UNRRA Livestock trips from the eyes of a veterinarian

At the age of 25, with his army discharge and a degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in hand, Harold Burton launched the beginning of his veterinary career hired out to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration for $23 a day—darn good pay in 1946. He spent time with UNRRA both on land and sea.

Harold Burton, DVM, on the S. S. Mercer Victory delivering horses to Trieste, Italy, for Yugoslavia, December 1946. Photo courtesy of Harold Burton.

Doc Burton spent several months working at both the Levinson Brothers Terminal Stockyards off Pier X in Newport News, Virginia, and the Owen Brothers Stockyards on the property of the Atlantic Coast Line in Savannah, Georgia, where the animals were railed in from around the country. The yards were designed to handle 4500 and 3500 animals respectively. When delays in shipping happened, the numbers would often swell much beyond capacity.

The Levinson Brothers Terminal Stockyards off Pier X in Newport News, Virginia, 1946. Photo credit: Charles Lord.

All animals were screened on arrival at the stockyards. Both facilities included hospital pens and equipment sufficient to accommodate a large number of animals. Animals arriving sick or injured during their rail transport were sent to the hospital pens. “I was assigned the job of getting as many of them as possible ready to ship,” Burton says. “I had two big, strong farm-grown cowboys who were with me in Savannah. We think we did a good job. The only problem was the pen kept getting new patients.”

On the sea, Burton says, “the veterinarian’s job is to end up in Europe with as many healthy animals as possible. The old Victory ships had four holds with a small walkway in the middle and four stalls with four horses each on each side of the aisle. We wore a backpack with medicines and syringes, etc., and hobbles, ropes and twitches to restrain the animals if we had to give them injections or sutures or whatever. It was very poorly lighted, hot, dusty and VERY smelly. Your feet were in manure all the time.”

Cowboy in lower hold on the S. S. Carroll Victory, late 1946. Photo credit: Charles Lord.

Burton’s two livestock trips across the Atlantic took him to Poland in September 1946 and Trieste, Italy, in December 1946—both with horses. Most of those animals came to his ships wild from the western US. “My father was a country blacksmith and farrier,” Burton says, “and growing up I helped him. I learned how to hobble a horse, tie one leg up by rope to stabilize him so he couldn’t hurt himself or me. This was good to know working with these completely untamed beasts.

“It was extremely dangerous,” he says, “especially in rough seas. To give an intravenous injection or a blood transfusion, or anything where we needed to be close to these untamed animals, was worth your life. Bites, kicks, bumps and bruises were a daily thing. One time, a horse grabbed me by the left shoulder blade, picked me up, shook me and spit me out. I weighed 140 pounds at the time, but I can still feel the pain.”

Doc Burton’s seagoing cowboy crew on the S. S. Saginaw Victory to Poland, September 1946. Photo credit: Harold Burton.

Burton says the veterinarians were expected to keep good records of the sick and injured horses. They used a canvas sling under a sick horse’s belly to lift the animal from below deck to the hospital stall on the top deck. “We saved a fair percentage,” he says, “considering the circumstances we worked under. If a horse died, we swung it up on the roof of the top deck stalls and did a complete autopsy before pushing the carcass overboard.” UNRRA used these reports to better the program.

An autopsy on the S. S. Lindenwood Victory, summer 1946. This was not one of Doc Burton’s trips. Photo credit: L. Dwight Farringer.

“We veterinarians got lots of excellent experience firsthand,” Burton says. “If you could make an intravenous injection or suture or bandage on an animal on a rolling vessel in an extremely crowded area with wild savage beasts, it was a piece of cake in a barn on a farm back home.”

Information for Livestock Attendants – Part II

Today we continue our look at what the seagoing cowboy experience entailed as spelled out in a document titled “Information for Livestock Attendants.”

Seasickness

  1. If shots and vaccinations can be taken several weeks before sailing, fewer cases of disability would be experienced.

    Two seasick cowboys on the S. S. Norwalk Victory, February 1946. Photo: Elmer Bowers.

  2. Seasickness is largely imagination. Fresh air, physical occupation, keeping feed in the stomach will do much to aid in preventing it.
  3. Eat moderately of simple foods. Keeping crackers and ginger in pockets to munch between meals may help.
  4. Spend much time in the open air near the middle of the ship. Keep away from the smell of cooking if possible.
  5. Seasick tablets are helpful for some, but cannot be depended on for everyone.

