Quickly in Place
“The next time I heard “Finlandia” was at Folke’s funeral.”
More can read about Åge Lundström in a reference entry in “Who is it: Swedish biographical manual” from 1969. Together with all his military promotions and prizes won in both the Olympic Games and Swedish championships, is a short sentence – “stabsch hos greve F Bernadotte i Palestina (48)”.
When the first ceasefire was negotiated in Palestine and entered into force on 11 June 1948, Folke Bernadotte recognised the need to quickly install an observer force that, once in place out in the field, could monitor that the conditions of the ceasefire were being met. From Sweden, he requested five Swedish officers who, together with 63 observers from the United States, France and Belgium would be deployed around Palestine. The Swede Thord Bonde was appointed Chief of Staff. The first ceasefire was decided on was to last for a month, and after that month, new hostilities broke out. The observer’s mission was concluded as the ceasefire ended and they were evacuated.
On 15 July, a new ceasefire enters into force and with experience from the first ceasefire and with slightly better timing, an observer force is now set up, which will amount to some 300 observers a month or so later on. Major General Åge Lundström is asked by his old companion from the cavalry, Folke Bernadotte, if he wants to undertake the mission as Chief of Staff for the new force. What Åge Lundström cannot possibly imagine is that the mission and the journey down to Palestine will change his life in a very tragic way.
In his memoirs, Åge Lundström himself describes how he carried out a reconnaissance of the Government House building in Jerusalem in mid-September. Whether to move the mediation effort’s headquarters from Rhodes to Jerusalem was under discussion before the autumn and Government House was an option. Lundström encountered major problems in moving the headquarters to Government House since the infrastructure, water supply and heating would be difficult to maintain at an acceptable level. The strategically exposed location of the building was described by Lundström on a visit to the Israeli military governor Dr Joseph. During the visit, Dr Joseph also used to play a piece of music on his impressive gramophone player. Lundström writes in his memoirs “It was an excellent recording of Sibelius’ “Finlandia”. The next time I heard “Finlandia” was at Folke’s funeral”.
Folke Bernadotte nevertheless decides that a further reconnaissance shall take place to Government House and on 17 September he departs with a number of officers. Bernadotte takes his place on the right-hand side of the rear seat in Lundström’s car, in the middle is the French officer André Sérot and on the left-hand side is Åge Lundström himself. On the way back from Government House, the vehicle column is suddenly stopped and a number of would-be assassins run out. One of them points in his sub-machine gun through the window of the car where Bernadotte, Sérot and Lundström are sitting and he discharges a large number of shots. The French officer André Sérot dies immediately, while Folke Bernadotte is driven at high speed to the nearest hospital. Lundström follows into the hospital and helps Bernadotte off with his shirt before hospital staff take over. Lundström asks the doctor – “Can’t you do anything?” The doctor replies – “It’s too late”.
In the days after the murder the assassins announce that they regret the death of Colonel Sérot. It was said that he was killed by mistake, and in fact, in addition to Bernadotte, they had intended to murder his Swedish Chief of Staff, Åge Lundström.