Swedes in New Zealand – emigrants on the other side of the world

I have just arrived back to Sweden from my second, amazing, trip to New Zealand. The trip went very well, and the settings in New Zealand was very well organized by Wendy, which made the time over there fruitful and a nice combination of research and well needed recreation for both of us.

Those trips has made me more and more interested in the the Swedish connections to New Zealand, and I have realised that there are a lot more connections than I initially have understood.

In the mail the other day I received a book that I ordered, about Swedish emigration to New Zealand. A very interesting book indeed, by the Swedish Author and former Ambassador in Wellington, Sten Aminoff. (1918-2000) “Svenskarna i Nya Zeeland – Den svenska emigrationen till 1940”. (1988)

It turned out that I wasn’t the first Swede to New Zealand. 🙂

The book describes the first early immigration, from mainly 1877 to 1940, the reasons behind, mentioning the “Push and Pull” factors, and then a register of most of the almost 5000 Swedes who emigrated during the period mentioned above.

It also mention the censuses, the anglification of the surnames, the naval traffic between Sweden and New Zealand.

A lot of the facts connects to my own research, and I could also find the names of those Swedish soldiers who fought for New Zealand forces in WW1, and it turned out that I have found them all in my research. The interesting part will now be to continue to find more Swedish connections to WW1, looking into the descendants of the immigrants, who were born in New Zealand, and fought in WW1. During my latest trip I discovered some more soldiers, who were sons to Swedish Immigrants, and it will be interesting to see if I can find more of them.

I so wish I had found this book before I went on my latest trip, as we went through a lot of the places mentioned in the book.

The first Swede

The first Swede who is believed to have put his feet in New Zealand was the sailor Sven Sjögren, who was a sailor on a American Whale Catcher which anchored in the Banks Peninsula in Akaroa, outside Christchurch, around 1829. I visited Akaroa in January 2023.

The story tells us that Sven sold a rifle to the Maori chief Te Waaka-Rapa, and in return Sven received a Necklace of Greenstone. The trade made it easier for the Chief to defend himself from the, from their perspective, “evil” Chief Te Rauparaha. The trade also included the daughter of Te Waaka-Rapa, Hinahina, as a bride. Hinahina followed Sven back to Sweden, but tragically she died from smallpox, in Sweden.

The Necklace was sold by a relative Sven, in an auction house in Wellington, in 1972, but was later brought back to the museum in Akaroa.

The first Swede who became naturalised in New Zealand was Charles Hopkinson. His Swedish name in not known. He was the owner of a hotel in Dunedin in 1840, and became naturalised in 1854. He later on became a “squatter”, a sheep farmer.

Another Swede, still at this date, quite famous name in New Zealand, was Charles Suisted, born in Fryksände, Värmland, Sweden, in 1810, as Carl Eberhard Sjöstedt.

He arrived as a Naval Captain with his british wife to New Zealand in 1842, from Launceston, Tasmania, Australia. He became a famous sheep farmer on the farm “Goodwood”, and he also owned the “Barret’s Hotel” in Wellington. The mountain “Mount Charles” close to Palmerston on the South Island is named after him. Carl died, age 49, and left 9 sons and 1 daughter. It is believed that more than 300 descendants to Carl is living in New Zealand and Australia today.

When Carl returned to New Zealand in 1859, after some time in Great Britain, he arrived as a passenger on, believed to be the first Swedish passenger ship to enter a New Zealand harbour, the “Equator”. The ship was loaded with expensive equipment for the new hotel, after the first one was burned down, and some other goods from Sweden.

Six swedish sailors from the “Equator” jumped ship in New Zealand.

There we have the connection to my research, about the Swedish soldiers in the Australian and New Zealand forces in WW1, which shows that most of them were sailors who jumped ship and started their new lives before joining the Army. Some of them payed the ultimate sacrifice and are today buried in Belgium and France.

The soldiers

On my recent trip I collected more information about the Swedish soldier Oscar Backman, who fought for New Zealand in WW1, and sadly died from suicide, and he is today buried in Belgium. You can read more about Oscar in the Article by Wendy Maddocks here.

The research continues

My next step is to widen my research and try to find more information about the descendants to those Swedish immigrants who decided to join the New Zealand Armed Forces, and to fight in WW1.

During my recent trip I visited three of those soldiers, today mentioned on the War Memorial in Ashburton, south of Christchurch. Those were the Nordström brothers, who today are commemorated on memorials in Belgium, and still considered to be Missing in Action, and the soldier John Polson (Pålsson) who today is buried on the Sanctuary Wood Cemetery in Belgium.

In addition to the above mentioned soldiers I also discovered another Swedish name in the village of Kumara, east of Greymouth, on the West Coast of the South Island.

It turned out that the soldier of the Swedish Immigrant Fredrik Ludvig Lindbom, his son Arthur William Lindbom, was born in Kumara. He fought for the New Zealand Forces in WW1, and was Killed in Action April 14th, 1918, and he is today commemorated on the Messines Ridge Memorial south of Ypres in Belgium. I will visit his name this summer.

My experiences from my latest trip to New Zealand has opened my eyes for Swedish immigration, but also to the facts that there are probably more stories with Swedish connection to New Zealand and WW1, which will be very interesting to study more in detail, to find more stories like the one above.

