Saumets Flees Their Homeland
Saumets was a school principal who lived and worked in various locations in the
northern section of the
Estonia. In the fall of
1944, her husband Edgar rushed home and announced, “There is no time to think,
there is only time for action.” The
family, which included son Enn and daughter Ivi, had only a couple of hours to
pack some food, necessities,
and a few family memorabilia into several suitcases. The Russian army was
and had already reached the city of
. Families who had the means were fleeing for their lives.
Enn recalls his father burning many documents and papers - Edgar had been
an officer in the Estonian Coast Guard and Secret Service.
A wagon train of about six families from Kiviküla hamlet, each with horse and
open wagon, made their way north to Karepa and then West along the coastal
second class road running from Karepa toward
Tallinn. Near Võsu, the wagon
train decided to split up with the Saumets family turning north following the
eastern coast of Loksa
heading to Viinistu, a small fishing hamlet, where they sought safety
overnight. At night, machine gun fire was audible from the direction of the main
highway, meaning that the Russian troops were now only about 80 km from
Tallinn, and that we were already behind the line of the advancing army to the
Edgar Saumets - 1948
Realizing immediately that there was not sufficient space on the little boat
that was available, Edgar Saumets said farewell to his family and headed up the
coast on his bicycle to find another opportunity for the crossing.
As a former Coast Guard officer, he knew the coast line and the folk living
there. He didn’t have far to go, until he, along with two others, got on
a little sail boat.
Enn, at 9 years of age, recalls the events of the following day at
escape was on an 18 foot open fishing boat.
It was questionable whether the wooden boat was even water tight, since it had
not been in water all summer. It did
not have a motor, so one was quickly overhauled, assembled and mounted during the day,
but there was no chance of testing it for fear of drawing attention.
At ten o’clock that night of September
22, 1944, on
the day that the Red Army tanks re-entered
Tallinn, the little boat, with six people on board, was pushed far out to
sea by several coastal women, and then the "captain" and his son kept
rowing until they deemed if safe to try to start the motor. Fortunately
the outboard started, making a loud deafening noise as they had expected.
Enn remembers that the motor ignition was turned off at 3 a.m. in the morning when
Russian reconnaissance planes were heard overhead. They were afraid the
wake and prop-wash of the boat could be detected from above. Fortunately,
the danger passed, and the “journey through the night” continued through
the stormy waters. By 8 am, the six refugees, in their tiny boat, had
reached the Finnish archipelago where dozens of similar boats had already
Right: Ivi Saumets.
At around noon, all the little boats were rounded up and towed inland into a
small bay by the Finnish coast guard vessel. By the time the boats were
tied down, Enn spotted his father standing on the upper deck of the coast guard
vessel. Approximately one week later, the family made their way to the
port city of
aboard a large, but also overloaded, ship named the Gustav.
refugees were well treated and cared for by the Swedish nurses (lottas), and
soon everyone was dispersed to various places throughout
, wherever they had been given employment. Edgar
Saumets, fearing the thought of being "repatriated" by the Russians,
for which a precedent had been established by the Swedish government, went into
hiding in Copenhagen. The rest of Saumets family lived in Hälsingborg for
the next four years. Edgar
rejoined the family as SS Walnut was being purchased, and arrangements were
being made for accommodation on board the Walnut, on a first come basis.
The Diary of a Walnut
and Erna Saumets were on board the Walnut with their two children
Enn, age thirteen, and Ivi, age six.
Erna recalls the more salient points of the voyage in her diary.
From the pen of Erna Saumets:
Nov. 1, 1948
last day at work in Sweden
Hälsingborg on a train to Göteborg (Gothenburg),
where the ship was moored and undergoing refurbishment. We had to wait ten days for the work to
be completed and our group of voyageurs to assemble. The Heinsar couple was also
journey on the famous Walnut started out in the direction of
- Captain was Linde.
Travelers - 350 or 348? The
ship was filled to the brim with both old and young. Everyone had a corner where
to lie down, narrow and hard. Grumbling was not allowed.
Toilet was located on the deck, where
one had to climb up a steep staircase.
Once there, one had to always wait in
Nobody had any better conditions,
even though a high price was paid to have a place on board.
from Lysekil – last Swedish city – the long trip was beginning.
The future was dark.
My heart was sad seeing
disappear behind the horizon.
at the harbor city of
Sligo. Coal reserves were supplemented and drinking water supplies replenished.
Fellow countrymen brought large quantities of food and sweets on board (lamb,
ham, bread, cakes, and dainties). They were simple folk, cordial and
Many mothers and their children were
taken to saunas or to baths at home.
Because Ivi had a fever, it wasn’t possible for us to go. The stay in
lasted four days. Every day there were visitors to the ship, always
bringing something and marveling at our humming beehive.
On a couple of occasions, church services were organized for the refugees, and
one evening a concert.
was even made to all onboard to remain in their country.
Weather was cloudy, and rainy. Large group of people had gathered at the
quay. Even four priests had come to say farewell, to give their last
blessings for the long journey ahead. They promised to pray for us for
seven consecutive days. Everybody was sad, the passengers and Irish alike;
eyes in tears, the last goodbyes waved and now the hand of destiny took over.
S.S. Walnut, an old warship, steadily yet firmly cut the stormy waves while
making awfully threatening and disturbing noise.
Possessing the necessary papers, the captain assigned Fred Heinsar with
the responsibilities of a first helmsman. Whereas his predecessor, a
German, had left the ship in
he commenced his duties the same evening.
