My guest for this month is Joachim ‘Jocke’ Hallberg, a serving Officer in the Swedish Armed Forces who currently holds the rank of Major. As well as being an avid biker Jocke is a fellow Amateur Historian and has done some incredibly interesting research on Swedes who served in the Great War and those particulary who fell in the battles on the Western Front and whom are now buried in cemeteries or remembered on memorials in Belgium and France . So it’s over to Joachim with the details of how he got started & the detailed process of how he carries out his research. (For clarity English isn’t Joachim’s first language , although he speaks more & better English than I do Swedish!, so i have with his permission edited some of his original text where required ).
My name is Joacim Hallberg, but no one says Joacim anymore, therefore I am mostly called Jocke. I am currently working as an Army officer, my rank is Major, in the Swedish Armed Forces. My background is in Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), but my current task is to coordinate battle training and exercises for the units in my Regiment, Swedish Engineer regiment ´Göta Ingenjörregemente´.
I have served on several missions abroad in Bosnia, Afghanistan and in Mali, both in the Infantry and EOD branches. I am 53 years old later this year, I have two kids, one daughter who is 19 and a son who is 13. You can easily see by looking at them now that the life goes too fast! As soon as this years winter snow is gone, and when the roads are dry again, I will be out on my motorbike, which is my other great passion in life.
During the last few years I have developed a huge passion for The Great War and I have visited the battlefields of Belgium and France many times. When I attended the Swedish Staff Officer Course at the Swedish National Defence College, I wrote a small essay about the South African units in the battle of Delville Wood and of their courage and moral sense of duty both in their offensive and defensive operations.
I consider this to have been the starting point for my great passion for the Great War.
One evening, some years ago whilst in Ypres in West Flanders, Belgium, I discovered some Swedish names on the Menin Gate Memorial, and from this I decided to highlight their service & sacrifices to fellow Swedish citizens as this is a kind of a blind spot in our own history. I did not realize back then that I would find so many more soldiers with a Swedish background.
The core purpose of my project is what connects these people to their homeland as well as to discover their history by connecting them to the villages, towns & cities in Sweden where they originally came from and if possible, also to find some of their personal stories. If everything goes well, you may one day be able to find a guidebook that makes it possible to follow in the footsteps of the Swedes who fought in the Great War on the Western Front. You can follow my development on my project page www.westernfront.se.
Angle of attack to my research
In these times when it may not be possible to visit archives in person, partly due to the pandemic that currently prevails, but also because some of the archives are some distance from where you live, a lot of research is done through online digital archives. The information you find in these digital archives is largely sufficient to find the basic information that you are looking for.
In my own project, I have therefore used online archives to try to find information about the Swedish individuals who were wounded or killed during the battles on the Western Front.
Most Swedes who fought in the First World War did so for the new countries to which they had emigrated to before the war. I consider this to be the case for those who emigrated to the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Cautiously, I consider right now that most Swedes who fought in World War I on the Western Front did so for the American forces followed by the Canadian and Australian forces.
From the information I have found so far, I believe that the Swedes who chose to fight for Germany or France did so more as volunteers, although there were certainly those who also voluntarily joined the Canadian and American forces. In my research, I have found a few Swedes, born in Sweden, who fought in British forces, but my assessment is that they were British citizens at the time they joined the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). So far, I have not found anyone who fought for any other countries on the Western Front and who are buried on the Western Front. Although there were Swedish individuals who, for example, were part of South African forces, and one of these cases is actually buried in the UK.
One method to find information about the Swedes who fought in the Great War is to start with the archives from The Commonwealth Grave Commission, and search for “Sweden”. You will get quite a lot of hits, but you must sort the individuals out from those who belonged to the Navy, most of them commemorated at Tower Hill Memorial in London, but also those Swedes who are buried at home in their new countries. You also must sort out those who for example has ´sweden´ as a word in their address, like ´Sweden Grove´ or ´Sweden Street´ in Liverpool, UK.
I then continue to search amongst those casualty cards that you can find in some archives. I began to search in the Library and Archives of Canada, among their circumstances of death collection. They are sorted in alphabetical order, but only to the letter S, as the other parts has been destroyed for some reason. I then must search through their other search engine in the same archive, but then I get all those who fought, even those who survived.
