Stories from the S.S. Mount Whitney – August 1946: A volatile time to be in Gdansk

On its maiden livestock voyage, the S.S. Mount Whitney docked in Nowy Port, Poland – Gdansk’s port city – August 8, 1946, with its load of nearly 1500 horses. Since “liberating” Gdansk from the Germans in March 1945 and obliterating the once beautiful city to ruins in the process, Russia had been tightening its vice on the city and the country.

The ruins of Gdansk, Poland, August 1946. Photo by James Brunk.

Between the Russian and Polish police, Russian soldiers, and Polish resisters, the unrest made it an unstable place for seagoing cowboys to roam.

“About a minute after this picture was taken, snipers shot and killed the soldiers in this car,” says cowboy Alvin Zook. Photo by Alvin Zook.

“Russians were everywhere,” said cowboy James Brunk. “Their headquarters was a large building in Gdynia with Stalin’s picture up on the front. If anyone was seen taking a picture of the building, the film was immediately confiscated and destroyed.”

Leonard Vaughn managed to get a shot of the Russian headquarters on his first trip to Poland in May, 1946. Accounts differ as to whether this was in Gdynia or Gdansk. Photo by Leonard Vaughn.

Cowboy foreman Leonard Vaughn, had made some Polish friends on his previous trip to Gdansk in May. He and two shipmates set out after supper the day their ship arrived to visit the Porlanski family in the nearby town of Wrzeszcz. “A French-speaking Pole attached himself to us and we couldn’t shake him off,” Vaughn said in his journal. After having tea with the couple, the foursome left. “I wanted to walk home, but Frenchy didn’t,” Vaughn continued. “Soon we were completely lost. Frenchy wanted something to eat, so I gave him some money and told him we’d walk slowly on. As soon as he left, we ran. We walked and walked. We crossed a field and expected to get shot at. We came to a railroad and followed it. Every so often we met Polish workers and we asked ‘Nowy Port’ and they kept pointing the way we were going. Then we came to a dark place. Suddenly a shot rang out. We were paralyzed. In a moment we saw a cigarette light in the darkness. I yelled ‘Amerikanski’ and someone answered “Russki”. They were 2 Russian soldiers. We said ‘UNRRA’ and they nodded. We said ‘Nowy Port” and they pointed. We shook hands and left. I was really frightened. Soon we came to a road and we got on it. All at once it ended and there were 3 men. One was a Polish soldier, and all three spoke German. They told us to follow them and they led us thru fields and woods. We expected to get shot at any moment. Soon we came to a road and there stood Frenchy. But we went on and were handed over to another guard. This guard after a little walk handed us over to 2 boys. They were grand kids and I promised to visit them. I was so happy to see the ship that I almost had a heart attack. I never expected to see it again.”

Vaughn, Brunk, and shipmate Alvin Zook all noted another unsettling incident when the stevedores went on strike. “After about three days,” Brunk said, “a man on the dock was trying to get them to go back to work. They found out he was a ‘Russian secret policeman’. They charged him – killed him with a brick. That evening the Russians rounded them up, shot 56 of them in the town square, sent the rest of them off to Siberia. We had a new group of stevedores the next morning.” Zook noted, “They were only making 90 cents a day in our money. It was costing some of them 70 cents just to get to work.”

Zook was with a group of cowboys who toured a nearby battlefield. Bodies of German soldiers still lay among the brush, in trenches, and in an armored vehicle.

Seagoing cowboys tour a battlefield near Gdansk, Poland, August 1946. Photo by James Brunk.

Shell casings on the battlefield near Gdansk, Poland, August 1946. Photo by Alvin Zook.

Being a Sunday morning, the group sat down on a bunch of shell casings next to a large gun that had jammed to have a worship service. “A young man from Minot, North Dakota, told the Christmas story, and it was very real to us,” Zook said. “Peace on earth, good will to men.”

Stories from the S.S. Mount Whitney: Ship Breaks Records

Mount Whitney is not only the name of the highest mountain in the United States, it is the name of the largest and fastest of the ships used by UNRRA for transporting livestock in 1946. A C4-S-A4 type ship, she rolled off the line of the Kaiser shipyard in Vancouver, Washington, February 21, 1946, and was converted in Boston for carrying cattle. She made her first voyage as a livestock ship for UNRRA July 28, 1946.

