Pertti Uotila

Fighting for and against Russia

In March 2022 there is a war raging in Europe, though Vladimir Putin denies that Russian forces have invaded Ukraine and are instead engaged in a ‘special military operation’. He also justifies his peacekeeping mission by saying that Ukraine is not a real country but a historical part of Russia. Russian spokesmen have also threatened Finland and Sweden with ‘military and political consequences’ if they were to join NATO. As anyone with the briefest knowledge of history knows that borders have shifted as Empires wax and wane. The Ottoman Empire used to rule parts of Ukraine but no one seems to be suggesting that Turkey should still control these. These border shifts apply equally to countries such as Sweden and Finland. Indeed the relationship between Russia Sweden and Finland is an interesting one and curiously impacted on members of the Parker expedition.

Finland was once ruled by Sweden and this status only changed during the Napoleonic Wars. Russia initially joined the alliance of European monarchs opposed to Napoleon. However, after a series of disastrous military defeats by the French celebrated in streets names and stations across France Tsar Alexander I made peace with Napoleon at Tilsit and switched sides

Tsar Alexander used the peace with France to try and make gains for Russia. He pressured Sweden to switch sides and join the alliance against Britain but when they refused Russia attacked Sweden and the two countries fought a war between 1808 and 1809. The end result of the war was the loss of Finland for Sweden and the creation of the Grand Duchy of Finland as an autonomous part of the Russian Empire. It stayed that way for a century.

The events which changed it were the seminal early events of the 20th century, namely the First World War and the Russian Bolshevik Revolution. So when the Parker Expedition took place the Finns on it came from within the Russian Empire. They were Valter Juvelius and Pertti Uotila.

The expedition fizzled out shortly before the First World War and the decision of the Ottoman Empire to side with Germany and so against Russia and Britain made all the members of the expedition enemies of the rulers of Jerusalem. Most of the members of the expedition also joined up to fight in the war. In the case of Pertti Uotila this was for Russia against Germany.

Pertti Uotila (front) in the uniform of a Pihkova/Pskov Dragoon officer

He went to St Petersburg and trained at the famous Nikolai Cavalry College. On graduation he became an officer in the Pihkova/Pskov Dragoons in the Russian Imperial Cavalry and fought in the disastrous Russian campaigns against Germany. The losses the Russians suffered were significant contributory factors to the two revolutions in 1917, which saw first the Tsar overthrown and then the Bolsheviks seize power. Finland took advantage of the instability and declared independence from Russia. This led to a bloody civil war in Finland, with Red versus White. As with most civil wars, it was brutal, with atrocities committed by both sides. The war also drew in the Bolsheviks, the Germans and the Allies. Despite his youthful socialism, Uotila fought for the right-wing Whites, who eventually proved victorious.

Pertti Uotila in Finnish cavalry officer’s uniform

After the Finnish Civil War, Uotila fought against Bolshevik Russia for several more years in the Heimosodatot or Tribal Wars. The British opposed the Bolshevik Revolution and supported those fighting against it. They landed a force in Murmansk in Northern Russia to help in the fight. Winston Churchill said the policy was ‘to strangle at birth the Bolshevik State’. Many groups including the Germans were fighting here and their identity was not always clear.

Uotila’s friendship with the Old Etonians, made in the heat of Jerusalem, now proved crucial in the cold of the Artic Circle. The British did not want any weapons they provided to local forces to reach either Bolsheviks or the Germans, so they were initially suspicious of a group of Finns fighting in German-supplied uniforms. Out of these strange-looking soldiers stepped Uotila to help sort matters out. He negotiated with the Royal Navy officers and convinced them that they should supply his Finnish forces with arms and munitions. His connections to the British establishment were vital in persuading the Royal Navy officers they could trust him. One of the foremost proponents of Britain’s policy in Russia was Winston Churchill, former First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1918 he was minister of munitions. Pertti had spent time in Jerusalem with Gordon Wilson, who was married to Winston Churchill’s aunt.

These battles were not Uotila’s last fight with the Russians. After the Soviet Union signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany in 1939 Hitler invaded Poland. Two weeks later, the Soviets marched into Eastern Poland, as agreed with Germany. They also invaded Finland, and the two unequally matched nations fought the three-month Winter War. Uotila, now almost sixty, rejoined the Finnish Army. Despite the mismatch in sizes, the Finns were largely successful in defending their country against its much larger neighbour.

