After a long, hot ride over the Christmas holiday from Durban, South Africa, back up to Greece with a load of horses and mules, the S. S. Carroll Victory pulled into port at Piraeus on New Year’s Day 1947. “We reached the harbor about 12 noon,” Charlie Lord wrote his wife, “were finally snubbed tight to the dock by 2 PM. The dock further down is a bombed out shambles. This is the first place we have seen considerable bomb damage.”
With Piraeus being the port for Athens, the cowboys took advantage of the inexpensive commuter train into the city. The cost: 300 drachma, equal to 6 cents American money). Lord and fellow cowboy Maynard Garber explored the Acropolis their first full day in port.
The next day, “We wanted to shop some,” Lord said, “but the stores were closed because of a strike against a government 100% tax on some commodities.” Instead, Lord spent some time at the National University of Athens, where he hoped to find a copy in the library of the most recent issue of Consumer’s Report.
Lord struck up a conversation there with a “homely, short dark girl” who could speak French (which Lord, although not fluent, could also speak) “She is a graduate of the University,” Lord said, “teaches in a school in the city. She gets 100,000 drachma a month, or the equivalent of about $17 in the States. That’s standard pay for teachers, and while telling about how poor and hungry the Greek people are, she reached into her coat pocket and pulled out a crust of bread about 2 inches square. The professors even at the National University receive only about $30 a month. They have 30,000 students. Many of the students have scarcely enough money for books and food.”
In the library, the girl introduced Lord to a male student who could speak a little English and some French. “We had a long discussion,” Lord said. “I explained the beliefs of the Quakers to them for one thing. She told me their attitude toward the English, don’t like them. There are some Communists in Greece they said, and they are growing because so many people are hungry. They were all praise for UNRRA and the United States. Several other boys talked some with us from time to time. Most of them had thread-bare clothes, with grayed edges, some were obviously sewn up.
“I didn’t find the magazine at the library, or any magazines. The poor students – looked to me like the newest books on the shelves were 10 or 20 years old. They tried to get me to take a novel to read, written by an Englishman, published 1899. . . . The library was unheated, students sat reading in overcoats. I had my tan shirt, heavy flannel shirt and raincoat on, and I was slowly freezing to death, so I said I must go.”
After his return to the ship, Lord said, “I helped Trostle and others in doghouse [Lord’s nickname for their quarters] shame Kohn out of taking a sheet ashore to sell. People really beg for sheets ashore, will pay high prices. Crew members sell them in every port. Three cattlemen sold some yesterday, which gave Kohn the idea. He needed the money.”
After four days in port, Garber said, “our ship was moved out in the stream to unload manure. All that rich manure was thrown in the bay. It was a pity to waste it but there seemed no other way of getting rid of it.” The next afternoon, the ship departed for a second trip to South Africa with stops in Haifa, Palestine, and Beira, Mozambique. “We started scraping and washing the floors and boards down,” Garber said. “The ship had to be finished before we get to Haifa so it will be ready to take on hemp and phosphate.”
Little did the cowboys know what havoc awaited them in Haifa.
~ to be continued