The S.S. Mount Whitney ready to load in Newport News, VA, July 26, 1946. Photo by James Brunk.

According to seagoing cowboy Luke Bomberger, the ship measured 522 feet long and 72 feet across. “This is a pretty wide ship,” he said, “and we therefore had a double row of stalls on each of the port and starboard sides,” instead of the normal row of single stalls on Victory and Liberty ships. The Mount Whitney stalls could accommodate 1500 horses, about double the capacity of the Victory ships and four to five times that of Liberty ships.

The Times-Herald newspaper of Newport News, Virginia, gave considerable attention to this maiden livestock voyage of the Mount Whitney. On July 25, the paper reported the loading of the ship would be delayed for degaussing work, a demagnetizing procedure to help ships be less susceptible to Nazi magnetic mines still floating in the waters. The next day’s paper reported on the loading of a “tremendous amount” of feed:

Fifteen hundred head of horses can’t live as cheaply as one, not by a long sight. . . . Now being taken on at Pier 5 are the following items: 1,200,000 pounds of hay, 89 tons of oats and a large quantity of bran.

Hay being loaded on the S.S. Mount Whitney on a later trip. Photo by Wilbert Zahl.

Bags of oats ready to be loaded on the S.S. Mount Whitney on a later trip. Photo by Wilbert Zahl.

On July 29, the paper reported on the Mount Whitney‘s departure from the Terminal Stockyards at noon the day before:

A quick trip to Poland is in prospect as the Mount Whitney has a top speed of 20 knots. . . .
The ship already has shattered two records – in the amount of livestock taken on board and the number of livestock handlers carried on the trip to care for the animals. Eighty such workers are on the ship, while the average UNRRA craft requires only from 32 to 35.

48 of the 80 seagoing cowboys on the S.S. Mount Whitney, August 1946. Photo courtesy of Levi Miller.

Aside from seasickness and complaints about the food, the 80 seagoing cowboys enjoyed a fairly uneventful trip across the Atlantic. Being a larger vessel, the ship did not take the usual route to Poland through the Kiel Canal. She traveled up around Scotland and Denmark to the Baltic Sea, arriving in Nowy Port, Poland, August 8.

“How changed everything is!” noted cowboy foreman Leonard Vaughn, who had made earlier trips to Poland. “The ruins are being cleared away. There is rebuilding. There aren’t the crowds of dirty children.” Luke Bomberger, having been to Poland in November 1945 and April 1946, made a similar observation. Nevertheless, cowboy crew members had some hair-raising experiences while there.

~to be continued

 

In Memoriam

Bowman, Chester, October 16, 2022, Bridgewater, Virginia. S.S. Humanitas to Italy, October 14, 1948. Heifer Project shipment.

Brightbill, Richard Ray, September 3, 2022, Weston, West Virginia. S.S. Gainesville Victory to Poland, June 4, 1946.

Farringer, L. Dwight, November 7, 2022, North Manchester, Indiana. S.S. Lindenwood Victory to Yugoslavia (docking in Trieste, Italy), August 16, 1946.

Herr, William McDaniel, December 10, 2022, Carbondale, Illinois. S.S. Rafael R. Rivera to Poland, August 26, 1946.

Holdeman, Paul Howard, November 3, 2022, Loveland, Colorado. S.S. Rockland Victory to Poland, November 21, 1945.

Rudy, Carl James, October 4, 2022, Manheim, Pennsylvania. S.S. Attleboro Victory to Greece, December 5, 1946.

Schmidt, Esley Earl, November 30, 2022, Walton, Kansas. S.S. Woodstock Victory to Greece, January 8, 1947.

Warner, Ralph Myers, August 15, 2022, Broadway, Virginia. To Germany, December 7, 1956, ship unknown. Heifer Project shipment.

Weaver, Wayne Adam, December 23, 2022, Elkhart, Indiana. S.S. F. J. Luckenbach to Greece, June 24, 1945 (UNRRA’s first livestock shipment after WWII).

Rest in peace, dear seagoing friends.

 

A Christmastime Seagoing Adventure

An anonymous member of the SS Frederic C Howe seagoing cowboy crew penned this poem about their trip to Trieste, Italy, the end of 1946.