My next avenue is to start to find the common Swedish surnames like Anderson, Svenson, Johansson and so on, but of course I have to look through all the cards to really find the others who do not have these common names but are from Sweden as well. It is a huge workload, but remarkably interesting at the same time.
One key word to look for in these cards is also the religion, most of Scandinavian individuals were stated as Lutherans, but not everyone.
The next source to search in is the National Archives of Australia (NAA). This approach is a bit harder, but I have found a method where I use the search text ´POB Sweden´ which gives me quite a number of hits, but the results are different from time to time for some reason which makes it harder to sort it out and to really find everyone you are looking for.
When searching the American archives such as the National Archives Catalogue, I also use the method of searching through casualty cards, which are also sorted in alphabetical order. I have not yet been able to find a method to search this archive by entering keywords, but again I proceed in the same way as in the Canadian archives, which is extremely time consuming, but at the same time remarkably interesting. Who said it would be easy?
Here the cards are revised gradually, when new information has been found, e.g., clearer address to Next of Kin (NOK) which helps me along the way. However, sometimes I must go through all the “Anderson” and so on, to even find those who do not have a clear NOK, to really find the ones I am looking for. Another help in this search is to look at stamps found on the cards. If it says “Over”, they are buried in the USA, and are not included in my project, even if they are Swedes. Here I have concentrated on those who were born in Sweden and had or have relatives left in Sweden.
When I search for Swedes who fought for Britain, I use Ancestry which gives me some names to look through, but they are quite few. As I mentioned earlier, I think those individuals already lived in GB when they went out on the battlefields. I will try to find another angle of approach and search for those again, to see if the results reflect how it was, or if there is anymore information out there.
I have also tried to investigate the German Archives, as well as the French. I have investigated the German Volksbund archives but as we know a huge part of those archives were destroyed in the Second World War. It makes it harder to find Swedes from that database. Those that I have found, I have found through books and other literature, and then I’ve been able to search more about them from there. When it comes to those who were fighting for France, most of the Swedes were connected to the French Foreign Legion at that time. Right now, I have 14 Swedes who fought and fell on the Western Front for France in my database.
There are other ways to find information about the Swedes who fought in the Great War, like searching in old newspaper archives especially from the USA and Canada. At that time, they had columns with names of those who fell in the Great War, and these finds can also lead me to individuals that I have not found before. It was through twitter that I received this tip to search through old, digitized newspapers, so I am grateful for the network you build up through different types of social media.
The next step is to verify the information that I have about all those individuals that I have found, by finding information in other sources like war diaries. Then I’m able to connect these individuals to correct units and locations. The most developed archives to find diaries in are the Canadian, Australian and the British ones. There are also diaries to be found in the French archives as well, but as I only speak English and German besides Swedish, it is a bit harder for me to search in those archives.
It is especially important for me to verify that the Swedes that I have in my project were born in Sweden. I do this through the eminent Swedish archive Riksarkivet. In this archive I also find a lot more information about where and how they lived, how they moved around and finally when they emigrated. This will later be the source when developing my guidebook, whenever that will be finished.
The Great Challenge
The most challenging aspect of my research is to find the correct individuals in the archives, due to fact that they changed their names for some reason when they emigrated to their new countries. Anders became Andrew, Johan became John, Carl became Charlie and so on. Gustaf becomes often Gust. At least it seems to be consistent. Due to this it takes time to really find the correct individual in the Swedish archives especially when they call themselves Andrew Johnson, that can be Anders Jonsson, Jönsson, Johansson, Jansson and so on. Quite common names at that time, and they still are, in Sweden. I however have now learnt how to search with these parameters in mind.
The Scandinavian countries often use the same surnames and common names in both Sweden, Norway and Denmark is Olson, that becomes Olsen in Norway and Denmark. Common forenames in these times in Sweden were Arthur and Alfred, but it does not mean that you have found a Swede if you find Arthur Anderson, it was also quite common names in UK at that time, and maybe further back in time is related to Sweden?
