S.S. Walnut

A voyage to Freedom - 1948

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Into God's Hands

 A stormy sea -
the water 
looms endless -
cold and frigid;

We leave behind 
those we have loved
things we have known;

All my possessions
in one small suitcase -
are easy to pack;

What fate awaits us?

Together we came
with dread -
yet filled  with hope;

Into God's hands -
we placed our dreams
and our lives;

Deliver us all
from evil
Your kingdom come;

We thank You -
for this second chance
our lives anew.

Tiiu Roiser 
Dec. 2008




S.S. Walnut Voyage - Passenger Stories

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The following passengers have generously shared their memories of the Walnut voyage:

Koidula Roiser

Koidula RoiserKoidula Roiser was 25 years old when she and her husband made their way across the sea aboard the Walnut in 1949.  This was her second escape by boat — having left her homeland of Estonia just a mere four years ago on a tiny 12 foot vessel. 
In September of 1944, at the age of 20, Koidula, her husband and three others had set out from the shores of Estonia towards Sweden.  Her mother had at first decided not to join them but later changed her mind.  She was too fearful of mentioning her change of heart and as a result, was left behind in Estonia.  Koidula watched her mother’s figure standing on the shore fade into the distance as the ocean and the hope of a new beginning came between them.  

Many such small boats were making their escape from Estonia.  Her journey was filled with peril — at one point, the sea became rough and the little boat rocked between seven foot waves.  The rough seas forced them to make many stops along beaches and islands along the way.  At one such stop, their boat happened to turn around and was facing the shore.  Just at that moment two low flying airplanes approached them.  One plane dipped low to have a look and passed overhead.  Koidula thought these were friendly and stood up in the boat and waved at them.  As the plane flew by, she saw that it was a Russian plane.  The other plane flew over towards a larger boat and dropped two bombs.  Luckily the bombs missed, but the boat was left rocking violently.  Why did they not shoot Koidula's boat?  Because they had been facing the shore and waving towards the plane?  Or was it God's care?

So as not to be seen, the small group now traveled at night.  This time the sea was very quiet and calm and a full moon shone from the waterline.  Ten days after their journey began, they arrived on the shore of Sweden .

Koidula and Eduard Roiser-1948,Koidula sat for some time on the beach and watched boat upon boat of refugees arriving across the sea to Sweden.  Russian planes neared the Swedish shoreline and shot at the escapees.  The Swedish army watched and offered assistance to boats that looked too full or seemed in jeopardy.

After four years of safe haven in Sweden, Koidula and her husband Eduard came to the realization that they still were not safe.  The Russians were still too close and demanding back those whom they decided were their citizens.  They decided to risk taking another voyage — this time across a much larger sea.

Right:  Koidula and Eduard Roiser in Sweden 1948.


"1948 Voyage of the Walnut Ship - Interview with Koidula Roiser"

If browser doesn't automatically download, CLICK HERE, to go to video at original YouTube website..

The music used in the above Koidula Roiser video is © by Jimmy Gelhaar:
"Grasping Whispers"; "Song For Francis"; and "Tears of the Forest".  
All music made available through the JimmyG.us website at:  http://www.jimmyg.us 
Licensed under Creative Commons  "Attribution 3.0"

Family Lind

Tõnis Lind jr. - March 2009 Tõnis Lind (Jr.) was just five years old when he found himself aboard the Walnut with his younger brother Tiit Erik and parents Nelly and Tõnis.  He does not remember much, but does recall his father’s sound advice to him while on board:  “Where ever you go, make sure you look up and look down.  Look up to make sure no-one is vomiting on you and make sure to look down so that you don’t step into it.”

Originally from Taebla vald, Nelly and husband Tõnis (from Parnu) were living their married lives in Haapsalu.  It was not an easy decision for them to escape from their homeland of Estonia at the time of the Russian invasion in 1944.

Left:  Tõnis Lind (Jr.) - March 2009
Bottom right:  Nelly Lind - March 2009

Tõnis’ parents had already passed away – he left behind his four siblings.  Nelly’s parents, however, were still alive – she was from a family of 11.  Heavily pregnant with her second son, she made the difficult decision to leave everyone and everything behind and escape to Sweden .  Like others, the only method by which to leave was on a small fishing boat.  Nelly explains that the only reason they were allowed on board the 18-foot boat was because her husband had fuel.

