Was there confiscation of UNRRA and Heifer Project livestock?

Rumors abounded among seagoing cowboys who went to Poland that UNRRA horses were being stolen by the Russians and shipped off to Russia. I’ve found assurances in archival materials that this was not the case. The following letter dated October 28, 1946, was sent to the Brethren Service Committee by Brig. C. M. Drury, Chief of the UNRRA Mission to Poland in Warsaw:

Subject: Livestock imported to Poland

Although we have received rumors from various sources that some livestock brought to Poland by U.N.R.R.A. has been taken by other countries, particularly Russia, our investigations have repeatedly proven all such rumors to be without foundation.

I can say without hesitation that to date as far as I know not one U.N.R.R.A. animal has been stolen from the Polish people by the Russians.

On the other hand, the Polish Government Repatriation Office informs us that the Russian government has permitted repatriated persons returning to Poland from Russia to bring with them up to the end of the first quarter of 1946: 52,536 horses, 121,347 cows, 36,775 hogs and 55,329 sheep and goats.

Signed: C. M. DRURY, Chief of Mission

An identical letter was signed by Dr. A. G. Wilder, Chief Veterinarian.

Polish farmers receiving their new work horses at a collection station, 1946. Photo credit: James Brunk.

This assessment was confirmed by Gaither P. Warfield of the Methodist Committee for Overseas Relief and Methodist representative to the Heifer Project Committee who visited Poland in early 1947. Minutes of the March 29, 1947, HPC meeting state: “Warfield said he had not seen any confiscation by the Russians in Poland since they came into the country in the last six or eight months.” Ralph Delk, at the same meeting, reported that “Dr. Wilder has traced down rumors of confiscation but not in any single instance have they found Russian confiscation of American gifts.”

So the seagoing cowboys can rest assured that their animals most likely got to where they were meant to go.

There were two instances, however, where animals sent by the Heifer Project were diverted within Poland. Thurl Metzger, later to become Executive Director of the Heifer Project, spent mid-October 1946 to mid-April 1947 in Poland working for both UNRRA and the Brethren Service Committee. He reported these happenings to the Heifer Project Committee on his return to the United States.

In March 1946, 228 HPC heifers were shipped to Poland on the S. S. Woodstock Victory. Apparently by mistake, these heifers were sold by the Polish government as regular UNRRA supplies. Metzger discovered the mistake, backed up his claim with evidence, and approached Polish officials about the missing animals. “Armed with only my youthful indignation,” Metzger reported years later, “I was able to secure a settlement.”

Based on the average the Polish government received for the sale of UNRRA heifers to Polish farmers, a total of 4,104,000 zloties was deposited by the government in the Naradowy Bank Polskie in Warsaw. This posed a problem for Metzger: What to do with $41,040-worth of zloties that outside of Poland were worthless? He reported to the Heifer Project Committee that the answer “came like a revelation.” The money was used that July to pay the passage for ten Polish students from the College of Agriculture of the University of Warsaw to the United States to spend a year in the homes of American farm families. This planted a seed, which lay dormant for a decade due to the Cold War. Then in 1957, the Church of the Brethren began the Polish Agricultural Exchange Program, which lasted for nearly 40 years.

Students from the College of Agriculture of the University of Warsaw, Poland, gather with officials in the United States in 1947. Thurl Metzger, top left. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller collection, courtesy of Thurl Metzger family.

The second diversion of cattle happened in December 1946 when a private company contracted by the Polish government to handle all imported livestock substituted some poor quality cows for Heifer Project’s best heifers through a slight of hand. They would have gotten away with it were it not for a brave peasant impressed by Heifer’s humanitarian efforts who came forward several days later and reported the incident to Metzger’s office. An investigation ensued, and five Heifer Project animals were identified in the firm’s herd by their ear tags. “Again the government acted in good faith,” reported Metzger, “and ordered the firm to turn over the five identified cows which were additions to the substitutions that had already been made.” Metzger concluded, “[I]t is significant that the Polish government reputed to be Communist was concerned enough about their relations to a small church group that they made an unusual effort to keep the records straight.”

