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Verna Erikson: Student, Style Icon and Gun Smuggler

Verna Erikson, born in 1893, left an indelible mark on Finnish history as a courageous student who played a pivotal role during the tumultuous times of the Finnish Civil War in 1918. Despite being one of the few dozen female students in her school in Helsinki, Verna's legacy is one of resilience, defiance, and sacrifice.

Early Life and Education

In a time when female students were a rarity, Verna Erikson pursued her education in Helsinki. Although she never completed her studies, her intellect and determination set her apart. Little did she know that her life would soon be intertwined with a significant chapter in Finnish history.

The Finnish Civil War: The backdrop of Verna's story is the Finnish Civil War, a conflict that unfolded in 1918. The Red Guards seized control of Helsinki and other major cities in the southern part of Finland, establishing it as the red capital and the seat of the Finnish people's delegation. The red guard companies, considered the best trained and most elite, were primarily from Helsinki and its surroundings.

The Resistance Movement

Amidst the dominance of the Red Guards, White militias and sympathetic civilians orchestrated a covert resistance movement. They established a network of safehouses and underground smuggling operations, preparing for an eventual uprising. This resistance gained momentum leading up to the Battle of Helsinki, where they confronted the red forces for control of the capital.

Verna Erikson became a crucial part of this resistance movement. As one of the female students in Helsinki, she engaged in daring acts of smuggling weapons and munitions. Operating undercover, Verna and her counterparts purchased arms from Russian soldiers within the capital. Disguising the weaponry beneath their clothes, these women transported the supplies to safehouses where resistance members trained in secret.

Challenges and Risks

The resistance faced significant challenges, with the constant threat of discovery by the Red Guards. Shootouts and brief siege-like operations became commonplace whenever a safehouse was compromised. To maintain secrecy, members played music loudly to drown out the sounds of gunfire during training sessions.

In the above iconic image, colourised by Julius Jääskeläinen, Verna Erikson is captured, having smuggled approximately 150 machinegun rounds and a Browning pistol (presumed to be the 1907 model) underneath her coat. Her bravery and dedication to the resistance cause exemplified the spirit of those who fought for freedom during this turbulent period.

Tragically, Verna Erikson's life was cut short by cancer in 1918 at the age of 25, roughly four months after the conclusion of the civil war. She ignored pain felt under her arms and didn't go to the doctor, and by the time she went she had a very advanced sarcoma. She is buried in Hietaniemi Cemetery in Finland.

Despite her untimely death, her contributions did not go unnoticed. She was posthumously awarded the Cross of Liberty for her exceptional actions during the Finnish Civil War, symbolising the recognition of her bravery and sacrifice.


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