Imagine what life can bring. The interest for WW1 history connected me to Wendy, and that has brought a huge amount of knowledge into my life, and our excursions on the WW1 battlefield will continue this summer. Looking very much forward to that.

Lest we forget.

The mystery on the Western Front

One of the main reasons for working with my research is the connection to the individuals I discover through my intense work trying to find as much facts as possible to be able to tell their amazing stories, as soldiers on the Western Front in the Great War.

When having my talks I try to transfer the feelings I feel, to the audience, and most of the time the audience feels and understand what I am trying to tell, both the stories about the individuals and also the connection between the soldiers locations back in Sweden, to their final resting place in Belgium and France.

For about a week ago one of the guests to my guided tour in 2023, who also had heard me talking about my research a couple of times, contacted me about a book find. He wanted me to have it and asked me if he could send it to me as a gift.

That made me very happy of course. It turned out to be a story written by a Swedish born soldier, who fought in the great war, and kept the stories from his experiences in a diary, which the book is based on. An amazing piece of information, printed in 1959.

The book “Tillbaka hem”, “Back home”, written by the soldier in the 130th Infantry regiment USNG, 33rd Division, American Expeditionary Forces, who fought on the Western Front from August to November 1918.

But there is a mystery inside, that I haven’t been able to sort out yet. The story about his best friend, Dan, who fought and fell in a very tragic way, November 10th, 1918.

Please follow me in the story of Private 1/cl Bernt A Johnson (Bernt Arvid Johansson) and the great loss of his friend Dan.

Bernt Arvid was born in Västra Torsås parish, Kronoberg county, Sweden, March 2nd 1891. He was raised by his parents Kristina Jonsdotter and Johan Eriksson in Öveshult, Lönashult, Småland. Bernt had 6 siblings.

In the book he writes that he was 18 years old when he left Sweden and emigrated to North America in 1913, but as I will experience later on when I read the book, I think he struggled a bit with remembering his stories a bit differently to what they actually were.

Bernt Arvid was born in 1891 and left Sweden already in 1911, according to Swedish church books, which means he was around 20 year old when he arrived Ellis Island in New York together with his four friends. They split up and he is left all alone in New York, no money or nowhere to live.

In this situation he randomly passes one special place for the Swedish Immigrants, The Svea Hotel, and it was in this situation he met his friend and later on soldier in the same unit, Dan. Dan invited him for free, and from there Bernt found a way how to continue his life in the great country in the West. I haven’t yet found any information about this Swedish Immigrant safe haven.

Bernt later on moved to St. Paul in Minnesota, and in the registration cards he mention a friend, Nordgren, who lived nearby Bernt. Bernt lived at 660 Jessamine Ave, St Paul.

Bernt worked at Casino Palace, St. Paul before he was drafted and started his service at Camp Logan, Texas.

Bernt did his training at Camp Logan, Texas, before he one day sailed for France with his unit, Co “G”, 130th Infantry Regiment, 33rd Division. They arrived France in May, 1918. In his book he mentioned that they stepped on the ship “Agamemnon” May 7th, and the card says they sailed May 16th.

They spent their time in different parts of western France and in Paris, were educated and trained by british units before they went to the area west of Toul, near Tronville-En-Barrois, France.

Bernt spent a lot of time in the area, but all of his adventurous time was spent only in the two last days of the war, from the 9th to the 11th of November 1918. He mention in his book that they are supported by British tanks during their advancements, and there is only one place mentioned in this chapter, the village of Mézierés, but I am not sure in which geographical area that is. Please enlighten me if you as a reader have more information than me, I would really appreciate that.

On sunday November 10th he mention that he was involved in real action, and here he mention the village Villers-su Ally, which I haven’t been able to locate.

It is also hard to know if he is telling stories about things he had heard about or if he were involved in them, but he also mention the hard situations for those American engineer units who tried to build bridges over the river Meuse.

Bernt participated in fierce fightings against the Germans during this day, and he also managed to act bravely, for which he was awarded the French Croix De Guerre. Bernt and his fellow soldiers tried to find more wounded during their withdrawal and for a moment they were so far away from the frontline they thought it was OK to relax a bit, but then the horrible happened.

His best friend Dan, with, according to Bernt, had the surname of Charlstrom, was hit by a huge piece of shrapnel from a grenade, which separated Dan’s head from his body. Bernt and the other soldiers were totally shocked.

They managed to get permission to bury Dan the same day, November 10th, 1918, and in the book he mention that they bury Dan at the cemetery near Chateau-Thierry, in my opinion far east of the are which he mention to have been fighting in, but I can be wrong. I believe according to the photos in the book that it was near the place where the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery is today.

After 16 months in military service, Bernt left North America and went back to Sweden in June 1919. He felt that he had done his part of this War.

In 1958 Bernt and his wife decided to travel to France and to the Battlefields, where Bernt wanted to visit the grave of his best friend Dan Charlstrom. He describes that he is by his headstone in white marble, with the letters in Gold, and talking to Dan.

This part of the book gripped me a lot emotionally , as he did the same thing I am doing today, when I am visiting the soldiers I have in my research. He describes a lovely text in Swedish, “talking” to Dan. Dan was very important to Bernt, who was the first person he met when he had emigrated and who helped him during his time in North America.

