Sven Blom’s diaries from the Western Front in 1914
The collection of manuscripts according to subject under the letter “X” (Swedish biography and trips abroad by Swedes) includes the fascinating Sven Blom collection. It is a gold mine for researchers of Swedish volunteers who fought for France in World War I.
A former Uppsala student in the trenches
Sven Blom was born in Norrköping in 1881 and after studying romance languages at Uppsala University, he moved to France. He was 32 years old when the war broke out in August 1914. His deep love of French culture and the French people led him, along with some 40 other Swedes, to join the French Foreign Legion to defend his “second homeland” from German attacks. In a letter to his father, written in Paris on 7 August 1914, he explains his decision: “It would be a shame to sit here with my arms crossed and just watch...”
After what felt to Sven like an endless period of training at the barracks in Rouen and Toulouse, he was sent to the front in the Champagne region.
From the diaries
22 October 1914
“On Sunday we went 24 kil[ometres], Monday 16, Tuesday 22, and then returned 24 [...] We are not really trained. Our exercises in Toulouse and Mailly were merely play.
The gravity of the situation has set in. Cantonnement d’alerte, sleep dressed in cartridges and a bayonet, rifle in hand, prepared to rush out at each call.”
“Canon smoke and thunder, exploding shells, burning houses and forests, airplanes spying and watching in every direction.”
“Intense cannonading throughout the day. 4 airplanes. A lively hunt. Our batteries fired at a German biplane and the remains of a 75 fell a metre way from me. You are never safe […]”
“The company is digging trenches nearby – in a marsh – they are standing knee-deep in water! It is raining.”
“‘A dense fog spread across the battlefield’’. It lasted all day, so we could communicate unimpeded with the kitchen a few kilometres from here. Otherwise, in nice weather, we have to stay in our clay pits all day and get food at night.”
“We are suffering powerfully from the cold.”
The cold continental winter of 1914 worsened and on 20 November, the field doctor concluded that Blom’s right foot was frostbitten. He had to be evacuated. It was his salvation. He ended up in a temporary hospital far from the Western Front, in central France, where he received care the rest of the year.
SWEDISH CONSULATE IN PARIS
After a long recovery, Sven Blom served as first secretary at the Swedish Consulate in Paris. He then had steady contact with the other Swedish volunteers who continued fighting at the front. According to counts made after the war, they numbered around 40. They included Elow Nilson, who regularly wrote reports for Veckojournalen [Weekly Record], and Ivan Lönnberg. Lönnberg was a famous artist and a successful athlete and long-distance runner. He and Blom wrote long letters to one another. In one of them, dated 1915, Lönnberg drew a soldier wearing gas mask equipment.
By that time the Germans had already begun using chemical weapons, especially chlorine gas. After that, no one in the war respected the regulations of the Hague peace conference in 1899, which forbade the use of asphyxiating or poisonous gases.
Both Elow Nilson and Ivan Lönnberg were killed in France. One of the tasks of the Swedish Consulate in Paris was to inform families at home in Sweden when a Swedish soldier fell in battle.
NOT JUST DIARIES...
Sven Blom saved all papers. After the war, he stayed in his beloved “second homeland”, where he worked as a journalist, language teacher and translator, while continuing to collect information about “the Great War”. Before he died in 1931 in Paris at the age of 50, he donated his extensive library and archive to Uppsala University Library.
The archive is a gold mine for researchers of Swedish volunteers who fought against Germany in World War I. In addition to diaries, it includes numerous letters, notes, photographs, newspaper clippings, lists of names, addresses, medical reports, certificates, leave passes and more. It fills an impressive 26 volumes, which are listed in the catalogue of manuscripts according to subject, under the letter X (search for Blom).
Parts of the archive have been shown in an exhibition at the Uppsala Public Library in conjunction with Archives Day, 27 October–8 November 2014.
Sven Blom’s diaries from the Western Front (X 252 c:12 and X 252 c:13) are digitised and can be seen in Alvin, Uppsala University Library's platform for digital collections and digitised cultural heritage:
The Section for Manuscripts and Music can help you with your search. Ordered materials are studied in the Special Reading Room.