Behind the scenes

As you already know I am working with my project about the Swedish born soldiers who fought and fell at the Western Front. In the menu you can find a list over the soldiers that I so far have found within in my criterias for the project. Soldiers list.

You can also find some individuals developed with some more information, which is work that is updated now and then, with more portraits.

Although I keep the main list updated with name, cemetery, monument, Date of Birth and Date of Death.

Behind all the names, there is more fact, not shown in the list, only in my database documents. Right now I have collected around 3000 pictures, snippets of documents. I have also started to put in more geographical fact in the database, that I will use later on.

The main goal is to write a guide book, that connects the individual to the terrain, and also give a small story about every individual. It is probable that I will divide the database into more books, where I concentrate on a certain amount of individuals, and maybe divide them into both armies, or specific terrain and battles. The future will tell.

Below some snippets of the pictures I have, and also the database.

News from the past

During my research I now and then searching for names of Swedishg soldiers and other facts in the digital versions of old newspapers on internet.

I have found some places myself, but now and then I get some tips from visitors on my page, that sends me other links to the old newspapers, which I am very grateful for.

The other day I found some interesting facts that I didnt know anything about, it was an article from the American newspaper with Swedish text, the “Svenska Amerikanen”.

It told me about a visit that the former leader of the Social Democrats in 1918, Hjalmar Branting, who later on became the Swedish version of Prime Minister, “Stadminister”, when he was visiting the Swedish soldiers who fought in The American Expediotionary Forces at the Western Front in France, in 1918.

Really interesting article, and it leaves me wondering how he went down to France, which way he took, and how it felt for the soldiers to have a visit from their former country representative.

I will try to translate the text in the article into English. You find it below.

AT “THE OURS” ON THE WEST FRONT


Hjalmar Branting visits the Swedes in the American contingent.
“Good boys.”


AMERICANS SHOWS TRUST
Hjalmar Branting has recently been to France and took the opportunity to visit the American troops. He stayed for three days in the American section of the Western Front. On his return to Stockholm, he told the Chicago Tribune’s correspondent James O’Donnell Bennett his impressions of the Americans.

He thus explains that the American soldiers gave him a depth. sense of esteem and confidence, the discipline is strict, stricter than in the French army. But at the same time, no one can fail to notice that a democratic spirit is asserting itself.


Branting felt particularly happy to find so many Swedish-Americans among the American soldiers. “Within a section, he found 15,000 Swedish Americans and a division consisted for the most part of Swedish-born or of Swedish descent,” the telegram states. It is probable that either Branting or the correspondent was wrong in this, for such a large number could not possibly be. “Next year, 200,000 Swedish Americans are expected to participate.” continues the telegram “the largest Swedish army ever assembled.” exclaims the correspondent.


Many of the Swedish-American soldiers have excelled in the battles on the western front, Branting said. He found several in the hospital, where they found the most caring host of American Red Cross paramedics. France has the highest admiration for this department. The most difficult Sufferers are those who have been exposed to toxic gases. One type of gas, mustard gas, attacks the skin, while another blinds the victims for a couple of three weeks.


One day Branting undertook a car ride of over 150 english miles and all the way, nothing but American soldiers and their barracks were seen. In some villages, where the Americans are housed, it was gratifying to see the American soldiers busy playing with the French children. For their kindness to children and women and consistent courtesy, Americans have made themselves known everywhere.


Branting praised the Swedish-Americans as good citizens and splendid soldiers, attached to their new homeland with a fidelity and affection that could serve as a role model.

“Good boys”.


During his visit to the Western Front, Branting paid a visit to General Pershing, of which he spoke very favorably.

Updated soldiers list

I have now updated the soldiers list which you can find in the main menu. At this date, June 7th, 2021, there are for the moment 313 soldiers in the list.

If you find a name in the list that you want to know more about, just drop me a message through the contact form link in the main menu. The names that are displayed are their names that they took when they emigrated, and their name may be another with a more scandinavian spelling. That is very common when it comes to soldiers from the scandinavian countries, and seems to have been common in all of the specific countries they fought for.

Link in “Svensk Historia”

Just got a message from the Swedish online magazine “Svensk Historia”, Swedish History, that they have put my web page in their link directory! I really appreciate this action, and send my warmest thanks to those who are responsible.

The page are in Swedish though but you can reach the online magazine through this link.

The faith of 1.st Lt John Norman, AEF.

One evening I was working with my research, and was looking for some names with a kind of Scandinavian connection, and just went back to cards that I had overlooked before. I then discovered a casualty card with the name John Norman, 1st Lt in the 165th Infantry, 42nd Division, called “the Rainbow Division”, American Expeditionary Force. (AEF)

The unit spent March 1918 under French command to gain experience about Trench warfare.

