S.S. Walnut

A voyage to Freedom - 1948

Saumets Diary

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Melanie Idnurm

Saumets Diary

 

Into God's Hands

 A stormy sea -
the water 
looms endless -
cold and frigid;

We leave behind 
forever
those we have loved
things we have known;

All my possessions
in one small suitcase -
 memories 
are easy to pack;

What fate awaits us?

Together we came
with dread -
yet filled  with hope;

Into God's hands -
we placed our dreams
and our lives;

Deliver us all
from evil
Your kingdom come;

We thank You -
for this second chance
our lives anew.

Tiiu Roiser 
Dec. 2008

 

 

 

Family Saumets Flees Their Homeland

 

Erna Saumets was a school principal who lived and worked in various locations in the northern section of the county of Virumaa, Estonia.    In the fall of 1944, her husband Edgar rushed home and announced, “There is noEdgar Saumets 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 advancing toward Tallinn and had already reached the city of Jõhvi . 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 Peninsula 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 Narva – Tallinn 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 south.

Right:  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 Saumets

Enn, at 9 years of age, recalls the events of the following day at Viinistu. The 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 theIvi Saumets Finnish archipelago where dozens of similar boats had already assembled.   


Left:  Enn Saumets.  
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 Gävle in Sweden aboard a large, but also overloaded, ship named the Gustav. 

The refugees were well treated and cared for by the Swedish nurses (lottas), and soon everyone was dispersed to various places throughout Sweden , 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 passenger

Edgar 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.

 

Erna Saumets - Photo Frame Image Copyrighted Microsoft.

From the pen of Erna Saumets:

Copyrighted Microsoft ImageMon. Nov. 1, 1948

My last day at work in Sweden . 

 

Wed. Nov. 3

Left 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 with us.

     

Sat. Nov. 13

The journey on the famous Walnut started out in the direction of Canada - 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 line.   Nobody had any better conditions, even though a high price was paid to have a place on board.

 

Wed. Nov. 17

Departed from Lysekil – last Swedish city – the long trip was beginning.   The future was dark.   My heart was sad seeing Europe disappear behind the horizon.

 

Wed. Nov. 24

Arrived in Ireland 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 affectionate.  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 Ireland 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.

An offer (overture) was even made to all onboard to remain in their country.

 

Sat. Nov. 27

Departed from Ireland.    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 Ireland, he commenced his duties the same evening.  He brought us detailed news of the progress and weather conditions.

  

Fri. Dec. 10

We arrived in Sydney, 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.

 

Sat. Dec. 11

The start of a heavy snow storm, and the ship was unable to navigate on its own power.

 

Sun. Dec. 12

Before noon, the Walnut was taken through an inland waterway (canal) toward Halifax 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. 

 

Mon. Dec. 13

At noon on St. Lucia day (celebrated in 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.

It 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.

 

Mon. Jan. 24, 1949

News were received that a hundred people were to be shipped off to Ajax, Ontario .  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 Saumets in Sweden, shortly prior to voyage.

 

Enn and Ivi in Sweden, 
shortly prior to Walnut Voyage.

A 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 Sweden 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 me. 

 

Erna 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:

Time made up the days that turned into weeks, and weeks into months.  Thus, the years flowed by into the ocean of time. 

The family settled in the Hamilton area.  

 “Iga algus raske, kuid kes püüab kõges väest, saab üle igast mäest."

 "Töö on rikkuse alus, nii linnas kui talus."

  Trying to keep the meaning intact and a similar rhyme as the original, her son Enn has paraphrased them as follows: 

“Work is the foundation of wealth, in Asia as well as the Commonwealth”.

“Every beginning is difficult, but he who tries with all his might,
will end up winning every fight.”

 

Translation from Estonian by Enn Saumets 
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.

 

Ivi and mother descend from the train.

Newspaper caption:  

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 Saumets tries out deluxe model car - 1949.

Newspaper caption:  

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 wide-open grin.

Peter Ainomäe and Enn Saumets enjoy icecream - 1949.

Newspaper caption:  

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.

 

Heili Linde and Enn Saumets visit the Centennial Road School in West Hill - 1949.

Newspaper caption:  

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 friends.

 

Source:  The Globe and Mail, Toronto -  Saturday, February 5, 1949
Copyright © The Globe and Mail - Posted with their kind permission.

 


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