Nelly Lind - March 2009Tõnis describes their journeys from Estonia and Sweden both as miracles – in fact, there were many miracles along the way.  Escaping from Estonia , it was a miracle that their father had fuel – the only reason they were allowed on the fishing boat.  Half way across the Baltic sea , the boat stopped and they had to return to fix the fuel pump.  When they left a second time, the Russians had arrived in their area and shots were being fired.  Tõnis cannot say for sure if the gunfire was directed specifically at them, but they fled in the dark of night through a bed of reeds – that they hadn’t been shot and had gotten away again – was a miracle.  It took two days to cross the sea.  The waves were very rough and the group found themselves bailing water just to stay afloat, the rim of the boat was only four inches from the waterline.  Everything was thrown overboard - that they had been able to keep the boat from sinking – was another miracle.  The coastline of Sweden can be extremely rocky and it was pitch black when they arrived.  Someone shouted, “Check the depth” and the group found themselves teetering on a rock in a v-shape gulley of water.  The group was saved from their precarious situation by the Swedish coast guard.  A little more to the right and they would have been again on the open sea and taken on too much water and sunk, a little more to the left and they would have been smashed to pieces on the rocks.  That Tõnis, only a year and a half old, sitting in the lap of his pregnant mother for two days, survived with the others – a miracle.  Little brother Tiit Erik was born ten days after their escape.

They landed at Talaröö, moving over time from there to Stockholm, Trelleborg, Helsingborg and finally to Göteborg to board the Walnut in 1948.

What became of Nelly’s family in Estonia?  Shortly after her departure, Nelly’s whole family, except for one sister, was sent to Siberia where they lived for the next 16 years.


Nelly Lind celebrates her 90th birthday - March 2009.

Nelly Lind with son Tõnis, granddaughter and great grandson. 
March 1st, 2009 Celebrating Nelly's 90th birthday.


Despite losing her younger son Tiit Erik in a tragic airplane accident in 1977, family Lind here in Canada , has done very well.  Canada has been good to us,” says Nelly.  Recently celebrating her 90th birthday, she is surrounded by her family which has now grown to include five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.   The following are the recollections of mother and son:



"Family Lind's Flight to Freedom Aboard the Walnut Ship 1948"

If browser doesn't load automatically, CLICK HERE, to go to video at original YouTube website..

The music used in the above Family Lind  video is © by Jimmy Gelhaar:
"I Really Prayed" and "Tears of the Forest".  
All music made available through the JimmyG.us website at:  http://www.jimmyg.us 
Licensed under Creative Commons  "Attribution 3.0"

Nelly Hubel (nee Gustavson)

Nelly Hubel - 1948.Nelly Gustavson’s father, Anton, barely escaped being sent to Siberia .  Whether or not to leave Estonia was an easy decision for him.

Eighteen year-old Nelly was onboard the Walnut with her parents, Anton and Rosalie, her four-year-old little brother Peter, and sister Marie and her son Raagnar. 

After arriving in Canada , the family moved to Ajax and finally settled in Toronto .

Right:  Eighteen year-old Nelly at the Pier21 immigration barracks - 1948.

Below from the left:  Marie Valge (Gustavson), ? , Peter Gustavson,
and Nelly Hubel (Gustavson) at the Walnut's 50th Reunion.




Marie, Peter and Nelly Gustavson - 1998.


Vivi Kivi (nee Laaneorg) 

Vivi Laaneorg - 1948.

Vivi Laaneorg’s family story is very similar to all of those escaping from their homeland.  Vivi, sixteen, was onboard the Walnut with her mother Ida, and four brothers:  Arvo, Karl, Paavo and Raivo.

Originally from Hiiumaa, the family first fled Estonia in an overcrowded fishing boat to Sweden in October of 1944.  They had settled in Sweden and Vivi’s father had found  work on a Swedish farm.  Tragically, he had been killed in a farm accident.  The Swedish farmer, however, had the foresight to provide his workers with insurance and Vivi’s mother Ida was fortunate enough to receive benefits for his tragic death.  Although a smaller amount, she took her insurance payment as a lump sum.  Her father’s tragic death, Vivi explains, is the reason the widow and five of her children could afford the passage on the Walnut.




Above:  Sixteen year-old Vivi 
aboard the Walnut.

Right:  Vivi and her brothers at the 
60th Walnut Reunion.  
From the left: Raivo Laaneorg,  
Paavo Laaneorg,
Vivi Kivi, and Karl Lane (Laaneorg).


Raivo, Paavo, Vivi and Karl Laaneorg - 2008.


Both Nelly and Vivi are active participants in the Toronto Estonian community.  
These are their memories from the Walnut voyage:



"Walnut Voyage 1948 - Recollections from Nelly Hubel and Vivi Kivi"

If browser doesn't automatically download, CLICK HERE, to go to video at original YouTube website.