“I’ve sailed the seven seas my lad, I’ve sailed the seven seas,”
the captain very calmly said to Jimmy on his knees.
“Tell me more,” young Jimmy said, “Will you, dad? Please do.
Tell me all about your trips out on the ocean blue.
“Ok, ok,” the cap replied, “I hardly know what’s best,
But I shall tell you some about my last trip to Trieste.”

Loading horses onto the Frederic C Howe in Newport News, Virginia, November 1946. Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

“We docked along the cattle pier one night at half past nine,
And on rushed the cowboys, a thirty-two man line.
They grabbed and growled, and clawed and fought till each a sack had won.
And acted like a bunch of kids just out to have some fun.
These boys, oh me, they were a mess. I’ve never seen the beat.
My lad, my lad, what boys they were; you should have seen them eat.

Seasick cowboys. Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

“The first day out they all got sick, at least all but a few.
They didn’t work, they didn’t eat, but oh how they did spew.
No matter when I took a look along the metal rail,
I saw a bunch of cowboys, sick and deathly pale.
A few of them, as I recall, acted like happy boys
And hopped and skipped and jumped around like kids with brand new toys.

On deck of the Frederic C Howe. Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

“Now when the deck crew put to work, to raise some hay or oats,
I nearly toppled off the bridge to see how young was ‘Boats’.
But as I watched from day to day, their work was very good,
When chow time rolled around at night, they’d earned their daily food.
They very seldom beefed or griped or gave me any sass,
But my, they hated quite a bit to raise a half-dead ass.

“The boys who laboured day and night down in the engine room,
Were still a different bunch from those who manned the boom.
They usually kept her going right, the prop would spin and whirl,
And leave behind us on the blue a foamy, frothy swirl.
But every other day or so along our pleasant hop,
The ship got very tired, and so they’d let her stop.

“One more group I’ll tell you of, they ate in the saloon.
For them the trip across the deep was ended none too soon.
The first mate was a splendid guy, the third was quite a clown,
The second always liked to sleep, but never let me down.
Young Sparks, the vets, and all the rest who had their chow with me
Would whistle loudly every time the purser’s girl they’d see.

Seagoing cowboys on the Frederic C Howe, December 1946. Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

“Now lad, the trip itself was very fine, especially for one thing.
We missed the holidays at home, the songs by Frank and Bing.
We missed the crowds, the Christmas rush, the trouble and turmoil,
No trees to bother fixing up, no gifts, no wrappers, no foil.
But my we had a lot of fun, we really had a spree,
With songs, poems, and everything, a regular jamboree.”

My thanks to Henry “Hank” Weaver, Jr. for sharing his slides with me!


Wishing all my readers a blessed holiday season ~
Peggy

 

SS Battle Creek Victory podcast

In my post of November 25, I promised to send out the link to Michael Delaware’s podcast interview with me about the SS Battle Creek Victory when it went live — which it did on November 27. I’m sorry to have been so slow in getting this out!

The SS Battle Creek Victory docked in Greece, July 1946. Photo by Wayne Silvius.

Here’s the link. Enjoy!

And thanks Michael Delaware for sharing this wonderful history!

~ Peggy

 

 

The Naming and Launching of Liberty and Victory Ships

The emergency construction of over 2,700 Liberty ships and some 534 Victory ships during World War II required more than 3,200 names for these vessels. Launched over the course of four years, that averaged around 800 ships per year, or 66 per month. The U.S. Maritime Commission appointed a Ship Naming Committee for the task.

The Commission decided to name the Libertys – the first ships to be built – after dead people who had made outstanding contributions to the history and culture of the United States – the first being Patrick Henry of “Give me liberty or give me death” fame. 

The loading of the SS Zona Gale with Heifer Project cattle headed for France, April 1946. The ship is named after US author Zona Gale. Photo by Wilbur Stump.

The SS Joshua Hendy preparing to deliver horses to Greece, June 1945. The ship is named after Joshua Hendy, the founder of Joshua Hendy Iron Works. Photo by Larry Earhart.

The Victory ships bore the names of places: first allied countries, then U.S. cities and towns, and then U.S. colleges and universities. A series built for and named by the Navy carried the names of U.S. counties.