Seagoing Cowgirls?

How I would love to find a copy of the letter Dan West received from seven young women when the call went out for cattle tenders for the UNRRA livestock shipments in June 1945! What I HAVE found is Dan West’s response dated July 10, 1945, less than two weeks after the first UNRRA ships left the country:

Dear Folks:
I like the aggressive tone of your delightful letter, and I have done something about it- however not enough for results. Here on our front porch last night Irene Petry told me that she had talked with all of you.

  1. I am sympathetic toward your concern– very
  2. I am ignorant on the innards of cattle shipping, but suspect that the present policy excludes you from active service on livestock boats. More in the lingo– I guess you can’t swing it.
  3. Ben Bushong [the man in charge of cattle tender recruitment and soon to be named executive director of Heifer Project] is sympathetic with the younger generation- especially graceful bovines- and he is better informed. I am sending your letter on to him for reply, with a copy of this enclosed.
  4. Suppose I am right that you just can’t get on the ship. There will be others, and if there is a shortage of qualified male cattle tenders, cooks, scrubbers-upper, or what have you, the policy may be changed.
  5. Meantime – and seriously enough, why not write Ben at Brethren Service Committee, Fulton Building, Lancaster, Penna. giving him your qualifications for such work. We want a good honest job done by everybody who goes on such a mission. Also give him your motives.
  6. If you get licked all around, and if you mean business, keep on trying. You remember the importunate widow and the unjust judge. That old boy was a harder customer (I take it) than the Brethren Service Committee or the shipping companies. If you want precedent I am told that whole ships from Siberia to Portland were “manned” by women a year or more ago. Of course these Russians likely never heard of the importunate widow- and if they are superior in importunation to American women- well, there you are. It is a man’s world I admit, but do what you can to improve it, on land and/or sea.

More power to you.
Truly,
Dan West

Dan was much more susceptible to “importunation” than the shipping companies, however. To be a cattle tender on a ship for UNRRA, the seagoing cowboys had to join the Merchant Marine. No women were allowed on merchant ships during those UNRRA years. It wasn’t until after the Heifer Project continued on its own, and the cattle tenders were volunteers, that women had the opportunity to be seagoing cowgirls. And even then, the ship’s officers were reluctant to allow women to assist with the cattle.

Pratt and Julia Byrd pose with fellow cowboy Leslie Yoder in Bremen, Germany, Nov. 1950. Photo: Joe Dell

As near as I can tell, the first woman to go with a Heifer Project shipment was Julia Byrd, a journalist who accompanied her husband for a “Heifer Honeymoon” in 1950. I doubt she did much tending of cattle, as she was more interested in the story.

In 1955, Mary Mahoney, a reporter from Corpus Christi, Texas, accompanied a shipment of heifers to Germany. A Pleasonton, Tex. Express article about her trip quoted her as saying, “I grew up on a ranch and I guess that’s the reason they let me go.”

The article says, “But the captain on the ship was unconvinced of Mary’s ability as a cowgirl. Her editor had to book regular passage for her although she still managed to help other CROP representatives with the dairy cattle which were distributed at Kassel, Germany.”

Kathy Baldwin Moore found the same reluctance of the ship’s crew to allow her to assist with the cattle when she accompanied her father on a trip to Japan in 1958. Her story is written up in Heifer International’s World Ark magazine.

Kathy Baldwin (now Moore) and ship’s crew. Courtesy of Kathy Moore.

That same year, Beverly Hill, a high school senior from Frederick, Maryland, had no such difficulties when she tended an air shipment of 41 heifers, a bull, and a calf for Turkey. She had chaired the “Calves for Turkey” campaign of her Frederick County Christian Youth Council.

As more air shipments were made, more “flying cowgirls” followed.

UNNRA’s and Heifer Project’s first shipment of cattle to China – Part V

A bonus for the seagoing cowboys of the S. S. Lindenwood Victory was an UNRRA side trip to New Zealand to pick up another 406 head of cattle and 1026 sheep for China. This route required crossing the Equator, which resulted in an initiation for those crossing it for the first time, promoting them from the status of “pollywog” to “shellback.”

