Special Crew #1: Brethren seminary and college students dialogue with German Christians

Throughout the two-year period of UNRRA livestock shipments, several special seagoing cowboy crews were put together. The first, a group of 33 Brethren, mostly seminary and college students, left seventy years ago this week. The idea for this special crew was hatched by a group of Bethany Biblical Seminary students the spring of 1946 as an experiment in Christian service. Having heard reports of questionable behaviors in some cowboy crews, they felt that a carefully selected group with high standards of conduct approaching their job in a strictly Christian attitude could set a pattern for the future.

Students from Bethany Biblical Seminary and Brethren colleges gather at the Brethren Service Center in June 1946. Peggy Reiff Miller collection, courtesy of Ivan Meck and Guy Buch.

Students from Bethany Biblical Seminary and Brethren colleges gather at the Brethren Service Center in June 1946. Peggy Reiff Miller collection, courtesy of Ivan Meck and Guy Buch.

The group met at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Maryland, for orientation. Before sailing, they made a concerted effort to gather relief goods to take with them to distribute overseas. Ivan Fry writes of collecting money and going on a shopping spree, on which they bought two cases of baby food, a case of condensed milk, a half carton of raisins, a carton of liver soup, a case of dried pea soup, and two bottles of cod-liver oil, in hopes of finding a children’s home to give them to.

The cowboy crew boards the S. S. Queens Victory for their trip to Germany in June 1946.

The cowboy crew boards the S. S. Queens Victory for their trip to Germany.  Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

On June 8, 1946, this select crew left from Newport News, Virginia, on the S. S. Queens Victory, carrying 785 horses destined for Czechoslovakia. They docked in the port city of Bremen, Germany. Upon arrival, some of the cowboys set out to find deserving people to whom they could give the supplies they had brought with them. They also sought out German Christians with whom to engage in dialogue.

Cowboys load an Army jeep in Bremen with the relief supplies they brought along and fruit they had saved from their meals on the ship. Peggy Reiff Miller collection, courtesy of Ivan Meck and Guy Buch.

Cowboys load an Army jeep in Bremen with their relief goods. Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

Pastor and Mrs. Erick Urban, Bremen, Germany, June 1946. Peggy Reiff Miller collection, courtesy of Ivan Meck and Guy Buch.

Pastor and Mrs. Erik Urban, Bremen, Germany, June 1946. Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

A couple of the cowboys headed into the city to find a pastor and happened upon Pastor Erik Urban, who turned out to be the head Lutheran pastor of Bremen and an associate of theologian Martin Niemöller. Some rich experiences developed from this contact, including a dialogue between the cattlemen and a group of German Christians – enemy meeting enemy – each realizing that they were in Pastor Urban’s words “as one in Christ.”

The affects of the war on the German populace was brought home to the cowboys when a plan laid at home was scuttled. They had desired to have a fellowship meal with a group of German Christians. The seminary students had decided a large quantity of dehydrated soup would serve the purpose well – all the Germans would need to do would be add hot water.

Ruins of Bremen, Germany, June 1946. Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

Ruins of Bremen, Germany, June 1946. Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

After meeting Pastor Urban and delighting him and his wife with the prospect of this substitute Lord’s Supper, the disadvantages perpetuated by war made themselves known. First, there was the lack of dishes. Then, there was nothing in which to heat the soup, and if there were it would be difficult to find any fuel with which to heat it. But the clincher was that “Pastor Urban was unable to find a room anywhere in the city which was both intact and large enough to allow the group to sit around a table and eat.” [from “The Enemy was Christian” by Byron P. Royer, Bethany Biblical Seminary Bulletin, October-December 1946]

Conrad Snavely feeds his horses en route to Bremen, Germany, June 1946. Peggy Reiff Miller collection, courtesy of Ivan Meck and Guy Buch.

Conrad Snavely. Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

These experiences of Christian fellowship, along with witnessing the leveled rubble of the saturation bombing poured on the city of Bremen by the British and the Americans, left an indelible mark on these cattlemen of the S. S. Queens Victory. Conrad Snavely says of the trip: “It made me more interested in working for social justice.”

Roger Ingold in Bremen, Germany. Courtesy Roger Ingold.

Roger Ingold in Bremen, Germany, June 1946. Photo: courtesy of Roger Ingold.

Roger Ingold says his life was completely turned around by the experience. It started him thinking in a more international way than ever before, leading him to become a missionary to Nigeria. In looking back at the seagoing cowboy program, Roger credits it for being a great recruiting tool for church workers of all kinds. He says, “People who had gone and had been part of that program came back and wanted to do something to make a difference in the world.”

 

 

Next post: Special Crew #2: Mennonite high school and college students come of age on a cattle boat

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Seagoing cowboys mingle with returning World War II soldiers

As we have seen in previous posts, several of the early UNRRA livestock ships brought soldiers home from Europe. With their cargos unloaded, space was available for cots to be set up; but having had livestock as cargo, there was some serious cleaning that had to take place! Even though their work was supposed to have been finished after the animals were unloaded, many of the cowboy crews were coerced into helping to scrub the decks. As Byron Royer, supervisor of the Zona Gale cowboys, said,

 We agreed because of the emergency in regard to getting the troops home, to help clean up the ship. . . . It was definitely not a part of our duties. However, we did work all day and got the ship in a shape much as I doubt if it’s been in before.

Their eighty-eight G.I.s boarded the next day.

Gordon Bucher, on the F. J. Luckenbach, recorded in his journal for Sunday, July 22, 1945,

At 3:30 150 soldiers came on board & what a mess. We had to set up our cots in a stable & move our mattresses & stuff. If it means 25 more can come back to the U. S., it’s all right with me.

Most of the early cowboys were from the Church of the Brethren, one of the Historic Peace Churches, and many were conscientious objectors. Having G.I.s on board gave them a unique opportunity to dialogue with the soldiers. The S. S. Virginian crew includes a section about contact with the soldiers in their report of their trip titled “Relief for Greece” that gives a good idea of what these conversations might have been like. I’ll share that report in my next regular post.

On the Zona Gale, the G.I.s were invited to the worship services the cowboys had, and many good friendships were developed between cowboys and soldiers. Byron Royer records their homecoming in his account “A Seagoing Cowboy in Italy”:

     We ate our lunch and when we came out after lunch, we could just see the Coast of Virginia coming into sight. I wish you could have seen the GI’s as we were coming in. Those boys, most of them, had been away for from two to four years and they were one happy lot coming home.

Some were cursing and cracking obscene jokes to cover their true feelings. But most of them were thinking pretty seriously. There were even some who were crying — men who had been through months on the battlefield. I’m very glad they could come home with us.

We pulled into Hampton Roads (?) [sic] which is a sort of a bay which is the entrance into Newport News and Norfolk, Virginia. After a lot of red tape and examinations by the Health Service and Customs, the boat came out to take the GI’s ashore. We hated to say, “Goodbye” to them. You know, it’s surprising how well you learn to know people in a short time like that when you have nothing to do.

The boat had three WAC’s aboard. . . . The Red Cross had doughnuts and a cold drink of some kind for the boys as soon as they checked off and there was a GI band to furnish music for them as they went in.

They pulled away with a lot of yelling and waving and exchange of farewells.

I’ve found no photos as yet of these returning soldiers or of their accounts of coming home on a cattle boat. If anyone has any, I’d love to see them!

Next post: Conversations with the soldiers.