The SS Yugoslavia Victory delivering horses to Poland in July 1946. Photo by Wayne Zook.

The SS Norwalk Victory ready to deliver horses to Yugoslavia, June 1946. The ship is named after the city of Norwalk, California. Photo by Elmer Bowers.

S.S. De Pauw Victory after delivering horses to Poland, late 1946. The ship is named after De Pauw University. Photo by Paul Beard.

“Selecting a name for a ship was only a small part of a ceremony whose traditions are as old as antiquity,” writes John Gorley Bunker in Liberty Ships: The Ugly Ducklings of World War II. “The ship was christened at the launching ceremony, when she slid down the ways into saltwater for the first time.”

With tight production schedules at the shipyards and nature’s running of the tides, these festive ceremonies for the Liberty and Victory ships took place at all hours of the day and night. They attracted a crowd of dignitaries and shipyard workers alike. As time and budget allowed, they included band music, colorful bunting, speeches, and always the christening. By tradition, a female sponsor was chosen to break the ceremonial bottle of champagne across the bow of the ship with the words “I christen thee . . . .”, thus bringing good luck and protection to the ship and those who sailed on her. 

Artifacts from the launching of the SS Clarksville Victory include the remnants of the champagne bottle in a silk shroud broken against the ship’s bow by sponsor Anne Kleeman, its storage box, and the builders hull plate for the ship. Courtesy of Customs House Museum and Cultural Center, Clarksville, TN.

Bunker notes that selection of a ship’s sponsor could be fraught with political and social difficulties. With the Liberty ships, however, there were so many of them that he says, “Even the wives of grimy shipyard workers christened ships their husbands helped build.”

The Victory ships posed a different problem, as noted in Erhard Koehler’s paper “Victory Ship Nomenclature.” The Ship Naming Committee decided on a series of names of smaller cities and towns representing “Main Street” America to heighten the interest of the average citizen in the Merchant Marine. The Maritime Commission sent letters to the Mayors inviting them to participate in such ways as “having a fitting plaque inscribed and placed in the ship; providing a library of 100 or 200 books; providing recreational equipment of any kind; or presenting the ship with phonograph equipment with a selection of records.” They were also invited to select a sponsor from their community to be present at the ceremony.

This last idea “eventually led to the suspension of naming Victory ships after towns and cities,” Koehler says. “Given the frenetic pace of ship construction under wartime conditions and with travel restrictions in place, it was difficult at best to coordinate a launching ceremony that involved people outside of the local area.” When reality set in, launching ceremonies were scaled down. Shipyards took on the oversight of sponsor selection, and the new category of naming Victory ships for colleges and universities began. Rather than sending representatives from their institutions to travel across the country, the college or university most often invited alumni living in the area of the shipyard to the launching ceremony.

Such was the case for Calvin College (now University) in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The college’s namesake Calvin Victory was one of UNRRA’s livestock ships. The University’s archivist found this post of materials about the launch that had been turned over to Tom the Book Guy back in 2014. How I wish they had come my way!

If you’d like a front seat view of what the Liberty and Victory ship launchings were like, check out this short video.

 

Victory Ships Get New Life

I have much to be thankful for during this Thanksgiving season. Next to a loving and supportive family, at the top of the list are faithful readers like you and meaningful work. And in the realm of the latter, exciting things have been happening the past several months.

The end of July, I received an email that added a new thread to my already multifaceted seagoing cowboy research. Michael Delaware, host of the podcast “Tales of Southwest Michigan’s Past,” contacted me. He told me Battle Creek’s Mayor had just received a letter that day from the US Maritime Administration saying that they would like to donate the bell from the SS Battle Creek Victory to the Battle Creek Regional History Museum. Michael, a member of the museum’s board, had found a photo of the ship on my blog and wanted whatever information I could give him about the ship.

The SS Battle Creek Victory docked in Greece, July 1946. Photo by Wayne Silvius.

As it turns out, the museum received both the bell and the wheel from the ship. These artifacts were unveiled in a ceremony at the museum on November 12.

Then in early September, I received an email from Frank Lott, the Executive Director of the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center in Clarksville, Tennessee. He was seeking information on the SS Clarksville Victory and had also found my blog in his search.

