anxious to go to Sweden although she didn’t know what the whole business was about. She remembers that her mother didn’t want to send the children to Sweden, but was more or less compelled by an official. Her mother was uneasy until she got word that the children arrived in their new home safely and had began to flourish. There was contact between the Hedman parents in Karleby and their children in Sweden the entire time. And the children’s new family in Sweden followed along with the political developments and the progress of the war in Finland.

The children first arrived in Stockholm. Gunnel doesn’t remember any of that. Bror remembers that the war children and their leader saw the king at that time, Gustav V Adolf, when he returned from an elk hunt. He was carried in a chair by eight men. After Stockholm they went to Halmstad where the children were held in quarantine for two weeks. Gunnel remembers the health examinations and they looked forward to the mug of cocoa that was served each evening. Bror said that Gunnel was like a mother to him.

Bror’s new parents Anna and Johan Larsson had grown children so they could devote themselves to the new child. Larssons wanted to adopt Bror but his mother in Karleby said NO. Gunnel lived with Axel and Julia Axelsson who had five children. She was accepted as part of the family. The Axelssons and Larssons were surprised when they learned that their war children understood Swedish and that they could talk with them. Gunnel said there was a great lack of knowledge in Sweden about Finland. It didn’t take long for the Hedman children to adjust. Which meant that the Karleby dialect was replaced with standard Swedish.

In addition to Bror and Gunnel, some other children went to Gällinge, but not many. The children remembered that they were teased about their Karleby dialect when they arrived in Gällinge. The families did all that they could to take care of the newcomers. It was there that Bror and Gunnel ate bananas for the first time. Gunnel said they weren’t especially good.

The children were there for three years. At the end of 1946 they returned to Finland. Bror was then 9 and Gunnel was 10 years old. It felt good to return to Finland. Gunnel remembers that her father met them with a horse and cart on a morning when the sun was rising. The children had become accustomed to spacious rooms, but now had to adjust to a home of only two rooms. Despite the high standard of living in Sweden, the children were satisfied to see what awaited them in their homeland. Bror said he had 44 silk shirts in his baggage, and Gunnel had over 20 dresses.

Many thought the war children spoke beautifully. But their Swedish led to language problems when the children misunderstood some words their parents spoke. The children kept in touch with their “parents” in Sweden and they often received packets from them.

When Gunnel was older she learned that not all war children in Sweden had it as good as they did. When the Hedmans attended war children meetings they met children who said they ended up with families who used them as laborers. If the children had Finnish as their mother tongue and were young, it was difficult for them especially if the new families had no contact with the parents in Finland. Bror remembers a tragic episode on the way back to Finland. A Finnish boy cried the whole time calling out for his “mother” in Skåne. Of the total 70,000 war children who went to Sweden, 15,000 were adopted and stayed there.

Gunnel and Bror are convinced that the authorities in Finland meant well when they sent the war children to Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Not everyone was as fortunate as the Hedman children with their new “parents”. Today people live in similar situations with war refugees from war stricken countries. “Look at the damage done when children are separated from their mothers. They could suffer trauma like some of the Finnish war children did,” stated Gunnel and Bror.

Zikiti Klemets

From Historiska nedslag by Ole Granholm

English translation by June Pelo

Gunnel and Bror Hedman in Sweden


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