Winter War

Winter War

What do you enjoy most about Winter? Perhaps it is sitting in front of a cozy fire with a book as the snow is falling outside or heading outdoors for skiing or ice skating. Winter offers lots of possibilities for recreation, but it also creates hardships for those attempting to carry out day to day tasks and responsibilities.


Most of us know winter weather killed as many or more soldiers in the American Revolutionary War and Civil War as died in battle. Fewer have ever heard of “The Winter War” that took place in 1939-40. In the Fall of 1939 the Soviets demanded that the Finns move back their border 25 kilometers from Leningrad and grant them a 30-year lease on Hanko Peninsula to allow the Soviets to build a naval base there. In return the Soviets offered Finland a worthless piece of land in the Karelian wilderness. When the Finns refused, the Russians massed one million troops on the border. On November 26, the Russians staged a fake shelling of the Russian town of Manila, blaming the Finns and demanding an apology. The ploy was unsuccessful. Four days later, 450,000 Soviet troops crossed the border met by 180,000 Finnish troops. Marshal Carl Gustav Mannerheim marched his troops in formation to a fixed line across the Karelian Isthmus. The Soviets under Marshal Kiril Meretskov did not anticipate much resistance and lack necessary winter supplies. Russian soldiers wearing dark uniforms that stood out against the snow proved to be easy targets. Finnish sniper Corporal Simo Hayha killed more than 500 Soviets using white camouflage and skis. This strategy of “motti” tactics employed fast moving light infantry to encircle and destroy isolated units. Working in four-man teams, the Finns jammed the tracks of Soviet tanks with logs and then used Molotov cocktails to detonate fuel supplies, resulting in the destruction of more than 2000 tanks.

As the New Year dawned in January 1940, Colonel Hjalmar Siilasvuo broke up the Russian enemy lines, killing 17,500 Soviets while losing only 250 Finns. Enraged at the defeat, Stalin relieved Meretskov with Timonshenko and beefed up troop units along the Mannerheim line at the beginning of February. The Allied Forces offered Finland 135,000 men if they could cross through Norway and Sweden, but Hitler threatened to invade if they crossed into Sweden. By March 6, Finland was forced to sue for peace. Six days later, the Peace of Moscow Treaty forced Finland to cede the Karelia, a part of Salla, four islands in the Baltic, the Kalastajansaarento Peninsula, and a lease on the Hanko Peninsula. Twelve per cent of Finns lived in these areas. They had to choose whether to become Soviet citizens or relocate.

But “Winter War” proved costly for the Soviets. They had lost 126,875 soldiers with twice that number captured. The Finns lost 26,662 soldiers with approximately 40,000 wounded. In the long run, the poor performance of the Soviet troops in the “Winter War” led Hitler to assume Stalin could easily be defeated, a costly strategical error. The Finns, on the other hand, proved a worthy opponent. Later in June,1941, the Finns resumed fighting independently alongside the Allied Forces.

No one expected the tiny country of Finland to stand up to the Soviet army, the largest military force in the world at that time. Mother Nature played a decisive role when the winter of 1939 turned out to be one of the coldest winters in the history books.

Barbara Ann Mojica, Author of the The Little Miss HISTORY BOOK SERIES

Pictures used under public domain.

Developing Strong Character

The Adventures of Geraldine Woolkins

Written by Karin Kaufman

A delightful chapter book consisting of ten stories that revolve around a fearless family of mice facing the dangers and challenges of winter. Geraldine is the protagonist who was born in April, but now in October is facing the end of the gathering season. She and her brother Nigel have much to learn and experience. Readers are introduced to their friends in the forest, Penelope, the sparrow and Cheddar, a white rabbit. The children love to hear their father Nigel read to them stories from the Book of Tales. These adventures teach them about common sense, trust, gratitude, empathy and sharing. As October wanes, the family and friends celebrate Thanksgiving and the joys of Christmas. On the other hand, the children’s curiosity put them in danger of being eaten by wolves and ravens, swept down the river on a log and being destroyed by a forest fire. Charlotte is a sensitive and inquisitive mouse who desires to read, write and explore the world around her. She and her brother share sibling rivalry, but at the same time deeply love and care for one another. Their parents teach them to have faith that Very, Very Big Hands will be there to guide and protect them.

