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Plan to rebury Civil War dead

A mass grave in Heinola may be opened and the remains of an estimated 300 Red Guards who died in the 1918 Finnish Civil War transferred to a local church cemetery.

1918 sisällissodan joukkohaudan muistomerkki Vierumäellä Heinolassa.
A stone marking the general area of a 1918 mass grave of Red Guards in Heinola. Image: Juha-Petri Koponen / Yle

The Vierumäki district of Heinola was the scene of heavy fighting between the Whites and the Red Guard in the spring of 1918, during the final weeks of Finland's Civil War.

The retreat of Red Guard units south of the town was briefly stopped by White forces before they broke out, but the price of opening the road to retreat was high. Hundreds of men fell.

After the battle and the withdrawal of the Reds, White troops buried their own dead in church cemeteries. The fallen Reds were buried in a mass grave in a municipally-owned field and then forgotten for decades.

A stone marking the general area of the grave was set up only 30 years ago.

"It may be very difficult to identify who is in the grave," says war historian Jukka Kulomaa, "The Red Guards who fought at Vierumäki came from a wide swath of southern Finland, from many different localities."

The plan calls for each individual removed from the mass grave to be reburied in a separate coffin after samples are taken for further research. Any clothing or documents found in the grave may also aid in identification.

Possibly more than one

Today, the grave site is under a busy industrial park. The City of Heinola and the Versowood Oy wood processing company have filed a request for a permit to move remains from a 250 square metre area.

It is possible that more than one grave is in the vicinity. Local newspaper archives do not contain any reports of the burials that took place in 1918. Eyewitness accounts were not recorded until the 1960s and '70s.

The Heinola Lutheran parish is taking part in project and if the plan goes ahead, the remains are likely to be reinterred in one of the parish's three cemeteries.

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