Equator initiation on the S. S. Lindenwood Victory, February 1947. Photo courtesy of Donn Kesler.

King Neptune initiates a “pollywog.” Photo courtesy of Donn Kesler.

“We were brought out onto the deck blindfolded one at a time for our initiation,” recalls Richard Reiste. “First we were asked how we liked the steward’s chow. If we said ‘good’ someone said here is some more for you to enjoy – or if we said ‘not so good’ they said ‘Here try this!’ Either way we got a mouthful of sawdust soaked in diesel fuel mixed with a generous amount of Cayenne pepper.”

Becoming a “shellback.” Photo courtesy of Donn Kesler.

In addition, as Harold Hersch recorded in his diary, “[we were] made to crawl through cornmeal and tar, paddled thoroughly all the while, made to kiss the King’s (King Neptune, portrayed by the steward) buttox [sic] which was made quite tasty by a tar painting.

A “shocking” initiation experience . Photo courtesy of Donn Kesler.

Finally, we were set down in a chair charged with 225 volts which provided quite a thrill. (I omitted the hair cutting.) All our hair was cut off even to the skull.”

Richard Reiste still has his stamped document of initiation which reads:

DOMAIN OF NEPTUNE REX

TO ALL SAILORS WHEREVER YE MAY BE: and to all Mermaids, Whales, Sea Serpents, Porpoises, Sharks, Dolphins, Eels, Skates, Suckers, Crabs, Lobsters, and all other Living Things of the Sea; GREETINGS:

KNOW YE: That on this 3rd day of February 1947, in Latitude 0000 and Longitude 148°15’E, there appeared within our Royal Domain the good ship SS LINDENWOOD VICTORY crossing the Equator and bound for the South Pacific and New Zealand.

BE IT REMEMBERED

THAT the said Vessel and Officers and Crew thereof have been inspected and passed on by Ourself and Our Royal Staff
AND BE IT KNOWN: By all ye Sailors, Marines, Landlubbers and others who may be honored by his presence that

RICHARD H. REISTE

Having been found worthy to [be] numbered as one of our Trusty Shellbacks, has been duly initiated into the

SOLEMN MYSTERIES OF THE ANCIENT ORDER OF THE DEEP

BE IT FURTHER UNDERSTOOD: That by Virtue of the power invested in me, I do hereby command all my subjects to show due honor and respect to him wherever he may be.

DISOBEY THIS ORDER UNDER PENALTY OF OUR ROYAL DISPLEASURE!

Given under Our Hand and Seal this 3rd day of February 1947.

His Majesty’s Scribe                       Ruler of the Raging Main

By his Servant:
(Signed by ship’s officer — name unintelligible)

The payoff for enduring this excruciating event was the warm welcome of New Zealanders for the seagoing cowboys. Americans were held in high esteem because of their assistance in World War II. Anywhere the cowboys went, they were invited into people’s homes for a meal. They enjoyed shows, movies, dances, and museums. Some were taken rabbit hunting and deer hunting. The National Fair was in progress, and Les Messamer notes, “I enjoyed looking at the prime livestock that were there to be judged. I saw many of those same animals later among those loaded on our ship to go to China.”

Unloading New Zealand sheep in China. Photo credit: George Weybright.

The Lindenwood Victory returned to Shanghai through a severe storm that nearly sent one cowboy into the ocean. While checking on cattle on the bow of the ship, he slid overboard, catching hold of a post and chain to which he hung on for dear life until his partner found him and pulled him back on deck.

The Brethren Service Committee received a letter of commendation for the work of the cattlemen on the Lindenwood Victory from UNRRA’s Agricultural Rehabilitation Officer for New Zealand in Shanghai. “No one could wish to meet a finer set of gentlemen who so conscientiously and diligently carried out the work assigned to them,” Bill Huse wrote. “I feel sure you must feel proud of these boys who have earned the respect and admiration of all the New Zealand people with whom they come in contact.”

