During the annexation of Klaipėdos kraštas (= Memelgebiet) by Germany on March 22, 1939, Lithuania also lost Klaipėda as its only sea-worthy port. Although the German take-over allowed some concessions for Lithuania’s trade needs, it was tragically obvious that Lithuania badly needed its own independent sea outlet. The only choice available was provided by a modest-size fishing harbour Šventosios Uostas at the mouth of the river Šventoji, some 35 km north of Klaipėda. But to upgrade it to at least a medium-capacity seaport considerable effort was needed.
The urgency of constructing an own seaport was enthusiastically grasped by youth organisations, which suggested the creation of a volunteer work force. Within a couple of months a project covering the many aspects of the enterprise was drawn up and publicly announced on June 8, 1939. The aim was to form 3 volunteer groups each consisting of 150 young persons, 18 to 30 years of age, and working in shifts. The unpaid volunteers were provided with work clothing and tools, were housed in tents, provided with meals at a military canteen, and their arrival plus departure paid by the state. A major task was the building of a high quality road to the port – but this was soon replaced by the more essential construction of a rail extension to Šventoji from Darbėnai.
The enterprise, “Jaunimo savanorių darbo talka” (= Volunteer Youth Work Teams), was officially opened on July 10, 1939 and presided by high-ranking State officials. There was no shortage of volunteers and the set tasks were largely completed before the onset of winter. At the closure of the camps the volunteers were issued with Certificates.
The Volunteer Work Teams were well publicised in the media, which of course added to their popularity. For this occasion some illustrated postcards were printed as well, displaying views of the site and enriched by patriotic excerpts and slogans. Their overall number and quantity issued are not known, but they seem to be scarce and as a rule were posted from the workplace and bore the postmark Šventosios Uostas. The card shown below was sent by a volunteer who also asks that the card, as a memento, not be discarded. He points out that “today, August 19, 1939” is the last day of the teams’ commitment, the handing out of Certificates, a ceremonial Camp Fire, whereas the following day will consist of removal of tents and leaving for home.
Publicity postcard with a Volunteer Work Teal theme (front).
Personal message on the back of a publicity Volunteer Work Team postcard.
The following illustration shows another postcard produced for the Voluntary Work Teams. It seems that such postcards were products of private initiative and made use of photographs taken by M. Pranckūnas.
Publicity postcard with a Šventosios Uostas theme.
Voluntary team work being unpaid, cash was not abundant. In the card shown below a youthful volunteer asks his mother for 5 Litai, as “money in the camp is badly needed”.
Postcard from Šventosios Uostas, with a message of a teamster asking for pocket money.
Volunteer work was selflessly efficient, so that on July 27, 1939, the rapidly improved port could take in the first trade vessel, the 500-ton Dutch M/V “Reze. Hauswert”. Its cargo consisted of timber intended for Hull, England. It may be noted that after the loss of Klaipėda in March 1939, the only Lithuanian warship “Prezidentas Smetona” , when looking for shelter, also came to Šventosios Uostas and was moored there.
Publicity postcard showing first foreign trade vessel, from Holland to England.
Though by the mid-20th century Šventoji had sunk to the level of a mere fishing harbour, its past was considerably grander. While its distant origins are naturally associated with ancient fishing, by the 16th century the locality was already competing with Memel/Klaipėda and Liepaja/Libau, so that, under pressure, in 1639 King Ladislas passed an act in Vilnius prohibiting trade via Šventoji. Moreover, to discontinue shipping trade, the river mouth was gradually filled with rocks, so that by the 18th century the harbour was only fit for fishing boats. It was only when Šventosios Uostas, by exchange with Latvia, came under Lithuania’s sovereignty in 1921, that the locality was enlarged and improved. As noted earlier, an exceptionally rapid expansion followed after the loss of Klaipėda in 1939.
Ričardas Vainora has unearthed that the first postal facility in Šventosios Uostas was opened on July 16, 1938. It was a pašto agentūra, not a post office.
Lithuanian formal postmarker used in 1939, 1942.
Lithuanian formal postmarker used on an Ostland period packet card in 1942.