According to the card John was killed in action March 7th, 1918, as I though was quite early in the period for the AEF in France. I decide to look it up and found information about a story I havent heard about before. John was killed at an age of 47.

According to some sources John is born in Säffle in Sweden, which is in Värmlands län, in the western part of Sweden, just west of the big lake Värnern. It is told that he is born March 25th, 1870, and I am now trying to find more information that can confirm this, which for the moment is a bit hard. In this case I am looking through church book from that region, but I think Säffle can come from the fact that his brothers adress is Säffle on the casualty card, and that type of information has the tendence to “walk around” and become a fact that may not be connected to the person itself. I am also looking into other dates of birth.

The story about when he lost his life at the Western Front is very sad to read, and as I understand now, it is quite many stories written about this situation. Below you cand find some word from one of the stories. It was the first week at the battlefield for the personnel in the New York National Guard 69th Infantry, called “Fighting sixty-Ninth”, a unit with Irish heritage, the name was given to the unit in the American Civil War, by Robert E Lee.

“At about 3:20 p.m. the enemy launched a barrage of shells in the 2nd Battalion’s position for about an hour,” wrote Richard Demeter in his 2002 history of “The Fighting 69th.” With the majority of troops below ground in hardened dugouts for protection, tragedy struck when a German shell landed on and collapsed the dugout where 1st Lt. John Norman, a regular Army officer and his two dozen Soldiers of 1st Platoon were stationed.

The dugout was some 40 feet below ground, with timbers to protect the Soldiers, and numerous turns down a stairwell to the entrance.

“Tons of earth and stone cascaded,” recalled Pvt. Alf Helmer, a native of Norway and one of the few survivors of the barrage, explained in the 2008 Stephen Harris book “Duffy’s War.”

“I remember only the crash,” Helmer recalled. “Thoughts ceased. I only know that I found myself in the doorway of the forward entrance, hands extended over my head.”

Maj. William Donovan, commander of the regiment’s 1st Battalion, was visiting the 2nd Battalion command post after the relief in place when the barrage struck. Donovan volunteered to make an assessment and assist in the rescue efforts of the imperiled 1st Platoon.

Initial efforts were able to recover seven Soldiers, two alive and five dead. Donovan and a rescue team could still hear other survivors, including Lt. Norman, from the crater of earth and timber.

Not all of the New York Soldiers perished in the initial blast that collapsed the dugout, Helmer would later recall in the Harris book’s account. Half the platoon had survived, but with little space for air and tons of earth and debris, Helmer expected everyone to die as he frantically used his own helmet to scoop away dirt and create space to breath.

“Choking dust and gas stench filled the suffocating darkness,” Helmer’s son recalled for an interview for the Harris book. “I gave myself to prayer and making my peace with God, I was no longer afraid.”

Under intense German artillery fire, including a gas attack, the frantic efforts to dig into the crater and save their fellow Soldiers continued, assisted by the regiment’s engineers of the Pioneer Platoon. Sgt. Abram Blaustein, one of the estimated 60 – 80 Jewish Soldiers serving in the Irish regiment, helped to lead the rescue efforts.

“The Pioneers were called out to try to rescue these men,” recalled Al Ettinger in his account to his son in the 1992 book “A Doughboy with the Fighting 69th.”

“All night long we labored. Two lieutenants have general direction but it was Abe Blaustein who really took charge and led by example. The men worked in relays, but Blaustein always took the most dangerous position,” Ettinger said.

For his heroic actions, Sgt. Blaustein received the French Croix de Guerre and the moniker “Blaustein of the Irish.”

Donovan also received the Croix de Guerre for his actions in leading rescue efforts under fire.

The trauma of the loss and the determination to act even touched the survivors. Pvt. Helmer, once rescued, moved on to the medical aid station and the battalion command post to report on the tragedy. Then, according to Harris in “Duffy’s War,” he requested permission to return to the site to assist with rescue efforts.

“I knew that unless I saw the thing through,” Helmer said, “I would never again be able to look my comrades in the face.”

As rescue efforts the following morning became too dangerous under the German artillery barrage, and no further sounds came from the dugout, it was decided to halt work and leave the remaining 14 Soldiers and 1st Lt. Norman where they were buried. The regiment placed a marker and moved on.”

Text from army.mil.

The story has also been the base for a movie “The Fighting 69th”. A small clip on Youtube here:

I will now try to search further on in the archives, trying to find information that confirms that he is born in Sweden. The confirmation is an important part in my research.

Reached 300 Individuals in the project

During this week I reached 300 Swedish born soldiers who fought and fell at the Western Front in The Great War. I never thought from the beginning that I should find so many, and now when I have so far found these 300 I already know there are more of them, that fits into my criterias for my research.

I will continue to look for more soldiers, and put them into my research. They deserves to be acknowledged.

