The exhibition ‘Secret Mail of Finnish Jaeger Troops’ (18 March 2016–19 March 2017) shows the Jaegers from a new perspective through letters and diaries. The exhibition gives an insight into their reasons for leaving, camp life and the conditions at the front, and describes the secret correspondence between the Jaegers and their loved ones. The exhibition features rare artefacts from private collections, augmented reality, RFID players, animations and films. The exhibition script is based on a book by researcher Tuomas Hoppu, PhD, ‘Jääkärit Saksan tiellä’ (‘Jaegers in Germany’).
The letters of the Jaegers travelled by secret routes, usually via Stockholm. The letter contents were checked in Stockholm to ensure that they did not contain information harmful to the Jaeger Movement. The letters and diaries of the Jaegers give a good idea of the spirits of the voluntary troop. The conditions in Germany were difficult, the training was hard and the discipline strict. For the people at home, the most important thing was the knowledge that the sender was still alive. For the Jaegers, contact with their loved ones was vitally important for their ability to cope.
The Jaeger Movement was started by student activists in November 1914. Their goal was to detach Finland from Russia. February 1915 saw the beginning of military training in Germany on the Pfadfinder course at the Lockstedt camp. At first, the Jaegers were dressed in Boy Scout uniforms and called Pfadfinders after the German Scouts. Thanks to extensive recruitment efforts, almost 1,900 men went through the training in 1915–1918.
In 1916 and 1917, the Jaegers gained experience on the front in what is now Latvia at the River Misse (Misa) on the Gulf of Riga front and at the River Aa (Lielupe).
The scarcity of food and daily supplies was a problem. Hunger churned in their stomachs and they were troubled by homesickness. Large swarms of mosquitoes also tested their nerves. Olof Lagus wrote in his diary that the mosquitoes were not normal Finnish summer mosquitoes but large, long-legged blood-suckers. “Sometimes one almost goes mad because of them.”
Ilmari Pahkajärvi, on the other hand, wrote in his diary in July 1916 that he fell asleep before dinner-time and nobody woke him up. He was forced to wait 24 hours for the next meal. “I am not ashamed to say I had to fight back tears with all my might; that was how miserable my situation was.”
On 13 February 1918, the Royal Prussian 27th Jaeger Battalion was disbanded and the main group of the Jaegers started their journey home.