Finnish forces in the Winter War

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The connections to Russia

Pilgrims, pogroms a mad monk and the seceding Finns

The Grand Duchy of Finland

Several members of the expedition were Finns and at the time of the expedition Finland was part of the Russian Empire.

Sweden were the rulers of Finland until the start of the 19th century. During the Napoleonic Wars, Russia initially fought against Napoleon. However, after a series of crushing defeats, celebrated in street names and stations across Paris, Russia swapped sides. Russia then demanded that Sweden do the same and ally with them against England. When Sweden refused, Russia declared war and captured Finland. Finland became an autonomous province within the Russian Empire. However, Russian was never adopted as the primary language.

Valter Juvelius lived in Viipuri, a town which today is known as Vyborg, is close to Saint Petersburg and now part of the Russian Federation.

As Finland was part of the Russian Empire it was involved in the First World War against Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empires. Pertti Uotila joined up and became an officer in the Russian Imperial Cavalry. He fought in the disastrous Russian campaigns against Germany.

1916 painting of Pertti Uotila and his brother

Pertti (front) is in the uniform of a Russian Pihkova lifeguard dragoon

Pogroms

The expedition arrived in Jerusalem at a time the city was expanding rapidly. Immigration drove most of this. There were many sources of this immigration, some came from other parts of the Ottoman Empire, but many were from outside and they came from all faiths. Certainly, Jewish immigration was a large driver. The Yemeni Jews were small in number, but they were joined by large groups driven by the same way as the Sephardim several hundred years before; persecution of Jews by Christian European monarchs. In the late-nineteenth century, the ruler was Tsar Alexander III of Russia. Chaim Weizmann described the results:

“I can remember the stampede — the frantic rush from the Russian prison house, the tremendous tide of migration which carried hundreds of thousands of Jews from their ancient homes to far-off lands across the seas. I was a witness in boyhood and early manhood of the emptying of whole villages and towns”

The vast majority of these migrants did not go to Jerusalem or the Holy Land. Between 1888 and 1914, two million Jews left Russia, and of this 85% went to the United States. However, some did come to the Holy Land. In this wave of immigration, between 1881 and 1903, which has become known as the First Aliyah, nearly 35,000 Jews arrived in Palestine.

Easter Pilgrims

As well as people who came to live in Jerusalem, there were the pilgrims who visited the city briefly. The biggest group of these were Russian pilgrims. Every year thousands of Russian Orthodox Christian pilgrims would flock to the city. They were mostly impoverished peasants who travelled from their village in the interior of Russia to the port of Odessa to embark for the Holy Land.

The Russian government subsidised the boats. They were often overcrowded and any poor weather led to seasickness and unbearable conditions. Once they arrived in the Holy Land, most of the pilgrims would walk from Jaffa to Jerusalem. They were filled with religious devotion and would visit multiple Christian sites in the Holy Land. They would return to Russia in possession of mementoes the pilgrims believed would help ease their path to heaven. These could be shrouds washed in the river Jordan or measured against the stone where Jesus’ body was supposedly washed after his crucifixion. They would also return to Russia with earth from the Holy Land, which would be put in their coffin when they died.

The mass of pilgrims was a tremendous economic benefit for the city. Beggars flocked to Jerusalem during the annual Russian pilgrimage and disappeared again when the last boat has gone home. This influx was even though the Russian peasants were poor themselves. Candlemakers, icon painters, shroud makers and olive wood trinket-makers worked all year round to meet the demand at Easter. Not all returned to Russia. Some died in Jerusalem, happy in the belief that this would also speed their passage to heaven. Others fell victim to the temptations of the city. Rasputin, who performed the same pilgrimage in 1911, and who knew more than most about temptation, said that nuns should not go to Jerusalem ‘so huge is the seduction, so envious the enemy’. Many sadly ended up in poverty or prostitution.

Rasputin

After the members of the Parker expedition were discovered digging in the Dome of the Rock riots broke out and wild rumours flew around. One of these was that the Russian pilgrims had been armed and planned to massacre the city’s Muslims. At the same time after one day of disturbance troops sealed off the Russian Compound in order to ensure that there was no violence against the Russian pilgrims.