This chapter book is geared toward readers in grades three to six. Some younger children may enjoy individual stories as a read aloud. There are no illustrations; a few simple drawings would add appeal to younger children. I would thoroughly recommend the book as a gentle, sweet read for children who love animals. The many lessons learned and bravery in facing adversity allow for lots of discussion on the topics of developing strong character and interpersonal skills.

The History of Winter Warm Ups

The History of Coping with the Cold of Winter


When January brings us temperatures in the single digits, most of us turn up the thermostat or pop a container of soup into the microwave to whisk away the chill. If we lived four or five hundred years ago, it would not be as easy to snuggle up and keep warm.

Winters then were more severe, but people were more acclimated to the cold. At first, European settlers in the New World lived in caves or mud huts dug into the ground. As groups formed they began to fell trees to build log cabins. These usually consisted of one large room with a fireplace for cooking and heating. Candles provided the only source of light. In winter they huddled near the fire for warmth and sat on high-backed chairs to keep the cold drafts from the dirt floor off their necks. Windows were simply openings in the logs covered by oilskin cloth to keep out wind and rain. Before retiring, hot stones that had been placed in a brass container were removed from the fireplace and passed through the cold sheets in an effort to warm them. Indoor plumbing did nor exist, and a trip to the outhouse on a winter night was not a pleasant experience. Water wells were shallow because they were dug by hand; they frequently froze in winter. Stones had to be dropped down into the water bucket to break the ice so they could use it. Travel in winter was limited because many families could not afford a horse or donkey and were required to walk most of the time. The horse drawn sled was the best mode of travel in winter as the ground was usually covered by snow. Even so, there were few roads, hardly any bridges, and travelers had to negotiate many obstacles.

Most settlers spent winter indoors. Men could not work the land or perform outdoor maintenance chores. Children were assigned tasks like gathering eggs and tending small animals. The women canned and preserved food and smoked whatever meat they had. They spent time at the spinning wheel with wool that would be spun into cloth. They sewed sheets and clothing for the family. Because they did not have modern heating conveniences, clothing was their most important asset.

Early Americans were influenced by fashion and trade with England. The wealthy imported wigs, velvets and brocades, but this was not the case for most colonists. The lower class had to make their clothes from a coarse fabric they called “Lindsey-Wolsey.” “Dress” clothes were those you wore outside the home. To “undress” meant that you would be dressing to stay at home. Kind of like staying home today and wearing sweatpants. But don’t think the clothing was really comfortable.

Let’s look at woman’s apparel first. Gowns consisted of a bodice and skirt joined together. Underneath lay a visible underskirt and stomacher, which was a panel pinned in front of the bodice A decorative apron and lace neckerchief finished the outfit. The costume was supported by hoops and stays; undergarments that extended around the midsection. These were made of wood, whalebone or metal! She wore stockings made of cotton, wool, silk or linen held up by garters that were tied like ribbons. Dark leather shoes held together with a buckle adorned her feet. In the home, she wore a cap to keep out dust. When outdoors she wore a wool coat and a hat covering the cap. Mittens were fingerless and elbow length. Perhaps, she would carry a muff in the shape of a tube to keep warm.

Men wore durable linen trousers to the ankle or breeches to the knee for special occasions. Linen shirts were usually white and extended from neck to knee. Oversize shirts tucked in britches served as underwear. They wore stockings, garters, and similar shoes to women. Men added a wool waistcoat in winter as well as a three-cornered hat which could be carried under the arm.

