Saturday, 17 February 2018

The day I met Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid

In Munich today the Estonian community gathered for EV100 celebrations. No doubt many of us will be in Tallinn next week for Estonia's official 100th birthday celebrations.  After the initial welcome we all sang the national anthem followed by a rather humorous speech from General Riho Terras, Commander of the Estonian Defence Forces. Whoever said Estonians don't have a sense of humour? They certainly do behinds closed doors! After a series of muscial performances we were all pleasantly surprised when President Kaljulaid made an apperance. I was speaking with a few Estonian friends at the time when I heard gasps in the crowd then turned to see the President in the room. There was so much excitement! 


I knew President Kaljulaid was in town for the Munich Security Conference but I never expected to see her at our small gathering. It was so nice of her to stop by. Naturally I wanted to say hello so Karin, the head of the Estonian Society in Munich introduced us and we had quick chat. President Kaljuliad said she has relatives in Australia but has never been there. One day she would like to take a month off so she can. It was so nice meeting her, it made the celebration even more memorable!

My one big regret of the day - I forgot to bring my camera!


Monday, 12 February 2018

The role of armoured trains during the Estonian War of Independence

Today I am going to write about Estonia's armoured trains as they played a significant role in the Estonian War of Independence. I am proud to say that my great-great uncle Paul Lesthal was a machine gunner in the armoured train division and was promoted to the rank of sub-captain by the end of the war. In February 1920 Paul gave a lecture in Tallinn on the armoured trains used during the war. 

The first broad-gauge armoured train was "Captain Irw” (1919).

Armoured trains were used from the very beginning of the Estonian War of Independence. They were previously used during World War I, demonstrating that they could move troops around quickly and get them to safety if required. 

The first Estonian armoured train set off for the front in late November 1918, the next two in December. In 1919 another ten Estonian trains reached the front. During the war, a total of 6 broad-gauge and 7 narrow-gauge armoured trains were built in Estonia.  The advantages of armoured trains were not just their speed compared to road transport, but also their fire power. They transported large-calibre, long-range fieldguns together with essential supplies.

Initially the design of the armoured trains was very simple. The designs were based on goods carriages and, until spring 1919, their ‘armour’ consisted of just wood and sand.  The carriages were later covered with steel and equipped with artillery and machine guns.


Leading the armoured train divsion was Captain Anton Irv and Karl Parts. Both men were highly driven and had gained military experience during World War I. Irv and Parts led a highly motivated team and the efficiency of the armoured trains formed the backbone of the front during the war.

In early January 1919 the Red Army managed to conquer about half of mainland Estonia. Only about 30 km separated them from Tallinn. Fortunately things suddenly changed for the better on January 7 when the restructued Estonian Army and Finnish volunteers launched a counteroffensive. In about three weeks all of Estonia's territory was liberated from the Bolsheviks. The highly motivated armoured train crews and the battalion of Julius Kuperjanov played a significant role in this success.


The first armoured trains and the Kuperjanov battalion can certainly be considered the best Estonian army units during the Estonian War of Independence.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Estonian War of Independence Hero: Julius Kuperjanov (Kupper)

The Estonian War of Independence (1918 - 1920) saw many patriotic young men band together and take up arms to liberate their beloved Estonia. The Estonian Army consisted purely of volunteers and also received assistance from Finland and the United Kingdom.  Many brave boys also fought in the war, often following in their older brothers' footsteps, wanting to prove they could make a difference. As the war progressed, the number of Estonian volunteers steadily grew. In early 1919 the Estonian Army had approximately 15,000 men. That number rose to 75,000 and then 90,000 by the year's end. 

Men from all walks of life fought in the Estonian War of Independence and many heroes emerged among them. One such man was schoolteacher Julius Kuperjanov.

Julius Kuperjanov
29 September 1894 – 2 February 1919

Julius Kuperjanov was born in the Pskov Governorate in 1894. His Estonian parents were working in Russia at the time of his birth and had Russified their surname from Kupper to Kuperjanov. When they returned to Estonia, they decided to keep the name.

Kuperjanov graduated from the Teachers’ College in Tartu in 1914 and taught in the village of Kambja. In 1915 he was conscripted into the Russian army and completed the School of Ensigns. During World War I Kuperjanov served as head of the infantry regiment’s scout commando. In November 1918 he was appointed as head of the Defence League in Tartu county.

Shortly after the Estonian War of Independence began, Kuperjanov assembled a battalion which took his name – the Kuperjanov Partisan Battalion. Students were among the first to join.  He led many successful campaigns and stood out for his bravery and energetic spirit. As a leader he demanded strict discipline from his men, not even allowing them to drink alcohol or play cards.

On the 14th of January 1919, Julius Kuperjanov was among the liberators of Tartu. Unfortunately he was fatally wounded a few weeks later after leading an attack during the decisive Battle of Paju. At the war's end Kuperjanov was declared a national hero for his bravery and self-sacrifice. He was posthumously awarded the Cross of Liberty (VR II/2 and II/3).and has a battalion of the Estonian Army named after him.

