Vägra Döda

Submitted by Dan Lorén

Submitted by Dan Lorén non-combatant service at Borgs village on Öland, 1984

An account of my non-combatant service in Borgs village on Öland, 1984

Brännö 3rd of February 2018

 During secondary school, I became very aware of the fact that conscription, the military and war, was not really something that I sympathised with. For me, a non-combatant military service was the obvious choice.

 I recall my conscription and screening taking place somewhere on Hisingen in Gothenburg. When a wooden rifle was handed over to me (in order to check whether I was left or right handed) I thought: “Help, is it NOW that I refuse? It wasn’t. However, later on I was given the opportunity to call upon my stand to a very sceptical soldier seated behind a desk.

 A few weeks later, I visited a psychologist in her home/clinic at Otterhällan. I can’t remember much of the conversation, more than being asked how one could be as sensible as she believed me to be. So, she supported my request for a non-combatant military service.

 During the first week, an introduction and training was held for the ones taking part in non-combatant education at Riksantikvarieämbetet (The Swedish National Heritage Board) and at Statens historiska museum (The National Historical Museums). We were housed at barracks just outside of Eskilstuna. Our study visits in Stockholm to Riksantikvarieämbetet and Statens historiska museum were very exciting!

 Some of us were to complete our non-combatant military service at Borgs village in the centre of Öland, an undivided village from the 18th century that consisted of two farms, a church ruin and Ölands largest hill fort. It also included valuable fields and grazing land that required a lot of manual maintenance, this area is owned by Kungliga Vitterhetsakademin  (The Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities). In January 1984, I caught the train from Kalmar and then a taxi continuing onto Borgs village.

 Sven Thoresson, the supervisor, lived together with his wife Siv and their children in one of the farms dwelling houses. The non-combatants lived in a dwelling house on the other farm. We were five or six guys with somewhat different backgrounds. As we all started at different times, quite a few guys both came and left during the ten months that I was there. Amongst others were: a farmer’s boy from Gotland, a field biologist from Stockholm, a non-conformist Smålänning[1] and a counter-urbanizer from Småland.

 Our job assignments consisted of traditional chores on the farm. During winter we cleared the grounds with a brush saw and a motor saw – after having completed courses in how to handle these. All bush wood was burnt and many car tires were used in order to get the fires going…during spring we needed to scarify and plough with the tractor. All the fences were to be looked over and repaired. And the sheep were to be moved from one pasture to others that needed grazing (for example different hill forts). When summer came, it was time to harvest hay. And in the autumn we raked leaves on the wooded meadow.

 There were sheep and beef cattle on the farm that grazed the land, which helped us maintain it. During the weekends, one of us would be on call and stay and look after the animals, so that even the farmer could have weekends off. Coming directly from the city, I had grown up several kilometres away from the nearest tree. Now, when it was my turn to be on call, I was expected to take care of a group of sheep and cows all on my own. Both exciting and educational!

 The barn and hayloft etc. were buildings of cultural heritage and lacked most modernity’s. For example, the cows’ urine had to be shuffled out with a manure fork and wheelbarrow. After that, one did not smell too nice. Sometimes, a bull would break itself loose during the night. In the morning, when drowsily opening the barn door, the bull would be waiting welcoming you by grating its foot. Closing the door very fast one would knock on the farmer’s door for help. One weekend I was ill with a temperature, although not worse for wear than being able to complete my chores. However, at the same time I was reading Dostojevskijs book Crime and Punishment, and I can honestly say that I could identify with Raskolnikovs feverish walks around Sankt Petersburg.

 At one week at a time, a non-combatant was responsible for the kitchen. Having previously lived at home with a mother that took care of the household, this was to be a harsh awakening. It was now all about taking the car to ICA-a supermarket in Färjestaden, buying food for a whole company, washing the dishes and maintaining the kitchen – and then it would be time to prepare the next meal…. Of course this is how boys were made into men: on learning how to live together even though there were quite a lot of different opinions on what a good meal consisted of or opinions on how to behave. It was not as forgiving as one was used to.

 One solemn occasion during day was our lunch break, this is when, after lunch, we were permitted to recuperate for a while on our beds. The postman most often came at this time, and if fortunate enough, one would receive a letter from home to read during the day or a consignment letter with a daily allowance. At the end of the day I used to go for walks, write long letters and practice volleyball in Kalmar. In the wood workshop in one of the outhouses that we were allowed to use, I would burn pictures onto beech wood of motives from the farm.

 Not a lot resembled the armed forces. On the vast land that belonged to Borgs village, there was also a shed that belonged to the National Guard. On one occasion a drill was scheduled in the area. We painted signs with “Strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet”, and similar messages which were put up in trees along the road. And in hope of puncturing their vehicles, we buried large nails in the dirt road.

 Of course sometimes we also went on outings: to Borgholm to listen to Björn Afzelius or to some beach to go swimming. One study trip also went to Stensjö village on the mainland where our non-combatant brothers stayed. One weekend I accompanied my friend to Gotland, which I had previously not visited (we still keep in touch).

 Overall it was a fantastic year. Leaving home, learning to cook and taking responsibility of a large household, to look after a farm and its land – and of course the social aspect of it all. I recall the train rides as wonderful adventures. We could travel anywhere in Sweden for ten Swedish krona. To a large extent, I could say that my non-combatant military service affected the rest of my life. A year or so later I started studying on the Cultural Studies Programme – focusing on heritage protection. During my studies, I spent one autumn on Öland where I carried out archaeological investigations- and one summer I worked as a bus driver for the book bus in the municipality of Borgholm in the north of Öland.

 In the autumn of 2016, thirty two years later, my daughter was accepted to Ölands Folk High School (Ölands folkhögskola) in Färjestaden. I drove her there and we visited Borgs village and Sven and Siv. After their retirement they moved into Färjestaden and actually only lived one hundred meters from the student accommodation where my daughter was going to live during her one year on Öland. History repeats!



[1] Smålänning: a person from Småland - a province in southern Sweden.