Babies wore long sleeved gowns with aprons on top to keep out dirt. A biggins hat made of linen or wool was tied around the neck. Toddlers had straps of cloth sewn on the shoulders known as “leading strings” for the adult who was walking them. Sometimes a “pudding”, a padded roll on the forehead, would be worn to protect the child from falls. Around the age of six or seven boys and girls transitioned to adult clothing.

Hope you are warm and cozy right now. Think about the early settlers and be grateful for modern conveniences!

Barbara Ann Mojica,

Take Out the Tobaggans! The History of Sledding

Flyer2On a recent trip down to my basement, I spotted my old flexible flyer sled. Thinking about winter recreation, I sat down to do some historical research on sledding.

The word sled comes from the Middle English word sledde. That word goes back to the Old Dutch word slee which translates to slider or sliding. The word has a common ancestry with sleigh and sledge. Our neolithic ancestors may have used a variation made of whalebone. Ancient Egyptians are thought to have used a type of sledge to haul the huge stones over the land for their public works. Both sleds and sledges have been found in Viking ship excavations. The sledge appeared to be valuable for an economic reason as well; because it had no wheels it was exempt from toll collection. The British used sledges hauled by men in their early Arctic and Antarctic explorations. Dog sleds were used by other early explorers like Roald Amundsen.

A sled, sledge or sleigh is a land vehicle that has an underside that is smooth or maybe even a separate body that has two narrow long runners supporting it. It moves by sliding across a surface that does not offer much friction like snow or ice. Some of them were used on mud, grass or even smooth stones. Such vehicles might transport passengers, cargo or a combination of the two. A preference for one of the three names depended on the region and climate. Here in America, sled is the general term but this usually refers to a small device used for recreation. Sledge or stone boat is more often used for a heavy sled intended to move heavy objects. The word sleigh usually implies a moderate sized open vehicle having passenger seats used during the cold season as an alternative to a wagon or carriage most often drawn by horses. In the Santa Claus legend, the Scandinavian reference to reindeer supplanted the horses.

 As the advances of the Industrial Revolution progressed, men and women found themselves with more leisure time and sleds quickly transformed themselves into a form of recreation. There are several variations geared for downhill sledding. A toboggan is a log sled without runners that is most often made of wood or plastic. That name comes from either the Algonquin word odabaggin or the Anishinabe word nobugidaban. Inuit tribesmen made them out of whalebone. Other tribes used either birch or tamarack wood. These sleds had curved fronts but no runners. The Russians built a toboggan wooden structure to slide down toward the end of the nineteenth century in St. Petersburg. The sport of tobogganing started around the same time in Canada and rapidly gained popularity. Tobogganing also became a fashion event; women wore their best clothes and men their top hats while sliding down the chute. An unknown inventor added a handlebar and a pair or runners to a timber sled, and the kicksled powered by human leg power emerged. They were used on hard, slippery surfaces like lakes and rivers and could reach speeds of eighteen miles per hour. Clippers and cutters were first mass produced in the United States in Maine. The flexible flyer received its patent in 1889. Samuel Leeds Allen developed sleds to keep his workers busy at his factory during the winter. This type of sled had a slatted wooden seat and steel runners with something resembling a hinge near the back that allowed some steering. By the twentieth century, new shapes and materials were introduced for sledding. There are round plastic saucers, inflatable plastic sleds and foam sliders made of durable foam with handles.Flyer1

A few types of sleds are used competitively in sports: the bobsled, luge and skeleton. An unknown inventor created the bobsled when he added a mechanism for steering to the toboggan. Its name came from the fact that early users thought it helped to “bob” their heads to gain speed. The two variations on the bobsled are the skeleton which is a one person sled ridden lying down head first, and the luge in which one or two people sled feet first steering by pulling straps attached to its runners. Beginning in 1924 as an Olympic sport, today bobsledding is a part of the Winter Olympics for men and women. Whether you enjoy hitting the slopes for fun or watching the Olympics, winter sledding remains a popular winter activity.

Barbara Ann Mojica