November 28, 1946, was a memorable Thanksgiving day for two seagoing cowboy crews.
In November 1946, three weeks into what would turn out to be a five-month trip, the SS Carroll Victory had unloaded its cargo of horses in Kavalla, Greece. Expecting to head home, the cowboys were surprised to be sent on to South Africa to pick up another load of horses. On its way, the ship docked in Haifa, Palestine, the day before Thanksgiving. Harold Jennings tells us in his diary,
We hired a truck for $4.00 round trip to Jerusalem – 27 fellows took the trip in spite of warnings from British soldiers of terrorists and the curfew, besides the roads being mined. Fortunately we were stopped only once by police and our coffee stop besides all rest stops. We arrived in Jerusalem about 5:00 a.m. [Thanksgiving Day].
The crew spent the day touring Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, driving past Bedouin tent settlements and a Jewish kibbutz.
Charlie Lord summed up the day in a letter to his wife that evening: “Today was a page from a fairy book.”
While the SS Carroll Victory was sailing contentedly across the Atlantic that early November for its first stop in Greece, another ship met a different fate. The SS Occidental Victory carried a split cargo, with 193 horses on the top deck and 6,000 tons of sugar and 2500 tons of beef below. A mere eight seagoing cowboys and one veterinarian were required for this shipment. After unloading the horses in Poland, the men enjoyed the opportunity to explore the ports of Turku and Helsinki, Finland, where the sugar and beef were unloaded.
After more days in Kotka, Finland, to pick up paper pulp for ballast, the ship finally headed home. Cowboy Norman Weber recorded in his journal on Nov. 7,
This morning, good and early, we pulled out of Kotka….We’re beginning to hope to get home by the beginning of December.
About 1:30 P.M. we were sailing along smoothly, when suddenly our ship struck a rock. She jumped and hit again. It was a strange feeling, our great ship jumping like that….
Immediately the deck crew were busy opening the hatches and looking for water coming in. The great ship started listing, and there was much oil on the surface of the water.
The Occidental Victory was soon dubbed the Accidental Victory by the cowboys. She had hit a hidden rock and ripped open the bottom of the ship in two holds, puncturing the oil tanks. Weber explains,
The Victory ships have a double bottom, and in between are the oil tanks. Had this been a Liberty she would likely have sunk, but the second bottom seems to hold her afloat.
The ship slowly made its way back into Helsinki where it was inspected and deemed seaworthy enough to head on to Stockholm for repairs.
On November 28, Cowboy John Wesley Clay wrote in a daily account that he printed up and gave his fellow cowboys at the end of their voyage,
This is Thanksgiving day, and to the eight cowboys it has been the most significant Thanksgiving day we have ever spent. We limped into Stockholm [Monday], eighteen days after striking the rocks in the Gulf of Finland, and it was glorious to set foot on land again.
Our food supply had been almost completely exhausted, and we were approaching a desperate situation, but in Stockholm we found another American ship who divided supplies with us, so today we had a real American Thanksgiving, with plenty of turkey and all the fixings. We were thankful to the depths of our hearts.
Next post: Christmas for the Occidental Victory crew