Finnish Independence

In 1917 following disastrous battlefield losses Russia experienced two revolutions. The second one brought the Bolsheviks to power and ended Russian involvement in the First World War. Finland took advantage of the instability and declared independence from Russia. This led to a bloody civil war in Finland, with Red versus White. As with most civil wars, it was brutal, with atrocities committed by both sides. The war also drew in the Bolsheviks, the Germans and the Allies. Pertti Uotila fought for the right-wing Whites, who eventually proved victorious.

After the Finnish Civil War, Uotila fought against Bolshevik Russia for several more years in the so-called Tribal Wars. The British opposed the Bolshevik Revolution and supported those fighting against it. They landed a force in Murmansk in Northern Russia to help in the fight. Winston Churchill said the policy was ‘to strangle at birth the Bolshevik State’. Many groups were fighting here and their identity was not always clear. Uotila’s friendship with the Old Etonians, made in the heat of Jerusalem, now proved crucial in the cold of the Arctic Circle. The British did not want any weapons they provided to local forces to reach either Bolsheviks or the Germans, so they were initially suspicious of a group of Finns fighting in German-supplied uniforms. Out of these strange-looking soldiers stepped Uotila to help sort matters out. He negotiated with the Royal Navy officers and convinced them that they should supply his Finnish forces with arms and munitions. His connections to the British establishment were vital in persuading the Royal Navy officers they could trust him. One of the foremost proponents of Britain’s policy in Russia was Winston Churchill, former First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1918 he was minister of munitions. Pertti had spent time in Jerusalem with Gordon Wilson, who was married to Winston Churchill’s aunt. This was not Uotila’s last fight with the Russians. After the Soviet Union signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany in 1939 Hitler invaded Poland. Two weeks later, the Soviets marched into Eastern Poland, as agreed with Germany. They also invaded Finland, and the two unequally matched nations fought the three-month Winter War. Uotila, now almost sixty, rejoined the Finnish Army. Despite the mismatch, the Finns were largely successful in defending their country.

Pertti Uotila

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The connections to Finland

Biblical scholars and poets

Finland played a pivotal role in the Parker expedition from the start with Valter Juvelius to the less well known role of Pertti Uotila.

Valter Juvelius

Valter Henrik Juvelius was Finnish. He was born in 1865 in Pyhäjoki on the Baltic coast of northern Finland. After finishing school, Juvelius took up his father’s profession and worked as a surveyor for many years. A few years before the expedition he gave this up and studied for a doctorate at the Finnish Imperial University. While studying for his doctorate, Juvelius became interested in kabbalist ideas that there were hidden messages within the Old Testament text. His thesis was not directly about the existence of the cypher but it was closely related. It covered the time of the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and the exile in Babylon. It was during this period that he said he discovered the hidden cyphers. Juvelius submitted his thesis in 1907 and, after completing his doctorate, became the head of a Workers Education College.

Juvelius’ other great passion was poetry and the Finnish language. He wrote poetry in Finnish. His most famous poem Karjalan Kunnailla (‘O Hills of Karelia’) is still well known in his home country. He also translated many foreign poets and authors into Finnish including Goethe, Burns and Byron. At the start of the 20th century he lived in Viipuri. The town is close to Saint Petersburg, is now known as Vyborg, and has become part of the Soviet Union and later the Russian Federation.

Juvelius said that during his studies he discovered the secret cyphers in the Old Testament. The cypher or, more accurately, the cyphers that Juvelius claimed to have discovered were based on the number seven. This number is highly significant in the Bible, as it is considered a holy number, reflecting perfection. He documented cyphers in the book of Ezekiel, the book of Deuteronomy, the book of Leviticus and finally the Wisdom of Sirach.

The cyphers only work in the language the text was first written in. Hence the emphasis that it was from an old unvowelled version of the books of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. Biblical Hebrew is different from the Hebrew in general usage today. One of the critical differences to modern Hebrew is that the alphabet only has 22 letters. It does not contain any vowels. These have to be inferred or vocalised from the text and context of the word. It is not certain where Juvelius found his unvowelled Bible. An expedition member told Rudyard Kipling that Juvelius found the cypher in a document in Saint Petersburg. As we know, Juvelius lived within the Russian Empire and Saint Petersburg is less than 100 miles from his home. The Saint Petersburg Imperial Library contained two of the oldest Hebrew Bible manuscripts in the world: the Codex Babylonicus Petropolitanus and the Leningrad Codex. Both contain the book of Ezekiel.