But who was Dan Charlstrom? I have tried to find him in different archives, spelling his name in all ways, but I still can’t find him. Dan was, according to Bernt, born in New York by Swedish parents.

I really hope I can sort it out. According to the text in the book he must have died November 10th 1918, just one day before the armistice.

If anyone out there know more ways how to proceed, or maybe find him in any archive, feel free to contact me. May Dan rest in peace.

Thank you very much Bernt for your amazing story. I am very grateful having received this book from my friend Alf Görsjö. Thank you very much.

Tracing the history – Alfred Lofdahl

One of the most interesting things I like to do with the names I have in my database is to trace the life and fates of each individual. By doing this I realize that some of those individuals experienced a lot in different places around the world.

I decided to follow in the footsteps of the Swedish born soldier Alfred Lofdahl. Alfred was born as Johan Alfred Löfdahl in Själevad parish in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, November 17th, 1878. He grew up in Umeå together with his parents and his six siblings.

He was raised by his parents, his mother Anna Beata Löfqvist and his father Alfred Johan Samuel Löfdahl.

It has been a bit difficult to find the correct date of birth, but in the book of birth it is noted that he was born November 17th, but in some other church books it is noted that he was born November 7th.

In the Swedish church books I find information about that Alfred joined Umeå Naval Corps in 1899, and became a sailor.

In the church books it is noted that he is absent from the Swedish locations from year 1902-1904. This correlates with information that I have found about his activities in South Africa, where he served in Prince Alfred’s Volunteer Guard. During this duty he received The South Africa Medal and clasp (Cape Colony) issued April 1st, 1901.

Probably Alfred stepped off in South Africa during his service as a sailor and in some way contributed to the activities.  About the last days of December 1900 a party of about 60 of the corps were in a train which was derailed in Cape Colony. They promptly got out, and fired till their ammunition was exhausted; two were killed and about five were wounded. Alfred could have been among those soldiers who were active during this event.

Alfred later left South Africa and continued to Australia. He arrived to the port of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, in May, 1906, and by that time he lived on Bonds Road, Punchbowl, Canterbury, Sydney, in New South Wales, Australia. He lived there with his wife Mary Ann Lofdahl and their three children. Alfred applied for naturalisation in January 1916.

Alfred worked as a Wharf Laborer and something made him apply for the Australian Imperial Forces, AIF, in February, 1916. In those papers he states his correct date of birth, November 17th, 1878.

Alfred was posted to “C” Company, 18th Battalion on 3rd February, 1916 for recruit training. He was transferred to “D” Company of 18th Battalion on 10th February, 1916, then “B” Company on 9th March, 1916. He was transferred to 12th Reinforcements of 18th Battalion on 21st March, 1917.

Alfred proceeded overseas to France on 5th September, 1916 from 5th Training Battalion in England. He was marched in from England Etaples, France on 6th September, 1916. Alfred joined 118th Battalion in the field on 14th September, 1916 from 12th Reinforcements. Alfred was sent sick to Hospital on November 21st, 1916 and then transferred and admitted to 6th General Hospital at Rouen, France, on November 25th. He suffered from Trench Feet and was transferred to England on December 4th, 1916.

He later on marched in to No. 4 Command Depot at Wareham, Dorset, on January 31st, 1917 from Perham Downs. He was transferred from 18th Battalion to 61st Battalion on March 23rd, 1917, and later on taken on strength of 61st Battalion on March 23rd, 1917.

Sadly Alfred died on Wareham Military hospital at Worgret Camp in Wareham of Rapture of “anumpare haemopericordium”, May 11th, 1917, in some kind of life threatening rapture of organs close to heart, or caused by blood in the heart sack.

Alfred was a huge loss to his family, still far away from England, back home in Australia. It is emotional to read the texts from the Australian Newspapers.

Alfred is today buried at Wareham Cemetery, Dorset, England, among 48 other WW1 burials.

Imagine the trip Alfred did, from Sweden, South Africa, Australia, and then back to Europe to participate in the Great War, to finally die of Illness, after have experienced the war within the Australian units.

Alfred’s son, Eric Samuel Lofdahl, went in his father’s footsteps, and participated in WW2. He served on the Island of Marotai of a period of around 9 months. I haven’t found any photo of Alfred, but maybe there is some resemblance of Alfred in Eric?

I will continue to inform my Swedish fellow citizens about what some of them experienced during the period of the Great War, as this is close to my heart. May Alfred rest in Peace.

Broaden my research

The main part of my research about the Swedes in the Great War is up to this date about the Swedish born soldiers and their fates in the war, but along the way I also see a lot of other Swedish connections among the soldiers who fell and are buried along the Western Front in Belgium and France.

Together with the names of the Swedish born soldiers in my database I will now try to gather information about the soldiers who was born in their new home countries by their Swedish born parents, as I think it will be an interesting value within the research about Swedish emigration.

I will also broaden my research to include those Swedish born soldiers who fell in the great war and were brought home to their new home countries, such as Canada and US of A.