Also appreciative of the cowboys’ work and the live gifts they delivered were the orphanages, hospitals, blind schools, leprosariums, etc. who received the heifers sent by the Heifer Project. UNRRA’s Regional Agricultural Rehabilitation Officer in Hangchow, China, summarized the sentiments of these institutions in an April 1947 letter to the Church of the Brethren: “Be assured that these far-off friends of yours are deeply and daily grateful to you for your good deeds in their behalf.”

Children of the Southern Baptist Mission orphanage. Photo credit: George Weybright.

 

UNRRA’s and Heifer Project’s first shipment of cattle to China – Part IV

A busy Shanghai street, January 1947. Photo credit: George Weybright.

The sights and sounds of 1947 Shanghai left memorable impressions on the seagoing cowboys of the S. S. Lindenwood Victory. Beyond the typical images of Dragon dances, kites, hand-embroidered silk items, hand-painted porcelain, and hand-carved wooden figures, Les Messamer remembers the rhythm of the city.

In observing the disproportionate weight being carried on the ends of bamboo poles by people who were small in stature, he says, “They moved in a rhythm that coincided with the up and down bounce of the bamboo pole. I was told that if an American tried to pick up a bamboo pole with heavy objects on each end, they would probably break the pole. That same rhythm could be heard at any time anywhere. I called it a ‘ching, ching, ching, ching’ cadence.” The rhythm came through “tinny loudspeakers on street corners with radio broadcasts of music”; through children’s clapping hands, chanting voices, and clanging together of tin cans and blocks of wood; through the sound of unfamiliar musical instruments coming out of buildings. “People walked with that rhythm,” he says, “taking steps differently than Americans. The rhythm was definitely a part of every one and everything.”

While the cattle were being unloaded, the seagoing cowboys stayed in the New Asia Hotel. The hotel housed UNRRA staff, and UNRRA trucks took cowboys to see the sights. Photo courtesy of Donn Kesler.

On a less appealing note, the regular seamen had described Shanghai to the cowboys as “the largest, noisiest, smelliest, dirtiest, most crowded city in the world.” Harold Hersch’s diary illustrates the point. “Bicycle rickshaws and human rickshaws crowd the streets,” he noted. “Buildings are terribly poor, many are just grass or sod huts; also there are many who live on small dingy [sic] junkets on the canal which runs through the town. The town is filthy and unsanitary, men and women alike urinate and relieve their bowels openly on the main street so that piles of human dung are thick on the sidewalks.” Another day he reported, “The stench was strong in many places of human bowel waste, even in a temperature of 30°.” Nevertheless, Hersch noted, “People were courteous and helpful despite their filth, and apparently healthy.”

A home on the street. Photo credit: George Weybright.

“This was before the Communists had come in,” says cowboy Richard Reiste, “and life was very, very difficult for a lot of people. There were people who never got off their boat, did all their trading and everything from the boat. There were poor people who had no home. They might have a mat to lean up against the wall and another mat to lay on at night. That was their only shelter. And a truck came around in the morning to carry the dead people away. We saw a lot of tragic things like that.”

Life seemed to hold little value. Messamer recalls seeing a dead baby tossed into the street as if it were a dead rat, and there it stayed for three days before being removed. He also witnessed a man falling onto the dock from some 15 or 20 feet up. Another man rushed up to him. “I assumed this was to help,” says Messamer, “but was dismayed when he began laughing and kicking him.”

The cattle barns outside Shanghai next to the remains of the horse race track amphitheater. Photo credit: George Weybright.

As for the animals, Harold Hersch noted that the Chinese dock workers “love the cattle and wouldn’t dare hurt one of them.” From the pens on the dock, the cattle “were loaded onto trucks and driven about five miles to the campus of the Shanghai University where four cattle barns had been erected for the purpose. . . . Adjoining the grounds on which the barns are erected is a great amphitheater which used to overlook the world’s largest horse race-track, but which during the Japanese occupation was used as Japanese military headquarters and consequently was bombed by the AAF and ruined.”

Some of the cows found their way to an orphanage, and some of the cowboys got to see the children take their first drink of milk. A hopeful sign that the program would have some value.