You can reach the list of all these 300 during the main menu or through this link below:

I have also during the evening updated the Google Earth project about those Swedes who fought in Meuse-Argonne offensive together with the American Expeditionary forces. There are currently 74 Swedes plotted out on that map for the moment.

You will reach the project through the main menu or through this link below:

Have I found them all?

Last evening I was working with my database over those Swedes who were born in Sweden, fought at the Western Front in The Great War, fell at the Western Front and are buried and Commemorated at the Western Front.

I looked over the different archives again, looking for more names, trying to find more soldiers which I dont have in my database, but I have now looked through “all” the facts, and I think to myself; Have I find them all now? Those who fits inot my criterias? I dont know, I will still continue to go over all the facts again, but I have now looked through the US, CAN, AUS, UK, FR and GER archives, and in the database I now have 285 soldiers.

Of those 285 I have confirmed the birth in Sweden for 239 of them. I have developed my tools in looking up the background of those I still havent confirmed, and I will continue with that. When I say confirm, I mean finding the page in the Church book where their birth are noted, so there are little doubt about that they are born in Sweden, but I want to confirm it anyway.

But there are of course more than 285 soldiers who fall into my criterias, but we know that some archives are destroyed, and probably contained more facts about Swedish soldiers who fought in WW1, like for Germany, which is one of the countries that I have very little information from.

But right now the database contain those 285. You find the soldiers list in the main menu above, where you can see the names, where they are buried and also when they were born and died.

The disposition is right now as follows, and this is based on the the soldiers that I have found at the moment. The chart shows in which country armies they fought.

I will during the upcoming days look throug the american files again, and maybe I will reach about 300 before I go into next phase, which means trying to find more information about each soldier.

I really hope I soon can go down to Belgium and France to start to take photos of the different sites, where the soldiers fell and where they are buried and commemorated.

Great War Reflections

Earlier last week my article about my research describing the method how to do research about Swedes in the Great war at the Western Front and use digital archives, was released at the UK blog Great War Reflections. It was very nice to get the opportunity to be a guest writer and read my own word at another project page.

You can read more about it here by following the link below.

More about Swedes in the AIF

I went back to the Australian archives to search for some more Swedes who fought for the Australian Imperial Forces at the Western Front in The Great War.

Here I will give you some information about one of those individuals, but also bring some light into the different paths I walk when trying to find and confirm the information.

When I search for for information in different archives I try to put in different search strings, and the most common I use at this link below at National Australian Archive (NAA) is “Sweden” or “POB Sweden” (Place of Birth), as I have learned from the texts that is presented in the search results.

Some of the results leading me to individuals who were registrated to AIF, but I also get other information connected to Sweden, not all leads to soldiers. Sometimes the other information can be interesting to though.

When finding an individual there is the amount of information who takes me further. Like in this example. I found the Individual Neil Nilsson, and the first page gives me som leads that this in an individual from Sweden. Place of birth and Next of Kin (NOK) can be good info to go further on with. In this picture below you can find some underlined text. One odd thing is that in these papers they only ask for age, not Date of Birth (DOB)

From this page I take with me:

  • Nilsson, Neil, (probably Nils, I will check this later)
  • 33rd battalion. This is his first unit, but they can also switch during their time in the Army and on the field)
  • Age 35 and 1 month, compared to the date they are registered above, then I get a clue of DOB. He became 35 in November or December in 1915, that could then mean born in 1880? In this case it did. But many times they just guess or dont know exactly, depending on when they emigrated.
  • Ystad. He lived there or was born there, but that can mean everything around Ystad, but works as a starting clue.
  • Father. Hohan? Johan? or Håkan? It turned out to be Håkan.

Before I take the above info with me for further search in other archives, I use to check the additional info, which is a lot. In This case I check if he fought on the Western Front in WW1 and if he survived or if he was killed. In this case he fought on the Western Front and fell near Ypres in Belgium. But how do I know that? We have to take the info we find further into other sources. Below some of the info that I get from the case of Neil. Luckily the info written with pencils are often later typed as well, or it can be hard to read sometimes. My skills are increasing for every time.

But first we have to check and connect Neil Nilsson to Sweden and Ystad, and also in a way try to see if 1880 is a correct conclusion. I use a service that I pay for in this case, the archives at Ancestry. Here it is very important not to “take corners” and assume that his name is Nils, we have to use the name he has stated, to find info connected to this. Below some results from Ancestry that takes me further.

We know the name Neil Nilsson and that he died June 8th, 1917 according to the papers above, and I also try to type in 1880, just to see what happens. I get the same info from Ancestry as I already know, and it also shows the name of the father is Hokan, and here in Sweden it is Håkan, and it also shows that he is commemorated at Menin Gate memorial, which gives that he has no known grave. I have to search more in other archives, to try to find his DOB and I am lucky! I use the same search engine, the NAA, and gets the Naturilazation papers which gives me his DOB. Perfect. That makes my search more narrow.