At this moment I have limited my research to include the Swedish born soldiers who fought and fell in the Great War and are buried along the Western Front in France and Belgium, but I realize that I have to highlight more of the Swedish connections to the Great War.

When I do this I have to do it in a organized way, and therefor I have started to look into the casualty lists from the large memorials along the Western Front. I have made a first look into the memorial of the fallen Canadians at Vimy Ridge.

In addition to those 17 Swedish born soldiers mentioned and commemorated on Vimy Ridge Memorial, I will add those soldiers below, born in their new countries by Swedish born parents.

Below you will find some of the soldiers mentioned with their name on this memorial who were born in Canada or US of A by Swedish born parents.

696792 – John Peter Backman – 50th Canadian Infantry Battalion – April 10th, 1917

  • Born in South Dakota, USA, March 11th, 1893
  • Raised by his parents Anders Persson Beckman, born in Bollnäs, Dalarna, Sweden April 27, 1857, and Anna Margareta Larsson, born in Sweden 1863.
  • Lived in Hanns, Alberta, Canada.
  • Link to Library and Archives Canada
  • Remarks: First assumed to be Missing in action, later on reported Killed in action. In service for less than three months in the field, before killed in action.

925597 – Henry H Bergquist – 5th Canadian Infantry Battalion – April 28th, 1917

  • Born in Brunswick, Kanabec county, Minnesota, June 12th, 1898
  • Raised by his parents Märta Johanna Svensdotter, born in Ådsalsliden, Sollefteå county, Ångermanland, Sweden, March 13th, 1874, and Jonas Peter Bergquist, born in Resele, Sollefteå county, Ångermanland, Sweden, October 1st, 1866. Both parents left Sweden in 1892, for North America.
  • Lived in Yellowgrass, Saskatchewan, Canada.
  • Link to Library and Archives Canada
  • Remarks: Previous reported wounded and missing, later declared Killed in action after just a bit more than a month in the field.

2138992 – Albert Leonard Lofquist – 72nd Canadian Infantry Battalion – September 2nd, 1918

  • Born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, March 21st, 1896
  • Raised by his parents Emelie Lofquist (Målgren) born in Traryd, Kronoberg county, Småland, Sweden, May 16th, 1861, and Olof Johannesson Lofquist, born in Hallaryd, Kronoberg county, Småland, Sweden, May 11th, 1865. Left Sweden for as a family for North America in 1890.
  • Lived in Salt Lake City, Utah.
  • Link to Library and Archives Canada
  • Remarks: Killed in action just after around three weeks in the field.

550229 – Olof Swanson – Royal canadian Dragoons – March 30th, 1918

  • Born in York, Ontario, Canada, September 29th, 1895
  • Raised by his parents Elvira Löfgren, born in Hällaryd, Blekinge, Sweden, April 21st, 1867, and Olof Svensson, believed to be Sven Olof Swanson, born in Asarum, Blekinge, Sweden, September 2nd, 1871. Elvira went to North America in 1889, and Sven Olof believed to have arrived around the same year.
  • Lived in Toronto, Canada.
  • Link to Library and Archives Canada
  • Remarks: Killed in action after have spent almost a year in the field.

101720 – Edward Frederick Wiberg – 31st Canadian Infantry Battalion – September 27th, 1916.

  • Born in Alberta, Canada, June 8th, 1895
  • Raised by his parents Lovisa Engström, born in Arboga, Västmanland county, Västmanland, Sweden September 8, 1856, and Edward Eriksson Wiberg, born in Lekvattnet, Värmland, Sweden, May 26, 1863. Left as a family to Canada in 1893.
  • Lived in Duhamel, Alberta, Canada
  • Link to Library and Archives Canada
  • Remarks: Reported Missing in action, later reported Killed in action, after just around 2,5 months in the field.

443336 – Harry Harold Wikstrom – 54th Canadian Infantry Battalion – March 31st, 1917

  • Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, February 5th, 1896
  • Raised by his parents Johan Daniel Wikström, born in Sundsvall, Sweden, December 11th, 1870. Went to North America in 1892. Charlotta Wikström, born May 4th, 1878, Place of birth in Sweden unknown, noted to have arrived North America in 1892.
  • Lived in Seven Lakes, British Columbia, Canada.
  • Link to Library and Archives Canada
  • Remarks: Killed in action after been in the field in around 8,5 months.

Some of the names above doesn’t have any documents from the source “Circumstances of death” due to that the archive was partially destroyed and misses out a part of surnames beginning with an “S” and beyond. In those cases I have included a snippet from the “Library and Archives Canada” instead.

The above mentioned individuals are those I have found so far, looking through the archive files of those who are mentioned on the Memorial of Vimy Ridge. It may be more of them.

I will continue to search for more information with Swedish connections, both in cemetery registers and on memorial registers, to add to my research described in the introduction of this post.

Swedish immigrants as commanders – The story of Nels G Sandelin

In my research, where I follow up the Swedish born soldiers who fell in the Great War, I have found out that especially individuals in the American Expeditionary Forces had the opportunity to become more than privates. When it comes to those Swedish born individuals who fought and fell for the German Forces, almost everyone of those where officers in the Swedish army and also became officers in the German Army.

Some of them became commanders on different levels, from squad leaders up to company commanders or staff members. Not all of the them fell in the war, and below I will tell you the story about one who survived.