Chinese children line up to receive their cup of milk. Photo credit: John Morehouse.

That value came home to Les Messamer more than fifty years after his trip in an unexpected way. He took a newspaper article written in Chinese about the arrival of the heifers in Shanghai to a local Chinese restaurant he frequented to see if the Chinese owner could translate it for him. He says,

The mother and her adult son read the page, occasionally stopping to talk to each other in Chinese. They eventually asked if I was one of them in the picture and I pointed to it. Instead of telling me what it said, they began profusely thanking me. They were able to tell me that careful records had been kept and that there were still descendants of the cattle that we took that were there – that the program of giving the first heifer from the cows to another place had continued. That was all good to hear, but they still did not translate the newspaper page to me.

 

Next post: On to New Zealand

Harold Hersch diary excerpts courtesy of Heifer International; Les Messamer quotes from email correspondence; Richard Reiste quotes from oral interview.

UNRRA’s and Heifer Project’s first shipment of cattle to China – Part III

A Chinese English language newspaper reports on the arrival of the heifers in China, January 1947. Courtesy of John Morehouse.

The S. S. Lindenwood Victory crew got to celebrate New Year’s 1947 twice. Twenty-two days after attending the Rose Bowl Parade in California, their ship docked in China on the first day of the Chinese New Year, as recorded by Harold Hersch in his diary:

Wed Jan 22 – Land visible when we arose at 7 o’clock this morning. Water soon turned muddy brown and we headed up the Yangtze River. Shortly after we turned into the Wang Po River and headed for Shanghai. Grass and sod huts visible on the banks and river junks thick on the river.

Photo credit: George Weybright.

At about 4 P.M. we tied up to another Chinese freighter. We had to do this because, being the first day of the Chinese New Year, stevedore help was unavailable. It soon became apparent that it was quite uncertain when we should be able to unload, because of the New Year, when most Chinese take 15 days’ vacation.

“No one on shore was willing to take a line from the ship to tie us to the dock,” recalls Les Messamer. “Eventually, one person did tie a small line to a post on the dock. Our own crew members then went hand over hand down that line (on ship, a rope is always called a line) and pulled heavier lines to shore to secure our own vessel.”

Once on shore, the cowboys witnessed the traditional extended family Dragon Dances in the streets, “not as an organized parade,” says Messamer, “but each dragon was its own colorful celebration. The paper mache dragon’s head was carried by an honored member of the family, and the rice paper body of the dragon trailed behind with the rest of the members beneath. Exploding firecrackers were everywhere.”

When unloading finally began, it became quickly apparent that the Chinese dock workers were unfamiliar with cows. Messamer says,

Photo courtesy of Les Messamer. Photographer unknown.

When the first cow, which did have a calf with her, was lowered onto the dock and the door to the crate was opened, the cow and calf walked out into the open. The workers, and there were a large number of them, talked with each other as they stood in a kind of semi-circle. It was obvious they were trying to decide how to get those things from here to [the pen that had been constructed]. One of the [men] came forward and picked up the calf. That is a good way to move a calf, as any farmer knows. Then, another fellow came up and threw both arms around the cow’s neck while several others got behind and started pushing. Farmers know that is not a good way to move a cow. The cow panicked and ran, and literally ran off the dock and fell into the ocean. By using many ropes that were placed under this heifer, she was eventually lifted back onto the dock by manpower. She seemed to be none the worse for the experience.

Cowboy foreman George Weybright noted that the Chinese dock workers followed instructions as best they could, imitating every word and movement of the seagoing cowboys assisting them, as another of Les Messamer’s stories bears out:

On the dock in Shanghai. Photo credit: George Weybright.

The pen where [the cows] were to be taken was perhaps fifty yards away from the unloading point on the dock. The cows needed to be herded between the two points. Early in the process, one of the cowboys happened to be just leaving the gangplank when a loose cow was very near to him and did not know where to go. The cowboy waved both arms at the cow and said, “Go on.” The cow moved, and from that moment on, the workers waved both arms at the cows and, in what sounded like a Chinese word, yelled ‘Gwan.’ It did appear to work.