SS Clarksville Victory after delivering horses to Poland, January 1946. Photo by Paul Bucher.

His museum had recently been gifted the hull plate from the ship named after their city. This artifact was unveiled at an appreciation event for the museum’s benefactors on November 5.

On October 10, my Google alert picked up an article in the Carroll, Iowa, newspaper about the town having received the hull plate from the SS Carroll Victory, on which I recently did a series of posts.

SS Carroll Victory at anchor, Spring 1947. © Charles Lord.

I realized that something was happening here! I contacted the Maritime Administration to see what other of UNRRA’s livestock ships might have had artifacts that were sent to their namesake cities or universities. Turns out there are seven more. Plus additional ships whose artifacts have not yet been sent. Maritime Administration’s curator Dan Roberts tells me that MARAD has artifacts from 90 Victory ships. Of those, about 18 had served as UNRRA livestock ships. They also have artifacts from seven Liberty ships used by UNRRA’s livestock program.

The Maritime Administration’s distribution program opens up a new arena in which to share the little-known seagoing cowboy history. Michael Delaware invited me to join him on a podcast this month talking about the Battle Creek Victory (I’ll send out the link when it goes live), with plans for an in-person program at the museum in the coming year. And Frank Lott has invited me to speak at the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center in February or March. I’m excited about these new opportunities to share the seagoing cowboy story. Details will be posted on my http://www.seagoingcowboys.com events page when available.

Another aspect of this history I’m learning about through these contacts is the naming and launching of the Victory ships. I’ll write about that in my next post.

In case you missed it, here’s a previous post from 2015 on the ships UNRRA used for their livestock program.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving weekend!
Peggy

Hats off to the U.S. Merchant Marine!

This Veteran’s Day is a good time to take hats off to the U.S. Merchant Marine, long seen as the stepchild to the U.S. military branches. The U.S. government engaged the Merchant Marine in the dangerous job of transporting troops and supplies through hostile seas throughout World War II.

1944 US Merchant Marine recruitment poster. Source: National Archives.

The U.S. Department of Defense reports that nearly 250,000 civilian merchant mariners served as part of the U.S. military during World War II. According to the National World War II Museum, 9,521 of those merchant mariners lost their lives between 1939 and 1945 – a higher proportional loss than in any of the military branches. And yet, these merchant mariners were denied the same benefits and recognition received by servicemen of the U.S. Army, the U.S. Army Air Force, or the U.S. Navy. It wasn’t until 1988 that the Merchant Marine seamen of World War II were awarded veteran status by the U.S. government and became eligible for benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In 2020 then, Congress passed the Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act to recognize and honor these World War II veterans. Due to Covid, it wasn’t until May 19 of this year that the award was officially made.

At the U.S. Capitol, World War II members of the U.S. Merchant Marine pose for a photograph with replicas of the Congressional Gold Medal awarded to merchant mariners for their service during the war, May 18, 2022. Photo By: Ike Hayman, House Creative Services Photographer

Last fall the American Merchant Marine Veterans held their convention in anticipation of the Gold Medal award in Baltimore on the S. S. John W. Brown, one of two remaining functioning Liberty ships from WWII. Merchant Mariner Lee Cox recalled the ill treatment the seamen got from other servicemen. “We got insulted a lot during the war by the Army guys,” he said in a Veterans History Museum report. “Navy guys would say, ‘Hey draft dodger drunks’.”

After the war, many of these same mariners, and many new ones, operated the merchant ships used by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) to deliver the supplies and livestock to help devastated Allies rebuild.

Crew members steer the S. S. Carroll Victory into port in Kavalla, Greece, November 18, 1946. © Charles Lord.

Deckhands pull up the anchor chain on the S. S. Carroll Victory, January, 1947. © Charles Lord

The seagoing cowboys who cared for the livestock had to join the Merchant Marine.

Merchant Marine ID card of seagoing cowboy Elmer Bowers obtained through the US Coast Guard, 1946. From the Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

For this, they received the pay of 1 cent per month, simply to make them legal workers on a merchant ship.

Seagoing cowboy receives his 1 cent Merchant Marine pay from the captain of the S. S. Santiago Iglesias, early 1946. Name of newspaper unknown.