This is the story about Major Nels G Sandelin.

Nels G Sandelin was born as Nils Gustaf Sandelin. He was born on December 1st, 1887, in Pjätteryd parish, Älmhult, Sweden. He was raised by his parents Elna Larsdotter Sandelin and Gustaf Johansson Sandelin. The family left for North America quite early after Nils was born, on April 22nd, 1889.

I have managed to find more information about the history of Major Sandelin, especially from the books from the local counties in the US. Below you will find parts from the books. Some of the parts are citations direct from the text.

The family, Mr. and Mrs. Gustav Sandelin and their children, Christ, Julia, Edward, Oscar and Nels, moved to the United States in 1889 and settled on a homestead in the town of Svea. Erick the youngest was born in Kennedy in 1890. Mr. Sandelin died in 1892.

Mrs. Sandelin then took up the burden of proving up the homestead and supporting the family. Although it was a hard struggle, she lived on the farm until the children could support themselves. She sold the farm in 1905 and moved to Donaldson where she still lives, one of the brave pioneers of Kittson County.

Major Sandelin spent his early days on the farm until at the age of seventeen he followed the example of three of his older brothers and enlisted in the United States Army. He spent three years in the 32d Field Artillery, where he received his gunner’s medal, his first military distinction. He came out of the army at the age of twenty, a tall, broad-shouldered, keen-eyed soldier and every inch a man.


In 1908 he went to Des Moines, Iowa, to visit his brothers there. He remained here some years. While in Iowa he met and married Elsie Mitchell, of Boxholm, Iowa. In 1914 they moved to Cottonwood County, Minnesota, to the town of Brigham Lake, for the sake of furthering his business career. Here he remained until the United States declared war. Major Sandelin was a keen student of current history and was “Anti-Kultur” from the time that word began to have a special meaning. Only his duty to his family and business kept him out of the Canadian Army.

Source: Kittson County, Minnesota, in the World War

When the United States declared war he made arrangements to leave his family and discontinue his business and enlisted.

When the Government called for men of previous military training, he enlisted in the First Officers’ Training Camp at Fort Snelling. He spent three months of intensive training with two thousand student officers. Only twenty-one received a higher rank than the major, notwithstanding that the other students were college and university graduates. He had practically no education, having merely finished the grammar grades. He was commissioned as First Lieutenant in August, 1917.

He was granted a two weeks’ furlough, which he spent with his wife and two children. He sailed for France September 6, 1917.

At first, he was an officer of the line attached to the 6th Field Artillery. Later he was put in command of the regimental supply company. While in command of the supply company he was made a сар- tain. About two months before the armistice was signed he was promoted to Assistant Quartermaster of the first division and recommended for promotion to the rank of major. Soon after he was made Division Quartermaster of the first division. He was made a Major in December, 1918.

Major Sandelin participated in the following major operations: Montdidier-Noyon Lorraine Defensive, the Marne (battle of Soissons). St. Mihiel, and the Argonne offensives. He entered Germany from Luxembourg Dec. 1, 1918, and crossed the Rhine Dec. 14, 1918, serving in Germany until Aug. 19, 1919, sailing from Brest Ang. 25, 1919, and arriving at New York Sept. 2, 1919.

The Major received citation for meritorious services overseas. His entire period of service was with the First Division. He was promoted to Major Quartermaster Corps March 3, 1919. He reached the highest rank of any man who was in the service of his county.

Major Sandelin also served in WW2, in the quartermaster Corps, and became a colonel before he retired. Below some snippets of the medals and other symbols he received during his duty in the both world wars.

Nils Gustaf is now buried in San Francisco National Cemetery, at the same cemetery as his wife. Nils died in 1958 and his wife Elsie May died in 1970.

This was the first small portrait about Swedish immigrants as commanders in the Great War.

Swedish born soldiers in the Great War: What made them participate and choose side?

This is one of the most common questions I get when I do my talks to different kind of audiences, and I always want to answer it with the most correct answer as possible.

It may be hard to find the most correct answer, as I am looking into a combination of different reasons and aspects, but maybe I have found some answers when looking into the great sources of information, the small books which honores the soldiers from each county in the US, who participated in the great war. The people in the county who wrote these texts knew their inhabitants well, and the information given in those different books is probably as close as we can get when I ask myself why and on which side these Swedish soldiers choose to participate on in the Great War.

Currently I am trying to find as many books I can who honor their local soldiers who participated in the Great War, and I have already found and read some of them, from different states. I am now looking into the states that is known for having a larger population connected to Sweden and Scandinavia.

In this case I have studied the Book “Chisago County, Minnesota, in the World War”. The reason for that will be described below.

Back in 1920 Chisago, Minnesota, was the the most typical Swedish-American County in America. They assessed at that time that 95% per cent of the inhabitants were of Swedish birth, or children of Swedish born parents. It had the largest congregation in proportion to the total population of any county in the United States at that time.

The Swedish settlers already presented themselves in the Civil War. Minnesota was the first state in the Union to offer a regiment to President Lincoln at that time. Many sturdy Swedish boys from Chisago County, boys who could hardly talk the language of their new land, but their souls fired with love to their new-found land, “taught by their noble pastors, that loyalty to their country was the first duty of a Christian Citizen“, as it is described in the book.