Putting all the pieces together
When I put things together in documents and in geographical tools such as Google Earth Project, I can see that some patterns occur, for example Swedes who fought for Canada seem to have been in the area of Lens in France, and they fell during specific periods which makes me able to draw conclusions that I did not see before, when the information was just there by itself. That makes it possible to look more deeper into specific things and to develop new conclusions.
It is also possible to find group information together, such as those Swedes who fought in the Meuse Argonne Offensive, that makes it possible to do a specific research about that.
Below are a few of the stories of the men who I have researched during this whole project
The story of Carl I Johanson – American Expeditionary Force
Sometimes in my research I find information about different awards which were awarded for different actions to Swedish soldiers. In my research I have around five soldiers that has been awarded different kind of awards for their actions but one of them stands out in this case.
The Swedish born soldier Carl Ivar Johanson, Johanson taken from his father’s name Johan, was born 1887 in Roera Perish in the western part of Sweden, north of Gothenburg, on the island of Orust. From the church book I can see that he is mentioned in 1910 with a small text about him becoming a sailor in 1906.
I have right now no information about when he went over to USA. But I have a document that mentions a Carl Johanson leaving Liverpool in 1906, but the information is not confirmed as the correct Carl. As with many other soldiers I have found his registration card for the US Army dated May 1917. In the same church book as above, it is also mentioned that he died on October 4th, 1918, and that is also the same date stated on the casualty card.
There is also a page from another Swedish church book that mentions that he is killed in France, being a soldier in the American Army. His mother told the parish about his death on August 5th, 1919, after receiving a letter from the unit that he belonged to.
He became inducted into the US Army on September 20th, 1917 and served overseas from April 1918 until his death on October 4th, 1918, age 30.
He was fighting in the Meuse-Argonne offensive for his unit B Coy 306th Inf 77th Division. He did not belong to any of those units who became the “Lost Battalion” but he fought in the same area at the same period. The casualty card states that he was awarded the French Croix de Guerre and the US version of the Distinguished Service Cross for his action in the battle. See text below regarding D.S.C.
“The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to Carl I. Johanson, Private First Class, U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in action in the Forest of Argonne, France, September 27, 1918. Private Johanson displayed exceptional bravery in volunteering to cut the enemy’s wire and thereby make it possible for his company to advance upon the enemy. In performing this invaluable service, he repeatedly exposed himself to heavy fire from enemy machine guns and was severely wounded.
General Orders No. 21, W.D., 1919
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY”.
I do not know if he was awarded The Croix de Guerre in person or as a soldier in a specific unit that received the award as a whole but nevertheless, it does not take away the value of his actions.
In my project I have verified that around 45 Swedish soldiers took part in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, and I will probably fin a few more. They are all put out on a map in my Google Earth project, where they are supposed to have been where they fell. It will be interesting to follow up all of these, together with all the other Swedes that I have in my research. Carl is one of them.
The story of Karl A G Karlson (Karl Anders Gunnar Karlsson) -AEF
Karl was born in Mofalla perish near the town of Hjo on the western side of lake Vaettern in the southern part of Sweden. Later, the family moved to the farm Karlero near the town Falkoeping, west of Hjo and the town of Skoevde, where he lived until April 1913. I live quite near these places and I will continue my research to find more information about the area where he lived before he left Sweden for the US.
In the U.S Karl was employed at GARY Industries, N.Y until he enlisted in the regular U.S Army in 1917. He was sent to Fort Thomas in Kentucky and was attached to A Battery,18th Field Artillery. He went overseas in May 1918. A few months later Karl was involved in the battles in the Aisne-Marne region in France in July 1918.
During my research I found some information about another individual who had served with Karl in the same unit. His name was Morris Polsky and from his diary I found this text (I have permission from James Taub to use this text)
“July 15, 1918
German shell hits top of tree, about 30 feet to west of where Dougherty and I are laying. Kills Carlson and Hall out of my section. They are still alive when they are carried to dressing station, but they are in bad shape. Both are filled with shrapnel and are unconscious. Hall thrashed and kicked around for a few seconds then passed out. As this is war. Hall is only a kid, about 17 years old. “Swede” Carlson is about 25. They were Buddies, always together. Ammunition dump blown up about 2 a.m. Wear gas masks all night. Ordered to dismantle gun, in case Germans break through. Terrific fire continues nearly all night. One “C” Battery gun destroyed by direct hit. Few of the fellows wounded by shrapnel, but none very bad.”