The threat of war-time attack was no longer present, but danger still lurked in the European and East Asian waterways from the presence of WWII mines not yet cleared.

The underside of the S. S. Park Victory after hitting a mine April 30, 1946, off the coast of Patras, Greece. The ship was pulled to shore and the mules aboard successfully unloaded. Photo by Will Keller, ship’s radioman.

The seagoing cowboys were often asked to take turns with the seamen to stand on watch for the mines. The regular Merchant Marine seamen received extra hazard pay when in these waters; however, the seagoing cowboys, with the classification of “cattleman”, did not. They, nevertheless, are proud of their service, too.

The seagoing cowboy crew of the S. S. Saginaw Victory, September 1946. Photo by ship’s veterinarian, Harold Burton.

How a novel turned into a blog

This will be a more personal post. At my presentations, I am often asked how I got into this seagoing cowboy history. So today, I’ll share that story with you.

It all started with an envelope of my Grandpa Abe’s photos my father gave me some years after grandpa died.
Turns out, Grandpa Abe had been a seagoing cowboy, accompanying a load of horses to Poland the end of September 1946.

I grew up in the Church of the Brethren, the denomination responsible for recruiting all of the livestock tenders for UNRRA’s shipments of farm animals to Europe after World War II. From my youth magazines, I knew about these “seagoing cowboys.” But I DIDN’T know that my grandpa had been one of them. He never talked about it with us grandkids, and we never knew to ask. I knew there were a couple of Polish dolls in grandpa’s attic where we grandkids often played, but I didn’t make the connection until seeing his photos.

After receiving that envelope of photos, I got curious about what grandpa’s trip may have been like. So in January 2002, I interviewed a man from our church, Al Guyer, who I knew had been a seagoing cowboy to Poland. The end of that year, I signed up for a book writing course through the Institute of Children’s Literature to write a young adult novel. Grandpa’s photos and stories of Al Guyer’s eventful trip kept beckoning to me, and I thought, what a great topic! The trip of a 16-year-old seagoing cowboy to Poland! My instructor agreed. The topic was “something new and different under the sun,” she said. Being historical fiction, it would require a great deal of research, so I sought out more seagoing cowboys to interview.

Interviewing J. O. Yoder about his trip to Poland on the S. S. Clarksville Victory in December 1945.

One cowboy led to another, and another, and another. And their stories were so fascinating and compelling that I was hooked! It didn’t take long to realize that this was a rich history, just hiding away in people’s minds, and drawers, and attics, and my mission changed to that of documenting this little-known, not-to-be-forgotten history of how men of all stripes delivered hope to a war-torn world. I’ve been at it for twenty years now, accumulating a sizable archive of cowboy photos and stories too significant to just sit on my shelves.

In 2007, I created a DVD documentary photostory, A Tribute to the Seagoing Cowboys, which I took on a Tribute Tour around the country meeting more cowboys and gathering their stories.

Meeting and hearing from seagoing cowboys at Brethren Village retirement community in Lititz, PA, April 14, 2009.

I started my seagoing cowboys website in 2008, and what a game changer that was! I began to get requests for information of all types related to this history from as far away as Poland, Germany, Finland, and Japan. Inadvertently, I had become the recognized “expert” on the seagoing cowboys and the related history of the Heifer Project.

My novel did get drafted and revised, and revised, and revised, but never published. Instead, it sort of morphed into my children’s picture book The Seagoing Cowboy. In the summer of 2014, while that book was in the works, I decided the best way to get more of this history out into the world was to start a blog. And I’ve been at it ever since.

 

The Longest Ride – Part XI: Homeward Bound!

Good news awaited the cowboy crew of the S. S. Carroll Victory when they pulled into port at Piraeus, Greece, March 7, 1947, with their 277 South African horses and 278 mules. “The UNRRA man here says there won’t be another trip back to South Africa,” Charlie Lord wrote his wife. “I think its probably because of the poor quality of horses. Of our last load 150 have died they say. Also because the Agriculture branch of UNRRA may fold any day, was supposed to on March 1. The last order the Captain has is to come straight to the States.”

