In August 1940, the arrival of a young stowaway in New York caught the attention of both American and Australian media. Leone Hirmukallio, 17 ( pictured), from Finland, arrived on the US troop transport American Legion, which had effected the escape of 879 refugees from different parts of northern Europe fleeing from the ever-expanding regimes of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany during World War II.
Although the US was neutral at the time, the voyage to America had been fraught with danger, as reported by New York newspaper the Dunkirk Evening Observer – “Storms, seasickness, overcrowding and fright plagued the passengers most of the way … Threats, broadcast over German radio stations, that ‘only a miracle’ could save the ship and that the voyage was ‘criminal folly’ had been picked up on private radio sets aboard … ”
Hirmukallio was detained at the Ellis Island immigration depot as US authorities debated her fate. With little money and no passport, she had planned to travel on to Queensland (she was born in Gympie and her parents had resided in Nambour for many years). The family had left for Finland when Hirmukallio was five years old. Her widowed aunt, Lydia Loimaranta, still lived at Nambour, and when news of Hirmukallio’s plight reached her, she requested federal government assistance in her niece’s passage to Queensland.
In an article in the Nambour Chronicle, Loimaranta shared the ordeals of the family during the Soviet invasion, as described by Hirmukallio’s mother in a letter dated December 1939: “Are we downhearted? No, no, no! Even though we have been bombed and fired upon by machine guns … ” In the meantime, US authorities released Hirmukallio on parole into the care of a cousin in New York. She continued to live in America until her death in 1998 in California.