Carlson mentioned in the text above is Karl. He had just been in France a few months before getting killed in action in July in 1918.
Karl is buried in Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in France. It is great to find this kind of information which contributes to the story of the specific individual.
The story of Fredin and Johnson – Canadian Expeditionary Force
When searching for more information about the Sapper August Fredin who served with the 8th Canadian Railway Troops, I found another name in the diary of that month when August was injured and later died of his wounds.
Above August, in the list of men who became injured December 14th, 1917 there was also a soldier named Johnson. I looked him up and it turned out to be another Swede born in Stockholm.
August Fredin was born in 1873 in Hellefors, Sweden, just north of the larger town Karlstad. His parents were Johannes Jonsson and Anna-Stina Fredriksdotter. When looking into the church book of Hellefors Parish it seems that his name was August Froeding, which I assume later becomes Fredin when he is leaving Sweden for Canada.
As far I can see he is noted to do his military conscript period in Sweden in 1895, but there is a note under that text that states “absent”, and he is later noted to be “non-existent” in the parish in 1905.
I have not found any information about when he went over to Canada or United States, but I know he became Sapper August Fredin in the 8th battalion Canadian Railway troops after having been registered in the Canadian Army on June 6th, 1916. He arrived in France April 20th, 1917.
On December 14th, 1917 they were near Voormezele, Ieper, in Belgium and they are making a small fire to heat up some water at the place where they are at that moment. They do not know that under the fire there are an Unexploded Ordnance (UXO), and the fire makes the grenade detonate which injures three of the soldiers that are standing around the fire. Two of those soldiers are Fredin and Johnson.
Fredin is taken to 2nd Casualty Clearing Station but dies from his wounds two days later, on December 16th. On December 19th he is buried at Outtersteene Communal Cemetery Extension, east of Hazebrouck in France.
What happened to Johnson? Johnson suffers similar wounds as Fredin but he survives and he rejoins the unit on December 23 1917. He is later awarded the Good Conduct badge on May 11th, 1918 and was sent back to Canada in February 1919.
We will never know what they talked about that day in December 1917, or how much they knew about each other, but probably they were friends from the same country and August became one of those Swedes who gave all in The Great War.
The project continues
The next step after my fact-finding phase at home is to travel down to the battlefields of France & Flanders to visit those places where the individuals fell and are buried. I take photos of these places, in order to make the project complete as it was thought of in the beginning.
At this moment, February 2021, I am working on the information of about 195 Swedes that were born in Sweden and right now 164 of those I have found in church books in the Swedish archives.
I am sure this project will continue for a long time as this piece of history is a kind of forgotten part of Swedish history as we tend to focus more on the Second World War as well as our specific history connected to 16th Century and our battles against Denmark and Germany, which are important as well of course.
Even if we as a country did not participate in either the First or Second World Wars, we had citizens from our country who ended up in those hard battles, either for their new country or for the cause they believed in at that time, or a combination of both.
I have as a person decided to take on the role, to emphasize what our Swedish ancestors did back at this time,fighting in the Great War on the Western Front. We will remember them.
Picture 1 – Authors private photo
Picture 2 – Library and Archives Canada https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/
Picture 3 – National Archives of Australia https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/
Picture 4 – National Archives https://catalog.archives.gov
Picture 5 – https://www.memoiredeshommes.sga.defense.gouv.fr
Picture 6 – National Archives https://catalog.archives.gov
Picture 7 – Riksarkivet https://sok.riksarkivet.se/
Editors Notes:– Well what a brilliant feature that was, and an aspect of the Great War that was something completely different and most probably new to many people but still with familiar challenges & aspects of Research that many of us face. Again do have a look at Joachim’s webpage & Research at https://www.westernfront.se/ or follow him on twitter @milvet_se