In late 1907 Juvelius finished documenting the cyphers.  The hidden cyphers were a series of cryptic statements which Juvelius interpreted to say where he believed the Ark was hidden. He concluded his findings by saying,

‘To find the Jews’ temple archives would be an enormous gain for science (and) it might be worth while to fit out an expedition to find the archive.’

The question for Juvelius was how to achieve this. He could not fund the expedition himself and he had no contacts in Constantinople. While he was trying to work out what to do he met an old friend in Helsinki. Pertti Uotila was fifteen years younger than Juvelius. Their families were friends and Juvelius had known Uotila since the younger man was a child. Uotila’s father was a landowner, lawyer and professor at Helsinki University. He was also a poet and translator. Pertti was his eldest son and was born in 1880. Despite the age gap, Uotila and Juvelius became good friends. They shared a common interest in the Finnish language. Pertti Uotila was a poet, like both his father and Juvelius. He also worked as a journalist.

The two friends met for a meal in the elegant restaurant of the Hotel Kämp in Helsinki. Uotila brought along a friend of his, Arne Basilier. He was Finnish but had been working as a chemist in America. Over the meal, Juvelius told them about his discoveries. Uotila was interested in helping his friend secure funding to test his theories. Basilier told Juvelius he knew someone who could help. He suggested involving his stepfather, Johan Millen. So started the process which led to the Parker expedition.

Pertti Uotila

Pertti Uotila was known by different names during his life, including Bertil Oskar Lemmitty Favén, Pertti Faven, Bertil Faven and Oskar Nevanlinna. As well as helping to introduce Juvelius to Millen, Uotila was a participant and investor in the project. As a young man, Uotila was a socialist, and in 1905 he helped translate the hymn of the left, the Internationale, into Finnish. Pertti’s younger brother was Antti Favén a painter who had studied in France and became a well-known Finnish impressionist artist.

Uotila accompanied Juvelius on the expedition to Jerusalem and ended up spending much more time than his friend in the city. Juvelius had to leave Jerusalem at the end of 1909 and he was now restricted to a remote role. Pertti Uotila agreed to stay in Jerusalem to represent him. He stayed there till the end of the expedition.

When he left for Jerusalem, he had recently sold his family estate, including agricultural land and forests. He had capital and invested some of this in the exploration company. When he finally returned home he was close to bankruptcy and divorced. Soon after, he too joined up to fight in the First World War. As Finland was part of the Russian Empire, he became an officer in the Russian Imperial Cavalry. He fought in the disastrous Russian campaigns against Germany. The losses the Russians suffered were significant contributory factors to the two revolutions in 1917, which saw first the Tsar overthrown and then the Bolsheviks seize power. Finland took advantage of the instability and declared independence from Russia. This led to a bloody civil war in Finland, with Red versus White. As with most civil wars, it was brutal, with atrocities committed by both sides. The war also drew in the Bolsheviks, the Germans and the Allies. Despite his youthful socialism, Uotila fought for the right-wing Whites, who eventually proved victorious. After the Finnish Civil War, Uotila fought against Bolshevik Russia for several more years in the so-called Tribal Wars.

Other geographical connections

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The connections to Egypt

A transit place that drove some mad

Egypt was a stopping point for the expedition on many of their journeys across the Mediterranean.

On the first expedition the group travelled by train across France and took the P&O steamer India from Marseilles to Port Said, Egypt. They arrived there on the 27th July 1909. In Port Said, Juvelius and the Pearson civil engineer, Walsh, joined them. The larger party transferred to the Water Lily, Wilson’s steam yacht. Clarence Wilson had bought the yacht earlier in the year and refitted her for the Mediterranean trip. Two days later, the party sailed up the coast to Jaffa.

In autumn 1911 five months after the Haram al-Sharif incident the expedition tried to return to Jerusalem. When the Dorothy arrived in Jaffa, Parker found the Ottoman authorities in turmoil. As a result, they had appointed no inspectors, still less been ready to send them to Jerusalem. News of the expedition’s return quickly reached Jerusalem and created a stir. The new Governor, Cevdet Bey, reported the disquiet to Constantinople and the party were expelled. They were forced to sail to Egypt.

Wilson, von Bourg, Uotila, Griffin and the gangers were in Egypt. Wilson stayed at Shepheard’s Hotel, the best hotel in Cairo. They were stuck there for months and it was there that Clarence Wilson went mad and had to be brought back to England.

Other geographical connections

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