Heifer Project shipments to Europe begin in earnest with a shipment to France in September 1945

The Heifer Project made two shipments of heifers to France in the wake of World War II. The first load of animals went to the region of Normandy in September 1945. The second, sent in April 1946, was destined for the Alsacian region of France.

Thirteen seagoing cowboys, one supervisor, and one veterinarian took care of the 150 Heifer Project animals and UNRRA’s 151 horses on the first trip. Cowboy Wayne Brant of York, Pennsylvania, donated one of those heifers. He had previously raised some calves for the Heifer Project’s second shipment to Puerto Rico.

Wayne Brant and two heifers he raised for the Heifer Project, 1944. Peggy Reiff Miller Collection.

When the call went out looking for men to give about six or seven weeks of their time to help care for shiploads of heifers to go to Europe, Brant jumped at the chance. “I announced to my family my intention of volunteering for one of the trips,” he says. “I think my wife, who was teaching school at the time, was a little shocked since we lived on a farm with milking cows and a teen-aged hired boy, who was to take care of the farm chores. She soon gave her consent.”

Wayne Brant’s Merchant Marine ID card, 1945. Peggy Reiff Miller Collection.

On board ship, one of Brant’s jobs was to accompany the veterinarian on his daily rounds of checking the animals. “Several of the horses became ill,” he says, “because of exhaustion from slipping on wet decks, which at first were hosed down daily. Plans were soon changed and the hosing was discontinued.”

The ship docked in Le Havre, France, for unloading of the animals, then continued up the Seine River to Rouen for the unloading of tractors and grain. Arrangements for distribution of the Heifer Project animals were made by Brethren Service worker Eldon Burke. Many of the cowboys got to visit Burke’s home in Paris.

The dock at Le Havre was still in disarray for the second heifer shipment in April 1946. Photo credit: Wilbur Stump.

“We were fortunate to be able to do some sightseeing,” Brant says. “I have vivid impressions of blocks of destroyed buildings in Le Havre. We were warned to stay within marked boundaries because of the many minefields. Not much damage was done to Paris because it was declared an ‘open city’.”

War destruction was evident in Le Havre, France, April 1946. Photo credit: Wilbur Stump.

Sightseeing in Paris on the second trip to France, April 1946. Photo credit: Wilbur Stump.

Unlike most cowboy crews, Brant’s crew was able to visit some places their heifers had been taken. “Five of the heifers went to a Children’s Home, which some of us had the privilege of visiting,” he says. “I remember the little shoes without soles when one of the house parents asked the children to lift one of their feet.”

Ohio cowboy Andrew Petry recognized his own cow among the five at the Canteleu children’s hospital. A Gospel Messenger report says, “On our visit to the dormitory, children were writing letters to their families. They were clean, but badly shod. The children live out in the open; classes are held outside. These 220 children (some of whom lost their parents during the bombings) all have a tendency toward tuberculosis.” The Heifer Project cows’ milk would go a long way toward treating that.

The Zona Gale returned to Le Havre after a week in Rouen. The supervisor’s report says, “The trip up and down the River was spoiled for the most of us because we were required to be down below deck cleaning up the cattle and horse stalls. It is to be regretted that there was not a better understanding between the ship’s officers and our own men as to where our duties ended and the regular ship’s crew’s began.”

What the cowboys unknowingly did, however, was get the ship ready for the loading of 90 soldiers in Le Havre to return them home from the war. Brant recalls, “They were not happy. The military flew them over but sent them back on slow Liberty ships.”

Brant notes, “The trip back seemed to take much longer because there was little to do. But we enjoyed getting to know one another better and we developed lasting friendships during the forty-five days we spent together.”

Next post: Reflections of a 1945 seagoing cowboy to France

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