J. G. Riihonen: Memories of the Years of War and Rebellion in Mänttä and its surroundings 1917–1918
Johan Gideon Riihonen (b. 1879) was a sergeant major in the Mänttä White Guard at the time our country got its independence and during the Civil War. He wrote his memoirs twenty years after the events in a small black notebook, which you can find in the Mänttä Society’s Tradition Archive, which has been donated to the Archive Collections of the Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation.
Riihonen describes in detail the events that occurred in Mänttä in 1917 and 1918. He provides the exact date, sometimes even the hour of the day, of the events. The persons’ names, professions and home localities are also meticulously annotated.
Riihonen wrote his memoirs in the notebook with an ink pen, but obviously he himself or someone else has made corrections and notes afterwards with a pencil and a red colour pen. Between the last page and the back cover, on attached and numbered loose leafs Riihonen provides more exact information about certain battles. Between the pages of the notebook there are also two photos. One characteristic that should be mentioned is that he hasn’t been writing one page at a time from top to bottom, but the sentence continues across the whole page spread from left to right.
At the end of January 1918, Mänttä was living in a tense atmosphere. Earlier in November, a general strike had begun, during which the work at the factory had stopped and guards with red armbands hade been placed to guard the gates. According to Riihonen, the strike had ended about one week later, after there had been a certain telephone call that had been intercepted. On the phone, the “leader” of the Red Guard of Mänttä, at the Workers’ House, had been reached by the information: “Now it has been decided that the strike be called off right away for this time”. To this, the person in question had responded: “In Mänttä we can’t call off the strike as yet, because we haven’t yet finished what we’re doing”. Of this telephone discussion, someone went to inform mill owner Serlachius in his home in Mänttä Castle.
According to what J.G. Riihonen had heard, the following had happened:
“After becoming aware of this information, the mill owner G.S. immediately had gone out to the gates of the factory and said to the guards that the Red Guard had put there: Now the strike is over, I’ll guard my factory myself, and had driven the guards away.”
The idea of establishing the White Guard had been put forth even before the strike, and was also put forth now right after it. A secret constitutive meeting for establishing the White Guard had finally been held at the end of November in the so-called Koskitalo Building. After that, the White Guard had been collecting resources, pocket weapons and skiing equipment. At the end of January 2018 there was suddenly need for all this. Riihonen recalls:
“It was the 27th of January. I was working at the head quarters. A little before 9 o’clock, Yours Truly received a phone call. The tender of the call centre in Mänttä, late Mrs. Edla Kuusisto, whom I knew well, told me that she had secretly been eavesdropping on a telephone call from the Workers’ House of Vilppula to the one in Mänttä, where someone had declared: We’re coming over there today to disarm the Mänttä slaughters, and you’re coming with us from where you are.”
Riihonen informed Folke Spiik, who was at the time head of the purchase department, of the matter. At first, however, he wasn’t believed, but instead Spiik made another call to the centre to find out about the matter. The tender of the call centre confirmed what Riihonen had told her.
“There was a general alarm, telling us all to gather at Mänttä Castle, and so we did, each of us also bringing with us the puny weapons that we had, there was not a single soldier’s gun.
The factories were running, and on the surface, life in Mänttä seemed peaceful. The Castle, however, was constantly being guarded by two men at a time, equipped with pocket weapons and flashlights for signalling. On the 31st of January, there was another incident. Some white guardians who had gone out at the moment of the change of guards, were taken prisoners by the Red Guards at the horse stables of the factory. The Red Guards started shooting toward the Castle.
When day, that is morning, broke, the Red Guards retreated from the surroundings of the Castle, but at about 8 o’clock 2 red guardians more came running from behind the outhouse and threw a homemade bomb through the kitchen window of the Castle.
When the fuse hit the shattered window, however, it broke, and the bomb never exploded.
“The shooting attack made by the Red Guards made no damage, apart from a few broken windows”, Riihonen ends his story.
After the incident at Mänttä Castle, it was calm for a while, but during 1918 many other events occurred in Mänttä and Vilppula that came to change the course of history.
The Tradition Archive of the Mänttä Society
Keijo Riihonen’s Archive Collection