One pillar of their determination to participate can maybe be brought from their christian heritage. One piece from the book says:

The early pioneers of this county were of the sturdy, disciplined, religious type, thorough and faithful Christians. Closely following the first pioneers came the ministers of the Gospel sharing cheerfully the privations of the settlers, utterly unselfish, bent only on keeping the religious faith of their people untarnished.

Think of the sacrifice these men had to offer. All of them extremely poor, some with a young wife, and many children, others with aged parents to support, most of them heavily in debt, small patches of clearing in the heavy forest, wild animals prowling in the timber, Indians not entirely friendly, living nearby.

Yet these splendid young men volunteered in great numbers, many of them never to return. The attitude of these Swedish settlers toward their newly adopted country is a shining, glorious mark in Chisago county’s history.

Other pillars in their determination could have been as described below:

Why were these men so solidly loyal? Why was there not one single copperhead among the Swedish boys? Many, no doubt were actuated by a spirit of adventure, the joy of battle which had made the name of their Viking ancestors immortal in history. It is also easy to imagine that human slavery, the buying and selling of human beings, though their skin was black, fired the souls of these liberty loving Swedes with indignation, and they freely offered their services and lives to destroy this dreadful institution. But in addition to the splendid attitude of their religious leaders previously noted, one tremendously important matter must here be noted.

One reason could also have been the influence of the only newspaper the Swedish settlers read at that time, the newspaper “Hemlandet”, which was active to the end of 19th century, and of course media, as today had a great influence of what to think and what to do, and maybe a feeling of security to stand among a common taken stand in their new country?

The statement to support its new country was probably rooted already during the end of 19th century and brought further on into those who emigrated later on, with Swedish born children and children born in US by Swedish parents, who later were in the age of to be drafted to the first world war. Read more from a text from the book below:

Prior to and during the Civil War, our people read really only one newspaper, the glorious old “Hemlandet.” There were no other papers in circulation here among the Swedes. Hemlandet was the semi-official organ of the Swedish Lutheran Church, and its principal contributors were the Lutheran ministers. Thank God for these men! They wrote strong editorials on the duty of a Christian to support the flag of their country they espoused, the cause of human liberty, they upheld the cause of the Union in the plainest and sturdiest of languages. Oh, that full credit might be given to these noble men for the wonderful influence they wielded for loyalty, justice, and devotion, to their God, their country and their flag

In the book you will find a great amount of soldiers born in the US, by Swedish born parents, and quite many of them paid the ultimate price, by dying of disease or in battle. Most of the soldiers from the county of Chisago died of disease, some of them on the battlefield in France, where some of them also have their final resting place.

One of those 37 soldiers who died when in duty for the American Army was born in Sweden. Most of the other 37 who died were born by Swedish parents in the US. It is interesting in itself to read the surnames of those who died and are honored in the book. Many of the names has clear Scandinavian and Swedish connection. See pictures below.

Perry M Matsson was born as Per Martinus Mattson in Brunflo parish, Jämtland, Sweden, and it is noted in the Swedish church book that Per left with his mother Märta Klingberg, widow after J Mattson, and his sister Anna, in 1900, as described in the picture above.

Why not the German side?

Further on we can read about a very interesting perspective described in the book about why Sweden and Swedes didn’t participate on the German side which would have been more natural, or?

I have earlier mentioned Sweden’s history with Russia as a natural statement to fight together along the words ” Our enemy’s enemy is our friend”. That would have been a more clear way of choosing side in the war. Our political statement from the period of the first world war were also more leaning towards the German side, and some of the officers from the Swedish army went to war on the German side, but not as many as we thought, as my research also shows when it comes to the individuals who fell for the differents sides.

The Chisago County book also mentions four perspectives that makes Sweden more connected to Germany at that time, but in the end also explains a reason why it not became like that when it comes to the Swedes who emigrated to North America at that time. A short summary of the text from the book below:

  1. For a hundreds years or more (at least) Swedish people had an intense dislike, even hatred for Russia on account of Finland.
  2. England had since the Revolution been our historic enemy. Our school histories, relating the story of the Revolutionary War, influenced the school children against England. The war of 1812 was likewise chronicled in a manner to arouse our indignation.
  3. The Swedish people, in many respects are much like the German people. Both are of the Teutonic race. The language is largely identical, or at least very similar. The German people in the United States were simple, honest, thrifty, kindly persons, splendid citizens, law abiding, peace loving, easy to get along with.
  4. Germany was the birthplace of Martin Luther, the great founder of the church bearing his name, and to this church belonged the vast majority of the Swedish people. It was almost impossible to believe that the Germany of the great patron saint of the church, the gentle, wonderful leader of the great Reformation, could have so utterly changed, and become the great barbarian nation that characterized the starting of this terrible war, and its conduct thereafter. Aided by clever and perniciously active German propaganda, our people were inclined at the beginning to call these stories “English lies.” The rape of Belgium, the “scrap of paper” incident, the enslavement and deportation of Belgian men and women, the horrid atrocities, carried out in accord with their doctrine of “Schrecklichkeit,” the sacking of Louvain, and other acts which would make an Apache Indian blush with shame, were not believed true.

