During our September meeting, Carl Hegaardt gave us a very personal talk on his military experiences in World War II, specifically the Russo/Finnish conflict. This subject is seldom touched upon, since these hostilities were mostly over-shadowed by what happened in the bigger theatres of war.
Having been born in South Africa to Swedish parents, Carl carried both passports. After finishing matric in Sweden in 1942, he was prevented from returning to this country, and when Russia attacked Finland in 1943, he immediately joined the Swedish Royal Marines. Different from the Marine units of other countries, a Swedish Marine officer serves as an artilleryman in the coast artillery or as gunnery officer in the Swedish Navy. But first Carl had to endure an extremely tough basic training period, and as a volunteer went to Finland where his unit was put in charge of transporting Russian PoWs from the front to the rear. In this case mostly Ukranians who were not really enthusiastic about fighting. The PoWs were extremely dirty, and the Finns, being especially concerned with cleanliness, insisted on them entering a Sauna. But having been warned by their Commissars that any PoW would be boiled alive by the Finns, and seeing smoke streaming from the Sauna's chimneys, they refused. Only after one of them had been persuaded to get cleaned, arriving unboiled from the Sauna, did the rest follow. This period did not last long, and when Finland joined Germany in fighting the Russians in the far north of the country, Carl's unit was issued with German winter uniforms and skis, and sent off on scouting missions behind the northern Russian flank and report back. One day their group suddenly came upon Russian soldiers in a forest clearing, apparently ready to fire. But when nothing happened, Carl and his men discovered to their surprise and horror that the Russians were dead, had in fact been dead for some time, frozen stiff in various lifelike poses. Carl's service on the Finnish front came to an abrupt end when an enemy threw a hand-grenade at him, injuring his foot. When the over-worked doctors at the field hospital suggested amputation, Carl naturally refused and was returned to Sweden and proper medical care.
He joined the Royal Swedish Naval College and in 1944 received his commission. As a young officer he was sent to a small fishing village on the west coast as a control officer. Here he became responsible for supervising the loading of Swedish-made ball bearings onto British wooden MTBs, and in the process got to know the crews very well.
The clandestine trade in ball-bearings was necessary as the British needed them desperately for their aircraft engines. The boats also clandestinely landed British diplomats en route to Stockholm, and in exchange took back to Britain civilians as well as British pilots who had crash-landed on Swedish territory. With the increase of allied bomber attacks on Germany, it followed that a number of damaged Allied aircraft that could not make it back to their bases, preferred to land in Sweden, than rather risking internment than life as a prisoner in a German PoW camp.. The pilots were then interned and collected in a camp where they lived princely and had ample contact with the female population. Somehow, this was leaked back to air force units in Great Britain with the result that more and more bombers landed in Sweden with all sorts of stories on damages and fuel shortages. It was Carl's job to look after all crews, some of them were very sunburnt US pilots. After the war he was told that there are now some 700 equally sunbronzed Swedes living in that particular area, one of whom has become a famous Swedish soccer player.
Carl's next assignment was to look after the so-called boat people on a small island. They were mostly Jewish refugees, as well as refugees from the Baltic states and Poland. The Jews were sent to Stockholm and taken care off by Zionist organisations, the others and their boats were interned. When, after the war, the Russian government asked that all boat-people be returned, the Swedish government agreed since it feared Russian retaliation. Many refugees committed suicide, the ones that returned home were either summarily executed or sent to the labour camps. This was a most disgraceful chapter in Swedish history. After the war Carl was approached by Count Bernadotte and asked to control and supervise transport of former KZ inmates, from the Buchenwald camp hospitals in Germany, to Sweden. The high number of survivors surprised him, the state of Germany and its people saddened him. All in all he undertook seven such trips. Before Carl ended his active military career in 1948, he supervised groups of special services soldiers on artic survival training courses, was commandant of an island fortress with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, and even became Captain of a frigate for a short while, an appointment which looked forward to with relish. Having been instructed to sail it from one Swedish port to another, he boarded the ship in the dead of night, without really being able to survey his latest command. Alas, as he discovered later to his shock and disappointment, the frigate had been stripped for the breaker's yard, and so this last episode ended on a rather sad note.
A lively Q&A session followed, and we are most grateful to Carl that he allowed us to share in his spirited presentation laced with a lot of humour and anecdotes.
Meetings are held on the 2nd Thursday of every month, except December, at 20h00 in the Recreation Room of the SA LEGION'S ROSEDALE COMPLEX, Lower Nursery Road (off Alma Road), opposite Rosebank Railway Station, below the line. SECURE PARKING inside the premises All Visitors welcome. Tea and Biscuits will be served.
Jochen (John) O.E.O. Mahncke Vice Chairman/Scribe Tel: 021-797-5167