The Chinese dockworkers left a memorable impression on cowboy foreman George Weybright. He wrote in the Church of the Brethren Gospel Messenger:

Longshoreman carrying bags of feed for the cattle. Photo credit: John Morehouse.

Our men can testify that these longshoremen were decent, hardworking men. . . [They] were honest. One group went far out of its way to return an article of clothing belonging to their cattleman ‘masters.’ They were reasonably clean, considering their background and utter lack of education. They were pleasant, courteous, considerate and cooperative. They enjoyed good jokes. They tried to copy little tricks and gymnastics on a parallel bar that was suspended in hold number 4. Their ability to lift heavy loads (in rhythm with a chant), and run with their loads if necessary, was amazing.

Weybright concludes, “Needless to say, this was a rich experience.”

Harold Hersch diary excerpts courtesy of Heifer International; Gospel Messenger quote used by permission of Brethren Press; Les Messamer quotes from email correspondence with the author.

Next post: The sights and sounds of Shanghai

UNRRA’s and Heifer Project’s first shipment of cattle to China–Part I

Today’s post begins the story of the memorable trip of the S. S. Lindenwood Victory to China, the shipment of Heifer Project cattle highlighted by UNRRA Director General F. H. La Guardia in his letter posted January 13.

Seagoing Cowboy foreman George Weybright shows his children the S. S. Lindenwood Victory where he'll be spending the next three months.

Seagoing Cowboy foreman George Weybright shows his children the S. S. Lindenwood Victory where he’ll be spending the next three months. Photo courtesy of George Weybright family.

For young Iowa farmer Les Messamer, the trip began in a hurry. He writes,

A letter had been received informing me that the crew had been selected before my application was received. Then a phone call one morning stated that someone who had planned to be on the crew was not able to go. If I could be in New Orleans by a certain time, I could go. A check of train schedules from the central part of Iowa indicated that there were three and a half hours to get ready for a trip that turned out to be three and a half months from start to finish. Clothes were washed and packed, money secured from a bank, arrangements were made to take care of my farm work, the trip made to the train depot several miles away, the ticket purchased as the train pulled into the station, and suddenly I was on the way. To the great amusement of the porter, as I stepped on board, I turned to my mother and said, “I’ll call you from Chicago to find out where I’m going.” There had not been time to get the address where I was to report in New Orleans.

The ship left New Orleans December 19, 1946, with 713 cattle and 32 cattlemen, one supervisor, and two veterinarians aboard.

A second ship to China, the S. S. Boulder Victory, going through the Panama Canal in February 1947. Photo credit: Eugene Souder

A second ship to China, the S. S. Boulder Victory, is pulled through the Panama Canal in February 1947. Photo credit: Eugene Souder

“The next wonder to this farmer’s eyes,” says Messamer, “was the Panama Canal.” The seagoing cowboys were fascinated with the method of transporting the ship through the canal with the mechanical “mules.”

As the ship approached the Canal, heat became an issue, with the temperature rising to 95° on December 23. The next day, going up the Pacific coast, cowboy Harold Hersch of Virginia noted in his diary, “Extremely hot – around 105° inside building. Sun scorching hot.” On December 26 he says, “Days continuing hot to the extreme – suffering from sunburn. Cows dying occassionally [sic] from extreme heat – lots of premature births from the heat.”

Messamer notes, “In addition to the regular feeding and cleaning chores, we toiled long and hard trying to keep the animals as cool as possible and we were often called upon to pull the chains which a veterinarian had attached to an unborn calf. Five such assisted births came on Christmas Day, and my hands were sore and bleeding from the effort by the time a welcome bunk was available. Dead animals were hoisted to the main deck and dumped overboard where they no doubt were consumed by creatures of the sea. We began to wonder if this very first carrying of cattle from the United States to China would be successful.”

As the ship moved northward along the Pacific Central American coast, the weather cooled and cattle and cowboys alike adjusted to the routine. Nearly two weeks after leaving New Orleans, the ship’s first stop was in San Pedro, California, for refueling and restocking of supplies — just in time for New Year’s.

Next post: A California holiday!