Adding November 5th 1880 to my facts, and goes to my other source, Arkiv Digital, a quite expensive archive service, but gives me almost everything I want to know so right now it is worth it. In this Swedish archive I search for Nils, not with Nilsson, for the reason that the kids are stated in the books with just their names, not surnames, which comes later. We also know November 5, 1880 and Ystad.

I get a few leads. I know that his father is named Håkan, and in Sweden kids sometimes gets their surnames from their father, so this is a lead. I also get Hedeskoga, the Perish where he is born. I use Hedeskoga in a new search in the same archive.

That gives me a lot more to look through. And in the results I find what I am looking for. This is the right person. It is hard to see in the picture, but the text states that papers from some officer in the British Army gives information about Nils death. In the margin the date of his death is stated. June 8th, 1917.

I also see that they have written his full name, Håkansson, Nils Nilsson. I decide to try to put that into Ancestry again, and here I find more information about his death, even if they here writes that he was killed in France, not Belgium. I can see the word “Messines” in the notes and we will check further into that.

Where were Nils unit when he was killed in June 8th 1917? We will look for the diary in some Australian archives. The archive I use for that is Australian Imperial Force Unit War Diaries. It turns out that his unit, 33rd battalion took part in the large offensive, the battle of Messines Ridge, which was at that time a success for the British Expeditionary Forces, in the attempt to flatten out a kind of a bulge in the front just south of Ypres, Belgium. The diary states that Nillson was killed in action in the battle, we find his name in one page in the 144 pages long diary. (Yes, I looked through all the pages) The 33rd Infantry battalion most likely fought within Second ANZAC Corps in the southern part.

If you want to find out more about The Battle of Messines Ridge, you can start at Wikipedia. You will find a lot of information.

We know that Nils today are commemorated at the large WW1 memorial in Ypres, Menin Gate Memorial, for the reason that he has no known grave, but can we find out more what happened to him? Yes we can. We will take a look in one other Australian Archive, Australian Red Cross Wounded amd Missing Files. From erlier we know his name and regimental number. I use his regimental number 1216 in the search for more info, and I get a hit. The name is correct, Neil Nilsson, number 1216.

It turns out that this archive contains more information about where he was buried right after where he fell. Probably that place is since long gone, due to that the war continued, but who knows? Maybe he one day he will turn up in any excursion, at the place he was buried. Below you can see some statements from his comrades.

I will continue to search for those Swedes who fought at the Western Front, and it is very exiting to follow the destiny of those Swedish born individuals that in the end gave their lives in the fightings in The Great War. May they rest in peace.

Archive find gave another three soldiers

Last week I was at “Utvandrarnas hus” in the town of Växjö, around 1,5 h car trip from my home. Mu intentions were to look at some archive finds after had been talking to the manager in the phone the day before.

The personnel were very helpful, and helped me with the things that they could find. From the beginning I sent in some names to the archive, but they couldnt find any things connected to the name I sent in, but they found three other names that I did not have in my list.

One of these three soldiers was Ernst A Petersen, named Ernst Albin Petersson in Sweden, born in November 1890 in Urshults perish in Kronoberg county, in southern part of Sweden. Ernst went to North America in march 1909, aged 18. Joined the American Expeditionary Force from Minnesota in 1918, and left for France and the Western Front in August 1918.

He fought for 128th Regt, 32nd Division in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. Ernst died of wounds received in action October 13th, 1918, and he is buried at the American Meuse-Argonne cemetery.

The second soldier was Nels G Swanson, in Sweden named as Nils Gottfrid Svensson, born November 1918 in Reftele perish, Jönköpings county, in thye southern part of Sweden. He left for USA in 1906, age 18, and joined the American Expeditionary Force from the state of Washington. He fought for 11th coy, 20th Engineers in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, and he died from wounds received in action October 11th 1918 and is buried at the American Meuse-Argonne cemetery.

The last of those three individuals I found through the local archive was Louis Munson, named Ludvig Månsson in Sweden. Ludvig was born in Karlskrona Amiralitets Perish, Blekinge county in the southern part of Sweden. He left Sweden from Stockholm in 1913 for North America, and probably went over to France in summer 1918, as many other soldiers connected to American Expeditionary Force.

Ludvig fought for 353 Infantry Regt, 89th Division, and are noted to be missing in action sice November 4th, 1918. In November 4th the second part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive started, ant the battles are known to have been heavy in the region. Ludvig is noted on the walls, as he do not have an own grave, at the American Meuse-Argonne Cemetery in France.

I will continue to search for more individuals connected to the local archives, and even if I sometimes think that I have found most of them, those Swedish soldiers who fought and fell at the Western Front in World War 1, I am pretty sure others will occur in the archives.

They are there, somewhere. May they rest in peace.