Finnish women’s auxiliary corps. At the height of its activities, which date from 1922 to 1944, Lotta Svard had some 200,000 members and a highly developed nationwide organization that combined work in vocational, religious, and ideological education; in social service; in home-front civil defense; and in various forms of battlefield support. The organization was affiliated with the reserve of the Finnish Defense Forces, the Civil Guards, and during the severe manpower shortages of the Russo-Finnish wars of 1939-1940 and 1941-1944, it came to play a crucial part in the Finnish war effort. Its name refers to a fictional character, Lotta Svard, in J. L. Runeberg’s Tales of Ensign Stal (1848), who went to the front during the Finnish War of 1808-1809 to feed and care for soldiers fighting the Russians.
The origins of the Lotta Svard lay in the women’s volunteer groups of the victorious White side of the Finnish civil war of 1918. Because the organization always stood for the bourgeois, Protestant, and antisocialist ideologies of the Whites, until the outbreak of the Winter War of 1939-1940, it remained deeply suspect in the eyes of the Finnish left. This suspicion was increased after 1927, when the Lotta Svard was called on to assist the White Civil Guards to protect the Lutheran religion, home, and country and to elevate patriotism and civic-mindedness in general. Additional duties of the Lotta Svard included the manufacture and maintenance of military uniforms, commissary duties in the Defence Forces, recruitment and fund-raising, as well as the upkeep of cemeteries for war dead and aid to war invalids, widows, and orphans. Whether undertaken in peacetime or in war, all this was voluntary, unpaid work.
During the Winter War with the Soviet Union, Lotta members were not allowed into combat, but they did take up tasks in air raid and naval defense and in military communications, as well as in the supply, maintenance, and production of military clothes and equipment, in running a total of eight field hospitals, and in managing the relocation and care of a half a million evacuees from the lost territories of eastern Finland. Up to 3,000 Lotta members served in antiaircraft defense during the war, many of them on the Karelian Isthmus. Forty-nine Lottas were killed in that war. During the War of 1941-1944, the organization was even more deeply involved in battlefield support, and it has been estimated that the activities of its so-called battlefield-Lottas freed up to a division of men for battlefield duties. Their constantly increasing involvement in battlefield support meant that by the end of the war the Lotta organization had suffered 113 battlefield-related deaths and 661 casualties.
Labeled a fascist organization by the Soviet Union, the Lotta Svard was abolished by the Soviet-dominated Control Commission that oversaw the pacification of Finland between the Finnish surrender of September 1944 and the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947. Lotta Svard’s ideological values were later nurtured by a heritage association, the Lotta Svard Perinneliitto [Heritage Association], and some of its social functions by the new women’s social service organization, Naisten Huoltosaatio [Finnish Women's Welfare Association], but after 1944, no actual women’s auxiliary corps existed in Finland.
Two women of the Finnish Lotta Svard read from books, 1942. The purpose of the Lotta Svard, a volunteer organization made up of Finnish women, was to boost national morale and support the civil guard.