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World War II Gift Parcels to Finland

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During the war immigrant families from Finland worried about what was going to happen, about the ravages of war, the destinies of their families and friends, and about the freedom of their native country. When peace finally settled over war-torn Europe, there was an urge on both sides of the Atlantic to re-establish connections.

It was a great day when mail once again started to flow in both directions. Familes and friends sought contact, which was not always easy. Many addresses had been lost, people resettled and moved, especially from the ethnically cleansed areas occupied by the Russians, so finding each other was often a difficult task. Organizations such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army and the post offices played a vital role.

Once contact was made, a large scale relief effort grew. Closets were combed for good quality but surplus clothing. Coffee, sugar, flour, canned food and other necessities were bought and packed for sending. Even the younger generation helped with shopping, packing and writing addresses, and sometimes buying something to send using their own money. In one case, a Hollywood cinema magnate who had a Finnish housekeeper, asked her now and then if she continued to send parcels to relatives in Finland, and then gave her money for the purpose. It is estimated that more than 2 million parcels were mailed up to 1952, when the most difficult times were over.

Most parcels to Europe were directed via the New York Morgan Annex postal terminal. In the case of Finland smaller numbers were also directed via Boston and occasionally through other offices of the exchange. The bulk, however, was handled in New York where personnel sorted, sacked and dispatched the mail. Sometimes the handwritten addresses were difficult to read, but only a minor number of parcels were misdirected to another country. The mail was trucked to the 31st Street Pier in Brooklyn where Moore-McCormack Lines took over, or to nearby piers for the Swedish and sometimes Finnish ships. Normally the transportation time from New York to Helsinki or some other Finnish port was approximately one month, sometimes less and sometimes more.

The largest arrival in Finland was in July 1947 when several ships arrived with a total of 55,000 bags of parcel post. The gift parcels from the US and Canada were handled separately from other foreign mail. The opening of the bags was done by two teams of one Customs officer and two to three postmen. The parcels were lifted on to a table and stamped free of customs by the Customs officer. Initially during the first years of greater need for relief, no Customs clearance fee was levied on these parcels which were delivered to their addressees free of charge. Sometimes parcels arrived broken. A special team was assigned to repack parcels; this service was free to the addressees.

A number of parcels were insufficiently or incorrectly addressed. Some parcels were addressed to people evacuated from the territories ceded to the USSR where Finns had been forcibly moved. Great care was taken to find the new addresses where they had been relocated. Sometimes addresses were illegibly written. And sometimes the slight differences in alphabetical characters could present difficulties. One example was a parcel addressed: Hilma Jokinen, Manta Hakinen, Finland. At first glance it appeared that the parcel was addressed to two women. By doubling the consonants in the lower name and adding dots used in the Finnish language for some vowels, we arrived at a post office name Mänttä. A note was sent to that post office asking whether there was a village named Häkkinen, and if so, asking if Hilma Jokinen had relatives or friends in the US who might have sent a parcel. With confirmation on all counts the parcel reached its destination as intended.

The arrival of the first parcels was a feast and a moment of great joy. They contained items such as coffee, foodstuffs, sweets for children, toys and clothing. They were messengers of hope in an otherwise gloomy time of an uncertain future. Some contents were handed out to friends and neighbors who had not received parcels, so they at least partly became beneficiaries.

The American gift parcel post played a notable role that requires our sincere respect and gratitude due to all who participated in assisting a small nation in its darkest hour.



By Martin Wallenius, Superintendent at the General Direction of Posts and Telegraphs foreign section, Helsinki.

June Pelo


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