The music in the above  video is used with permission and is written and © by Dr. Roman Toi.
"Armas Jeesus Õnnista" - directed by Rosemarie Lindau 
Sung by Cantate Domino Choir - St. Peter's Toronto Evangelical Lutheran Church


Mati Idnurm

Family Idnurm at railing of Walnut in Sweden.  Photo compliments of Mati Idnurm.

Above:  Mati Idnurm and his brother stand at the railing in front of their parents.  The Walnut is in dock in Sweden.

Right:  Parents Rein and Melanie Idnurm.


Rein & Melanie Idnurm.  Photo compliments of Mati Idnurm.

Waves crash aboard the ship.  Photo compliments Mati Idnurm.

Mati recalls the many storms that were encountered.


Mati Idnurm was six years old during the time of the voyage.  These are his recollections:

"I remember the storms and actually looking up at the crests of the waves coming at us.  I was seasick for a couple of days, but actually began to enjoy the movement of the ship, especially at night.  From that time on, I've enjoyed sleeping on a rocking boat.  

When we approached Ireland, the stormy weather had eased and as we sighted land, most people came up on deck to look.  There were so many people on the shore side of the ship that it actually listed to that side at a very noticeable angle.  At that time, as the decks were clearing, I saw a man throwing stuff overboard.  To me it looked like binoculars and a camera.  I asked my parents about it, but no explanation was offered.  

After Ireland, the storms continued, but on an occasional clear, calm day, there was a man who fished off the stern of the ship.  There was usually a small group, one at the aft deck enjoying what little good weather we had.  The fisherman usually was there.  I saw him catch a spiny fish, small and ugly -- no one in the group knew what it was, but they gave it a name -- something to do with the devil.

I remember my father working the pumps when the systems failed.  I also remember when, off the coast of Canada, we ran out of coal and began burning the extra wood on the ship.  

As I think back, all the feelings and pictures in my mind flood back.  To me, none of the memories are unpleasant, but rather, I begin to understand why I am drawn to the ocean."  

Mati Idnurm (2010)


From Mati's Family Album

On board the Walnut.  Photo compliments of Mati Idnurm.

On board the Ship.

New Year's Eve Festivities 1948.  Photo compliments Mati Idnurm.

The 1949 New Year's festivities in Halifax included a full costume party.

Far right dressed as Hitler is Rein Idnurm



Mati Idnurm explains the meaning behind the costume theme of "The Three Devils":

 It [dressing up in this fashion] represented the three things we hated most.  The three things that could and did destroy our way of life:  Hitler, Stalin and the devil or evil.  We overcame the three.  We as a small group had won.  We were beginning a new life, a new way of life and we no longer feared the three."


The family was sent to Ajax, Ontario

Click here: Matt Idnurm shares his mother's recollections of her homeland through her paintings.


Guri and Marcella Raag's
Journey About the Refugee Ship Walnut From Sweden to Canada
Nov. 17 - Dec. 13, 1948
Translated by Tiiu Roiser with permission - 2013  -  Read original in Estonian here.

My name is Guri Raag.

Together with my wife Marcella, after departing my homeland in 1944, I lived through a "new escape" from Sweden to Canada aboard the 350 ton steamship the Walnut.  This ship was a WWII minesweeper meant for 60 men.  The ship was purchased by a group to which belonged A. Kalbus, H. Suursööt, the ship's Captain A. Linde, and others.  The cost of passage was $250 US per adult and $150 per child.  Shares of the ship could be purchased for $1000 Swedish krona.

About 350 passengers were gathered, all of whom knew that there were no conveniences on board.  Sanitation was limited, not to mention the limited organization of preparing food, and so on.  Three level bunk beds had been built for sleeping.  You were responsible for your own mattress and linens.

To answer the question of why this kind of voyage when there were opportunities to travel with large, comfortable ships?  The reasons are as follows:

1.  Traveling on a passenger ship required that one have a Visa, immigration papers and $2000 US or a one-year work contract.  The Canadian government was not conducive to immigration at that time.

2.  Two years prior to the Walnut voyage, Sweden had returned to the Soviet Union 167 Baltic soldiers, amongst whom were many Estonians.  In our [passenger] group there were many previous soldiers and the fear was that their fate would be the same.

3.  The majority of Baltic refugees arriving in Sweden in 1944, including Estonians, were officially registered as citizens of the Soviet Union.  This could have become dangerous if the Soviet Union started to demand their citizens back.

These reasons were enough to justify our leaving, so in addition to the Walnut, there were many larger and smaller boats with Baltic peoples leaving Sweden destined for Canada or the USA.