He brought us detailed news of the
progress and weather conditions.
where coal was taken on. Photographers were present. Everyone was
amazed at our courage and strong will to find a new homeland. Again, the
local people brought meat, bread, milk and chocolates – into the communal
kitchen. Even used clothing appeared on board. My pride did not let
me to ask any of that. But disappear they did, quickly.
start of a heavy snow storm, and the ship was unable to navigate on its own
noon, the Walnut was taken through an inland waterway (canal)
by an escort pilot boat. The locks were opened to let us through.
It was sad to see cows that were trotting alongside the banks of the canal on
such a cold, stormy day – taking cover underneath trees. In a couple of
places, deer were noticed fleeing away.
Sweden), we arrived in Halifax. Goal had been
accomplished! Photographers and journalists were present. Permission
to disembark was given. Immigration building (Pier 21) was designated as
the place of detention. A group of passengers was taken to a hospital
outside the city: singles and married couples without children. The
food was good. Hospitality services friendly. There was an
opportunity to use plenty of water and soap. And for sleeping, everyone
had a decent bunk or cot. Began to get over, and even smile at, the
experiences of hardship and suffering that was endured.
was getting close to Christmas in Halifax and there were many school
aged children on the ship. At the request of the captain and his
wife, Mr. and Mrs. Linde, I, as a school teacher, organized a children`s
choir. In a short time, the children mastered a series of
beautiful Estonian Christmas songs. The holidays passed with
surprises for both the young and the old. On Christmas Day, some
children were taken to local family homes. There they met and
befriended kids of their own age, and for the first time, had to tell
their own stories and answer questions in a new language yet to be
mastered. And when they were brought back in the evening, their
hands were full of boxes and bags containing gifts and toys. From
a generous and well to do family, Enn received a wrist watch, which
lasted a long time. He chatted eagerly with friends about the
exciting evening spent out, and of the abundance of succulent food on
the table: turkey roast, plum pudding to name a few. In our
building, arrangements had been made for church services during the
holidays. On New Year`s Day, an invite was made to a Lutheran
priest (unfortunately name has escaped me). The New Year`s evening
was well received by all.
Jan. 24, 1949
were received that a hundred people were to be shipped off to
. Thank heavens! We had been accepted by the Canadian Immigration
authorities. One could breathe much easier!
Family Saumets was part of the released
group taken by train to Ajax, Ontario, where they were all placed in
barracks. In a February 1949 comment, Erna makes a notation concerning the
difficulty of learning a new language:
Enn and Ivi in
shortly prior to Walnut Voyage.
male teacher in the camp (cannot recall his name) initiated schoolwork
– in the children’s mother tongue. English language lessons
were also introduced. In this way, the children had something to
do to keep them busy. The bigger boys no longer had the time to
play cards with the older people. Ivi became interested in
schoolwork (now six years old). Already in
she knew the Estonian alphabet and pronunciation. Now however,
there was a big change overnight: the letter <i> is now
pronounced ‘ai’, not ‘ii’, the letter <e> becomes ‘ii’
as opposed to ‘ee’ in Estonian, and so forth. She argued a lot
with Enn over the English phonetics. A small head just didn’t
get it. In tears, the quarrels had to be settled by her father or
also writes in detail about her experiences here in Canada. The
difficulties faced by all immigrants, including finding a job, schooling and
setting up a new home. The days passed by being busy at work. She
ends this section of her diary with:
made up the days that turned into weeks, and weeks into months. Thus, the
years flowed by into the ocean of time.
family settled in the Hamilton
algus raske, kuid kes püüab kõges väest, saab üle igast mäest."
on rikkuse alus, nii linnas kui talus."
to keep the meaning intact and a similar rhyme as the original, her son Enn has
paraphrased them as follows:
is the foundation of wealth, in Asia
as well as the Commonwealth”.
beginning is difficult, but he who tries with all his might,
will end up winning every fight.”
Translation from Estonian by
March 24, 2009
Edited by Tiiu Roiser
Memories from Ajax
During 1949, many newspaper
articles told the story of the Walnut voyage and the "displaced
persons" arriving in the Ajax area. In its Saturday edition, February
5th, 1949, The Globe and Mail (Toronto) ran a story entitled, "Young
Voyagers From Estonia Take Bright View of Their New Homeland". Included
in the article were many photos of the Saumets children.
Cautiously descending unaccustomed steps of the Canadian train from which
the displaced persons disembarked at Pickering station is Ivi Saumets 6,
with her mother.
Source not confirmed. May
be assumed it is from the same The Globe and Mail article.
Enn's greatest thrill came when he was able to blow the
horn, turn the wheel and work the gear shift of a 1949 deluxe model car at
Evans Garage in Scarboro. For the first time on the tour, he cracked a
For the two boys in the group of boys and girls on a
tour of the Toronto area to see what they wanted to see, Ice cream was a
highlight. They are Peter Ainomae, 9, and Enn Saumets, 13, and they needed
to know no English to express their approval.
Visiting the Centennial Rd. School at West Hill,
Helle [Heili] Linde and Enn Saumets trace their trip from Estonia across the Atlantic on the
globe for Ann Jamieson, pupil at the school, who was delighted with her new
Globe and Mail, Toronto - Saturday, February 5, 1949
Copyright © The Globe and Mail -
Posted with their kind permission.
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