Sad memory of the Olonets expedition

A verdict of the drumhead court-martial

As an oppressive and sad memory will remain in the souls of the Olonets expedition volunteers from Ostrobothnia the death of two of their comrades shortly before returning to Finland. In order to maintain the necessary discipline in the retreating troops, the officers was forced to take harsh measures due to the unpleasant incidents that occurred and the dangerous fell in discipline, which eventually led to death verdicts of the drumhead court-martial. Thus, two such death verdicts were carried out in the 2th battalion under the command by Captain Hyppölä, and two youngsters from Ostrobothnia had to sacrifice their lives to improve the shaken discipline in the troops. When an officers takes such extreme strict measures to maintain discipline, they have, of course, carefully weighed all the facts, considering the seriousness and requirements of the situation. We do not consider it necessary to examine what was the actual situation, as well as to make our unconditional verdict. But because this case is already being discussed publicly and very harsh criticisms of the actions of the command are expressed, especially due to the fact that the culprits and innocents of the same unit were forced to determine by lot who of them would have to pay with their lives for the committed crimes, so let the events be described according to the somewhat convergent stories of the comrades-in-arms.

During the retreat one of the units of the Olonets expedition gained entry to the Vedlozero Orthodox Church and snatched wheat flour, wine, and money. The incident had been reported to the officer (we are talking about the battalion of Captain Hyppölä, which also included Company of Lieutenant Kallio). As a result, 27 volunteers, moving from Vedlozero Village, were arrested. The arrests were made on the road when the volunteers were on their way from Vedlozero Village to the Finnish border. Among these 27 was a group from the Company of Kallio, led by a certain M. – a volunteer from Raahe. All detainees were locked up in threshing cabin where they were kept without food or drink for two days. Then, as tells, arrived a car for transporting the members of M.’s group to the neighboring village for shooting according to verdict of the drumhead court-martial. Officers were especially informed about the involvement of members of M.'s group in the robbing of the church. However, as tells, the last trip of the guys was interrupted by Lieutenant Kallio, who arrived on the scene, who must be given credit for the fact that verdict was not executed in its original severity. The village to which the convicts were to be taken had been occupied by the Reds and Lieutenant Kallio delivered this information. Also tells that group leader M. already got a separate and earlier death verdict and this verdict had already been exposed in public. However, the case ended up canceling of death verdict for group leader M., but instead death verdict got one of the men in those group – Ervasti, the farmer's son from Oulujoki. Besides, another man from this group, which will be chosen by lot, should to be shot. The youngsters were forced to cast lots for their lives, and death lot fell on the Yrjö Saarenpuu, a Lyceum student from Ii City. However, according to all comrades who were in Vedlozero, Saarenpuu was innocent. When his other comrades entered to the church, he had remained in his group waiting outside the church, and when his comrades returned from the church, he continued on his way from Vedlozero with them. The parents of Saarenpuu*, grieving the death of their only son, were also informed that the convict, while trying to prove his innocence, received from officer a blow to his face and a strict order to keep his mouth closed.

Death verdicts, according to information received by the newspaper "Liitto", were issued by Captain Hyppölä. Attendees tells that Lieutenant Kallio, who prevented execute an arbitrary death verdict, has not even suggested appeal a result of death lot.

The death verdict was executed in the Palalahta Village at the 6th day of this month. Difficult work was entrusted to soldiers from the 3rd Company, consisting of residents of Tavastia. Saarenpuu had died calmly, as hero. Ervasti was not killed by the first salvo.

Before the execution of the verdict, Yrjö Saarenpuu wrote a letter to his relatives, which we publish here in full:

Tulomozero, June 5, 1919

Dear Mother and Father and Sisters!

This is my last letter, soon I will be shot for nothing. Do not be sad for me, forgive everyone and be like I never existed. Forgive me now. I have prayed to God. Dear mother, do not die of grief, there is nothing to help, I should accept death. Do not grieve when my body will brought home. I don't know will it brought home; if will, then bury it**. Don't be sad now. I understand now what it means to run away from home. It means never come back. God bless you and last greetings to all familiars; I ask forgiveness and mercy from God for me. And don't die in grief and don't worry now. When I was at home, I misbehaved, I always did the wrong thing that happened. Give my regards to the last words to Rector. It doesn't seem that the law is here. If it was, neither would I have been shot. It was the lot which fell to me. I curse the one that caused me to be shot here.

Your son Yrjö

Yrjö Saarenpuu was 18 years and 1 month old when he died. He was a 4th grade student at the Oulu Finnish Lyceum. He also took part in the War of Independence. As a soldier, he was a valiant young man. His early death leaves his parents and two sisters sad.

Kaleva -newspaper
July 20, 1919

* Father of Yrjö (Jegor) Saarenpuu, merchant Simo Saarenpuu (originally Semen Jefimovitch Mitrofanov), had moved from Uhta (White Sea Karelia) to Finland in 1891. He applied for Finnish citizenship in March 1919 only.
** His mortal remains never returned to Finland. According to the eyewitness account, Yrjö Saarenpuu was buried on the site so that the toes of the boots remained visible.