On its way from Greece to South Africa to pick up a load of UNRRA horses, the S. S. Carroll Victory docked in Haifa, Palestine, for boiler repairs. The ship arrived in the harbor the night of November 26, 1946, during a volatile time of unrest between the Jewish underground and the British who had ruled the country since 1918. The seagoing cowboys, eager to see Jerusalem, wanted to get to shore. The Carroll Victory waited for hours, however, before a pilot finally got the clearance to move the ship into port around 2:00 p.m. the next day.
“We went gradually into the harbor, between the long breakwater with its machine-gun nests and the shore,” Charlie Lord said. “Rumors began to fly as to when and if we would get shore leave. Supper came and went, and we became more and more anxious. We heard we might not get ashore because of the shooting between British and Jews the night before. At 7:00 Mr. Roth sent out word that the passes had arrived.”
The ship’s departure was set for 6 p.m. the next day. The cowboys debated whether to go ashore that night or wait until the next morning, as a curfew was in effect from 6 or 7 p.m. They decided to go by night so they would have more daylight hours to see the sights. “British soldiers told us it was very dangerous to take a truck ride to Jerusalem because of possible land mines or thrown bombs,” Lord said. They hired a truck anyway, as no buses or trains were running after curfew. After some time in Haifa, twenty-seven of the crew met at 10 p.m. and “squeezed into the truck and sat down on the wooden floor packed like sardines.”
They arrived in Jerusalem around 5 a.m. Thanksgiving Day and found a restaurant where they had breakfast. At dawn, they made the short drive to Bethlehem. A guide took them on a quick tour to the site of the oldest Christian church in the world, the site of the manger where Jesus was born, and the spot where Herod had all the two-year-old babies of Palestine killed. “Most of the village looks modern,” Lord said.
The cowboys met at the appointed time and made it back to Jerusalem by 9 a.m. “We rolled past the countless building projects of Jerusalem, the barbed wire rolls and British soldiers, the railway station with smashed windows and cement from a Jewish bomb,” Lord said. “We stopped near the center of the city, set our departure time at 12:30.” Some of the group engaged a guide who “knew how fast we would have to go to finish by 12 o’clock.” He set a whirlwind pace through the temple area and old Jerusalem, with Lord shooting pictures as he walked—up and down long flights of steps, through heavy traffic and subterranean tunnels “for three solid hours,” he said. “If you stopped for an instant it meant running to catch up.”
On their daylight drive back to Haifa, “the scenes along the way were lovely,” shipmate Harold Jennings said. “Arabic tents everywhere, desert lands, camel caravans . . . then banana trees and orange groves with modern irrigation systems.” It was a land of contrasts.
The cowboy crew made it back to the ship by 5:15, only to learn that departure had been delayed until 4 p.m. the next day. This gave the cowboys the opportunity to go to Nazareth, as well, and for some to the Yagur Kibbutz near Haifa.
As Lord, back on board the Carroll Victory after his first excursion, wrote of his experiences in Palestine to his wife, he noted, “A depth charge just shook the ship under us. They are to keep Jewish frog-men from putting mines under English ships.” Not a very consoling thing for his wife to hear, I’m sure. For the seagoing cowboys involved, their excitement about touring the Holy Lands overrode any concern about the potential dangers facing them on their travels. They safely departed Haifa at midnight November 29 and headed for Port Said, the Suez Canal, and Africa.