So – what made us not follow these above described perspectives?

The book describes it with those, quite simple words below, and was probably not the whole truth, more a reason in combination with all the others described above the four reasons above:

But there were hundreds of our people, yes nearly a majority, who at once saw thru Germany’s plan, and unhesitatingly took the side of the Allies. When our good president made his appeal to our people to be neutral, and avoid controversy on this subject, those friendly to the Allies, followed his admonition more than the other side, we think.

But was it easy all the way?

I have earlier described in my research that many of the Swedish born soldiers left Sweden before they became 21 and were supposed to be drafted for the Swedish Army through our current service act at that time.

The Chisago county book also describes some anti-war demonstrations, with protests not to send our boys to France. The Audience, many of them probably Swedes, were driven into a frenzy of wild protest against the war. Many asked themselves if the Swedes suddenly had lost the sense giving such aid?

Although, it was then and there determined that there should not be a repetition of such a meeting. The Minnesota Conference later on, of the Swedish Lutheran Church met in annual meeting about a month after declaration of war. About its first act was to pass a resolution of loyalty with much enthusiasm. Even if it was some protest it all went well in the end.

Below some records about the soldiers who participated from the Swedish Lutheran Church in Chisago County:

Almelund – Men in service: 49 – two died of disease while in service

Center City – Men in service: 80 – three died of disease while in service

Chisago City – Men in service: 42 – one died in action and five of disease while in service

Fish Lake – Men in service: 17 – all returned safely

North Branch – Men in service: 46 – one killed in action and one died of disease while in service

Rush Point – Men in service: 17 – all returned safely

Taylors Falls – Men in service: 35 – one killed in action and one died of disease while in service.

Men from Chisago County who died while in service

The reason I want to highlight those is to show the background of the individuals and that the large part of them has scandinavian and Swedish heritage.

Source: Chisago County, Minnesota in the World War

Connections to my research

As the largest group of those Swedish born soldiers, present in my research, who fell and are buried in France or Belgium, were Americans, the reasons explained above are connected to them. It can also include the soldiers who fought for Canada as well, even if I think they probably were affected by English and French values, depending on where they lived in Canada.

I will not draw any final conclusions, but some of the basic religious reasons mentioned above can be applicable on to those soldiers who fought for other countries in the commonwealth, such as Australia and New Zealand.

The poverty and the social situations affected the Swedes and ended up in reasons to emigrate. I believe the economical situation in their new countries affected the individual in a way to see the role as a soldier in an army as a job in itself, without so much influence from any other reasons.

I feel I am a bit closer to present some reasons why the Swedish soldiers mainly fought on either side in the Great War. I think a lot was connected to the inner values but later on affected by the values of the community, in their new home countries. I can see that we have the same situation today, even if the economical and social situations doesn’t affect us as much as back then, in our choice to take part in any modern conflict.

We are not yet in the situation to be drafted as an individual to participate in a specific war for Sweden, and hopefully it will stay like that.

First Generation American Swedes

In my research I often find information about American soldiers who were born in America by Swedish parents who immigrated during the late 19th century.

Many of those who fell in the Great War were brought back from the temporary cemeteries in France or Belgium to American cemeteries. I find those cases interesting as well, as I can follow their different backgrounds. I have also found quite many Swedish related American soldiers, with parents born in America, and in their turn with parents born in Sweden.

It would be really interesting to find out how large part of the American soldiers who fought in the Great War, who has Swedish grandparents as well. That would open an another part of the Swedish history related to the Great War. Maybe they are many more than expected?

Below you will find some information about one American officer, 1st LT Albert Emanuel Johnson, born in Connecticut, USA, by Swedish parents, mother Ida E Johnson and Charles J Johnson.

Charles was born as Karl Johan, most likely born June 30th, 1870, in Risinge, Östergötland, Sweden, and Ida was born as Ida Charlotta Emanuelsdotter, on November 20th, 1868, in Våthult, Jönköping.

Albert’s father, Karl Johan, emigrated with his family in 1880, and Ida emigrated with her brother Peter in 1886.

Albert fought for the 102nd Infantry, 26th Division, American Expeditionary Forces, and fell in May 8th, 1918. Below you will find a text from an American newspaper from June 11, 1918, that describes the last hours of Albert E Johnson.

Albert died of his wound and was initially buried near Sevastopol Farm Cemetery near Bruley, France, and was later on brought to St Mihiel American Cemetery, south-east of Meuse-Argonne region in France.

He was later brought home to American on June 6, 1921, and are today buried at Collinsville Cemetery, Collinsville, Hartford County, Connecticut, USA.

Even if the text in the article above mentioned that he would be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, I haven’t been able to find any information about that yet. May Albert rest in peace.

A day in the archives

There is always a great feeling when you are able to find original documents about your research subject. In this case I arranged a meeting in Blekinge Museum Archives regarding one of my soldiers in my research, Lieutenant Marcus Grundberg, who fought for the German Forces during the Great War.

I had found information in the Swedish archive “Riksarkivet”, that it would be more information to be found about Marcus Grundberg in Blekinge Museum archives, so I called them and checked if this was correct and it was.