The day before our ship's departure, Sweden's ship inspector announced that 49 individuals must leave the ship since there weren't enough life preservers.  The passengers agreed amongst themselves and 49 people "disappeared" having actually hidden themselves in the ship.  Permission to depart was given.

Many Lysekil residents [the town in Sweden from where the ship sailed] and passenger friends, relatives and acquaintances came to watch the Walnut's departure on November 17th, 1948.  After sailing past Sweden's water border, the 49 people appeared and joined the rest of us to make 352 people on board. 

The North Sea was not calm and kind toward the Walnut.  At first the sea was calm and the sun was shining.  The picture changed completely over night.  In the middle of the North Sea we saw wave swells of 9-10 with the waves continuously hitting the decks.  The storm carried away 20 tons of coal, the pumps did not work, the radio was not functioning, etc.

The wind calmed as we reached Ireland and we unexpectedly stopped in the small seaport town of Sligo.  Here, repairs were made to the ship and we purchased coal and food supplies.  The passengers were allowed off the ship and we were allowed showers in the local hotel and in people's homes.  We stayed in Sligo for three days.  My wife and I, along with another couple, were invited to the home of an Irish lawyer, where we were able to bathe, eat well, and enjoy other luxuries.  They also took us to a local school, where the students had already heard about us.  The children knew where Estonia was, our capital, etc.

Before leaving the port, the local Catholic priest blessed the ship and the passengers.  We and those saying farewell, both had tears in our eyes.

In the beginning of December, in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, we had 10-12 ocean swells and it snowed.  Most of the passengers were sea-sick, including the cook.  There were many more miles to the Canadian border.  Our destination port was Halifax, but we had to turn into Sydney in order to take on more coal.  We had used up almost our last piece coming across the stormy sea.  We were provided free coal from the Canadian government.

In Sydney, were were brought gifts, treats, articles of clothing and other essentials.

A small boat guided us through narrow islands and we arrived in Halifax on December 13th.  Our arrival was not a surprise.  The local radio announced the arrival of the "Vikings" and the papers wrote of our journey.  In Halifax, some of us were housed in immigration rooms while most were taken to the former army hospital outside of the city in Rockhead.  Single people were housed in large rooms, while couples were given their own rooms.

Our social and community activities began immediately.  We held meetings and began to learn to speak English from teachers within our group.  We established a choir and prepared for Christmas and the New Year.  

The Red Cross visited us on Christmas Eve.  They brought gifts, and treats and toys for the children - all wrapped in beautiful Christmas paper.  We sang, danced, ate treats and were very happy.

On New Year's Eve there was a masked party, where particularly noticeable were the costumes of Hitler (with the swastika) and Stalin (with his moustache). 

One day in January, the mixed choir was invited to a Lutheran church in Halifax, where, under my direction, to a full church, we sang two songs:  Schubert's "Holy, Holy, Holy" and Beethoven's "All the Sky's Sing".  Later, we were seated at a coffee social with the Church's choir and congregation members.

The Halifax papers wrote about us often.  They presented the stories of passengers and our suffering under the communist regime.  All Walnut passengers mentioned that arriving in Halifax was their happiest of days.

Immigration officials interviewed us in Halifax.

One interview occurred in an unusual fashion.  One official invited our ship's doctor and my wife and I to his home.  He offered us drinks and dinner.  The immigration official was interested as to why we left Sweden, about life under the Communist regime, etc.  The interview was conducted in English, which we all knew a little.  After coffee, our host called for a taxi to take us back.  Our trip took us past the jail.  We were very nervous and expected that the taxi would be taking us to the jail.  This, of course, did not happen and soon we were back "home" in Rockhead and felt secure.

After the interviews, all except two passengers were accepted to Canada and job offerings began.  Most of us wished to settle in Toronto.  Our wishes were granted and in February of 1949 we went by train to Ajax, a city near Toronto.  Here we were housed in university apartments.  Jobs were assigned, but we could also find our own jobs.  Soon, all the passengers had left and everyone started their lives on their own, in their new country, Canada.

Guri Raag - Toronto 2003


Walnut passengers gather at Ehatare retirement home in November 2013, to celebrate 65 years in Canada.
Guri and Marcella Raag are seated in the front row in the middle.


Would you like to see the beautiful landscape of Estonia
and hear the national anthem?


If browser does not automatically download, CLICK HERE to go to video at original YouTube website.

The above video is compliments of aka "ESTONIAisTHEbest"
Used with his kind permission.



If you are a Walnut passenger and would like to share your story, we would be 
pleased to include your recollections.  
Arrangements for an interview can be made by contacting the webmaster.


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