Grave of Julius Kuperjanov in Raadi cemetery

Julius Kuperjanov's tomb at Raadi cemetery in Tartu was one of the few War of Independence monuments to survive the Soviet occupation. It still stands today.

In 2009 a postage stamp was released in Kuperjanov's honour, marking the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Paju.


Tuesday, 6 February 2018

A Hundred Years of the Republic of Estonia - Time to Celebrate!

Not long to go now until Estonia celebrates its 100th birthday.  There has never been a better time to visit Estonia than now. The big day is on February 24th!

Friday, 2 February 2018

Be part of the EV100 birthday invitation

A new initative has been launched to encourage people to visit Estonia during the centennial celebrations. The project asks for all Estonians at home and abroad, and e-Residents, to submit joyful portrait photos that will then be made into an extremely long videostream – the online birthday invitation.




At the beginning of the video, people will be invited to visit the Republic of Estonia on the occasion of its 100th anniversary, followed by photos of the Estonian people according to their counties. The invitation ends with photos of e-Residents. Between the portraits, Estonian tourism sights will be shown and achievements of the country mentioned. Estonian music will play in the background.

Estonians can submit their photographs now and the birthday invitation will be live on the Internet from 24th of February 2018.  The video will be later given to the Estonian National Museum, so that future generations can search for our photos there. It is kind of a historical portrait of the Estonian nation.

You can upload your photo with your Estonian ID card here: EV100 Birthday Invitation

And did I contributed a photograph to the invitation? Of course! I am a very patriotic Estonian! I can't wait to celebrate EV100! Elagu Eesti!


Sunday, 28 January 2018

Abram Petrovich Gannibal - The Black Governor of Tallinn



There are many fascinating stories that fill the history pages of Tallinn.  Perhaps one of the most interesting is the life of Abram Petrovich Gannibal. He was an African boy who escaped a life of slavery and went on to live a priviledged existence in the Russian court. Whilst most Estonians were bound to lords of their manor at this time, Gannibal enjoyed freedoms that most Estonians did not.

Born in Central Africa some time between  1696–1698, Abram was kidnapped as a child and taken to Russia to serve in the royal household. He was presented as a 'gift' to Peter the Great who took a liking to his intelligence and had him freed. Peter the Great then adopted Abram and had him raised in the Russian Court as his godson. Abram was baptized in 1705, in St. Paraskeva Church in Vilnius. The date of Abram’s baptism was used as his birthday because he did not know his actual date of birth.

Abram valued his relationship with his godfather, as well as that of Peter’s daughter Elizabeth, and was loyal to them as if they were family. Starting at a young age Abram would travel alongside the Tzar during his military campaigns, serving as his godfather’s valet.

Abram received a good education He was fluent in several languages and excelled in mathematics and geometry. In 1718 Abram joined the French Army with hopes of pleasing his godfather by expanding his learning in military engineering. He enrolled in the royal artillery academy at La Fère in 1720. It was during his time in France that Abram adopted the surname "Gannibal" in honour of the Carthaginian general Hannibal (Gannibal being the traditional transliteration of the name in Russian).

After the death of Peter the Great in 1725, Prince Menshikov gained power in Russia. Menshikov was not fond of Gannibal and had him exiled to Siberia in 1727. In 1730 Gannibal  was pardoned and his technical skills were put to use. He worked on many construction projects in Siberia and became a master engineer.

In 1741 Peter's daughter Elizabeth became the new monarch of Russia. Abram became a prominent member of her court during her reign and rose to the rank of major-general.  Empress Elizabeth placed much faith in Abram and made him mayor of Tallinn in 1742. He held that position until 1752. A letter signed on 22 March 1744 by "A. Ganibal" is held at the Tallinn City Archives. In 1742, the Empress Elizabeth gave Abram the Mikhailovskoye estate in Pskov Oblast with hundreds of serfs. He retired to this estate in 1762.

Letter signed by A. Ganibal on 22 March 1744. Tallinn City Archives.

Abram married twice. His first marriage was an arranged one and was quite volatile. His Greek wife Evdokia Dioper despised her husband and had a string of affairs from the onset of  the marriage.  When Abram found out that she had been unfaithful to him (Dioper gave birth to her lovers' white child), he had her arrested and thrown into prison, where she spent eleven years. After they divorced Dioper was sent to a convent for the rest of her life.

Abram's second marriage was a much happier one. He married Christina Regina Siöberg in Tallinn in 1736 and they had ten children together.  Abram appreciated Christina's fidelity and affection towards him and they lived a happy existence. Many of Abram's descendants can still be found in aristocratic circles today. In England,  Natalia Grosvenor, Duchess of Westminster and her sister, Alexandra Hamilton, Duchess of Abercorn. George Mountbatten, 4th Marquess of Milford Haven, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth II are all desceded from him.


Perhaps one of his most famous descendants is his great-grandson, Russian author and poet Alexander Pushkin.