I arranged a day to meet up with the personnel, who introduced me to the material. It was an amazing feeling to look at and feel the material which consisted of letters from Marcus to his family, but also from Marcus to his superiors in the Army.

There were also summarized information made from old news articles, and also some photos. It was really interesting to find text about where he fell and also to find photos from his original burial. I have only been to his final resting place in Menen in Belgium, but I will now try to find his previous burial site.

My upcoming work will now be to transcribe the handwritten text in the documents, and translate those from German to Swedish, and then in to English as well, to create an additional collection in PDF format, to be able to hand it out to those who have bought my first book, in where he is mentioned.

Below you will find some of the text files I scanned during my visit at Blekinge Museum Archives.

At the moment there is no information about who have made this compilation of documents, but it may be the regiment, Karlskrona Grenadiers, to which Marcus belonged, but I will try to get it confirmed. It will be a very interesting work to transcribe these around 65 documents but also quite demanding.

I will keep updates of the work on this page.

In the footsteps of the Swedes – France 2023

I am now home from the trip that was planned with the purpose to follow up some of the Swedish born soldiers who fought for the American Expeditionary Forces in WW1, some of the Swedish born soldiers who fought for the Commonwealth, but also to visit places, related to WW1, that I always have wanted to visit.

It became an amazing trip in the company of Wendy Maddocks, who supported me through all the activities that we planned. We saw almost everything we wanted, and it became quite hectic, but very interesting.

We started the trip by flying to Brussels, and then take the rental car down to the Somme region in France. We spent a few days in the Somme region before heading south to Belleau Wood region. We continued later on east through the Champagne region towards the southern Ardenne region and looked into the areas of Argonne and Verdun. Later on we turned back west back to the Somme through Champagne and ended up in Cambrai before we went to Brussels again, to start our trip back home. Before we went home we spent a day i Le Quesnoy to commemorate the New Zealanders liberation of the town . All this in 10 days with nice weather most of the time.

Below you will find some photos from the different places. They are not marked with any specific locations but please don’t hesitate to comment, and I will explain more about them, if needed.

I am very glad that I was able to do this trip, which also gave me a lot of info and understanding about where the Swedish soldiers fought and where they ended up to have their final resting place. I will definitely do this again, and in spring 2025 I will have a guided tour to some of the places in the photos. More about that later on.

Remembered in Cambrai

The attack commenced at 6.20 a.m. on a very cold morning while it was still dark. Throughout the whole action there was the most severe fighting. The Battalion however reached its first objective and after a pause for reorganization the two Companies on the right who alone had a second objective, pushed on and won this line too. All Companies had by this time been through fighting of the severest nature and had suffered very heavy losses. The Germans had however suffered still greater losses, losing some 600 prisoners to the Battalion, and leaving a very large number of dead on the field.

This text is from the diary of 1st battalion, Coldstream Guards, the day of November 27th, 1917, when they fought from a front between the northern part of the village of Fontaine, and the north-eastern part of the Bourlon Wood. You can see the area below on the map. The map is a snapshot from the very good map product from Great War Digital.

On this place, the day of November 27, 1917, the soldier Charles Gustaf Nordberg fell, and he is commemorated at the Cambrai Memorial, in Luoverval, between the village of Bapaume and the town of Cambrai in France. Charles Gustaf doesn’t have his own grave as he most likely dissapeared in the fierce fightings this day. So, who was Charles Gustaf?

Charles Gustaf Nordberg was born in April 1893, in South Shields , Durham, England. He was borught up by his mother Kristina Karlsdotter Sköld and his father Erik Johan Johansson Nordberg.

Both parents of Gustaf was born in Sweden. The father of Gustaf, Erik Johan, was born in Fägre parish, east of the the city of Mariestad and southeast of the town of Töreboda in the county of Västra Götaland, in November 9th, 1849. This county is often mentioned in english as “West Jutland” but has nothing to do with Jutland in Denmark. The reason is probably more connected to how it sounds when pronounced in English.

The parents of Charles Gustaf, Kristina and Erik.

Gustaf’s mother, Kristina Karlsdotter Sköld, was born as a daughter to Karl, that’s why her surname is Karlsdotter, “Karls daughter” She was born in the parish of Ekeskog, just southeast of Fägre, where Erik Johan was born. At this moment I don’t know if the knew eachother back then. According to the Swedish church books, Kristina left Sweden in late July 1881. and married Erik Johan Nordberg already in August 22nd, 1881, in England.

Erik Johan was a sailor, and it is noted in the Swedish church books that he left for England around 1873, as the note says 1888, and that he has been in England for about 15 years, since then.

Together they got Charles Gustaf Nordberg, who grew up together with his father when his mother Kristina died in England already in 1907. Charles Gustaf is mentioned in his father’s Naturalisation Papers when he was 16 years old, but I don’t know when his father became an English citizen.

Charles Gustaf Nordberg was only 24 years old when he was killed in action, that day in November, 1917. His name is on the Cambrai Memorial, and I will try to visit him when I am down in France this summer. Even if I don’t know where he is today, I will remember him, as one of the children to Swedish born citizens who one day in their life decided to move to England, and in this way put this story into the context of Swedes in the Great War.

May Charles Gustaf rest in peace.