During the short stay in Piraeus to unload the horses and manure, Lord had one more wish on this third stop in Greece. He and two other cowboys went to the UNRRA office to inquire. “I asked about how we could get two boxes of BSC relief food past customs and they told me. Then I asked if I could get to an UNRRA horse anywhere near Athens and take pictures of it and the family that owned it. After considerable telephoning, they found where some horses were. The UNRRA official took the 3 of us out to a jeep, he and his driver drove us over the most pilled and bumpy roads I have ever seen out to a little town. There we found a horse in a stable. The man brought it out.” Lord took pictures to his heart’s content of the horse and family, the woman and girls running a loom and spinning wheel in their home, and another UNRRA horse coming back from plowing.

Greek farmer with his UNRRA horse. March 1947. © Charles Lord

Greek farmer’s family in their work room. March 1947. © Charles Lord

“I feel I’ve covered the field now,” Lord said. “I’m finished with Athens.”

By March 10, the ship was on its way home, but a pleasure trip it was not. While in the Mediterranean, the cowboys were tasked with the job of cleaning the livestock holds – twice, as the first day’s work didn’t pass the Chief Steward’s inspection.

Cowboys at work cleaning the stalls on the S. S. Carroll Victory, March 1947. © Charles Lord

Approaching Gibraltar, Lord wrote, “Everyone is getting a little bit excited about our approaching Atlantic passage to the wonderful States. This has been a very long trip, even for regular seamen, and merchant marines.” Uncooperative weather, however, stretched a trip across the Atlantic that took ten days on the trip over to thirteen on the way home. The ship ran into gale force winds most of the way across, slowing it down considerably.

On March 22, Lord’s shipmate Maynard Garber noted in his journal, “The wind is blowing at a mighty gale and waves 75 [feet] high appear like mountains when we go down with a 40 degree angle. The ship is pitching like a seesaw so our speed is cut down to 10 knots or else the ship would break up. We still have 1250 miles yet to go.”

“Prow of Carroll Victory up after it just smacked its nose down into a big one,” Lord notes. “White caps show wind was over 50 mph. Sometimes it was 70. We were on edge of hurricane.” © Charles Lord

Lord noted, “Like the old Model T, we travel further up and down than we do ahead. . . . Richter said he had a book on the side of his bed. It was rather weird to see the book rise from the bed, sit in mid-air, then fall on the floor.” After a particularly rough night, Lord said, “About 1:30 this morning this old tub really bounced. All the light bulbs on the fan tail [quarters] screwed out from vibration during the night and broke on the floor. . . . It took me a long time to get to sleep, what with sliding one way and then the other on my sheet.”

Course of the moon on a rough night, taken with the camera held solid to the ship with the lens open. © Charles Lord

Weather wasn’t the crew’s only problem. On leaving Gibraltar May 15, Lord had noted, “Our food supplies are getting low. We’ve been out of butter for about 4 days. They say we have 200 lbs of flour left, enough for about 6 days.” By the 19th, he wrote, “The whole ship is on bread rationing. Yesterday we got 2 slices of bread per meal. Today it was 1 slice per meal.” March 25, three days before reaching New York, Lord said, “We haven’t had any white bread for 2 days, flour is all gone. Had corn bread for lunch that had cereal or something in it, too. Only powdered eggs yesterday and today. Our food is running out. They say that yesterday the captain said, ‘Full speed ahead. We’d just as well drown as starve to death.” Neither was their fate. On March 28 the S. S. Carroll Victory safely reached New York.

Approaching New York City, March 28, 1947. © Charles Lord

Garber noted, “Today at noon we at last saw the Statue of Liberty. It was foggy so we were close before we saw it. This afternoon we dropped anchor out in bay and will be on the boat until the customs have cleared us.

The S. S. Carroll Victory outside New York City, March 1947, soon to be retired as a livestock ship and move on to further adventures. © Charles Lord

Garber concludes his journal: “Thus after 143 days on ship, we spent 89 days on the sea, 54 days ashore and 46 days at work.”

On the inside cover he quoted this Walt Whitman poem:

The untold want by life and land ne’er granted,
Now voyager sail thou forth to seek and find.

And so the seagoing cowboys of the S. S. Carroll Victory had.

The seagoing cowboy crew and Captain of the S. S. Carroll Victory, March 1947. Photo by Paul Beard.