Supplies to Take Along

  1. Livestock attendants should take warm washable clothing. Laundry facilities are provided on most ships. Soap is furnished by the ship in most cases.

    Laundry time on the S. S. Queens Victory, July 1946. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

  2. Money should be carried in the form of travelers checks. A sufficient amount should be taken to cover transportation to the port city in the U.S. and return plus whatever incidentals are desired by the individual.
  3. Clothing items like socks, underwear, shirts, etc., can be purchased aboard ship from the ship’s store.
  4. Reading and recreation items, books, magazines, games, hobby materials.

    Cowboys on the S. S. Morgantown Victory came prepared in Dec. 1945. Photo: Glen Nafziger.

  5. Bible, daily devotion books, Testaments, etc.
  6. Stationary, fountain pen, stamps, diary, maps and guides of countries to be visited and, if you are a photo addict, a camera with plenty of film, binoculars.
  7. Specific clothing items; a good warm windbreaker to withstand the weather of the North Atlantic, one dress suit (not too good), two coat hangers, pair of sport pants, two sport shirts, jacket, sweater, two flannel work shirts, two pairs of work pants, four tee shirts, six undershirts and shorts, six pairs work socks, two pairs of dress socks, heavy work shoes, boots or overshoes, raincoat, wool cap.
  8. Handkerchiefs, razor, toothbrush, paste, comb, extra soap, needles, thread and buttons, money belt.
  9. Towels and soap are furnished by the ship.
  10. It is best to leave jewelry and watches at home.

Leisure-time Activities Aboard Ship

  1. The amount of leisure time on the way over varies with the number of cattle, the weather and other factors. Since there are no duties on the return trip, livestock men have plenty of time to themselves. This provides an excellent opportunity for self-improvement. Some suggestions:
  2. Plenty of good reading material should be taken along.
  3. Map of the world on which to mark the places visited.
  4. Model building (ships, airplanes, etc.) has provided excellent recreation for some men.
  5. Discussion groups, planned to include members of the crew, have proved stimulating and interesting.

    Discussion group on S. S. Creighton Victory, July 1946. Photo: Ben Kaneda.

  6. Evening singing sessions help spread good cheer.

    Christmas Eve on the S. S. Attleboro Victory, December 1946. Photo: Harold Cullar.

  7. Amateur stunt nights, etc., provide lots of fun.
  8. Religious services should be carefully planned and held at regular times. (both on way over and return trip)

    Sunday service on the S. S. Queens Victory, July 1946. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

Some Places To Visit (Mediterranean area)

  1. One should plan well his tours to interesting places in the towns he visits so as to make the most of time spent there.
  2. In Trieste: Cathedral, Via Cathedral, the Square of Blaza, hillside residences and gardens, Esplanade, stores and open air markets.
  3. In Naples: Mt. Vesuvius, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Cathedral of Pompeii, Castle of St. Elmo, Governor’s Palace, Cathedral King’s palace with moat and drawbridge, San Carlo Opera House, Torre del Greco and Cameo factories, Sorrento.

    The crew of the S. S. Virginian visited the ruins of Pompeii, July 1945. Orville Hersch scrapbook.

  4. In Rome: Ancient Forum and ruins of the old city; St. Peters and Vatican City, Coliseum, cathedrals, Tiber River, Appian Way, aqueducts, Via 20 September.
  5. In Salonika: St. George’s and St. Sophia’s churches, old Venetian wall and tower, Turkish baths, market places.

    Touring the old city wall of Thessaloniki, Greece, July 1945. Orville Hersch scrapbook.

  6. In Athens: Parthenon and ruins of ancient city.

    Seagoing cowboy Charlie Lord captured this view of the Acropolis on his five-month trip on the S. S. Carroll Victory in early 1947.

(“Information for Livestock Attendants” document prepared by seagoing cowboys Russell Helstern and Ed Grater – February 28, 1946)

Seagoing Cowboy Program Turns 75 this year!

Happy New Year to my faithful readers!

This year will mark the 75th anniversary of many significant events surrounding the end of World War II. Besides the end of fighting, the event that excites me most is the beginning of UNRRA’s seagoing cowboy program, initiated with UNRRA’s first shipment of June 24, 1945. I look forward to sharing bits of this history with you throughout the year – a history of helping a war-torn world rebuild.

For starters, let’s look at what the seagoing cowboy experience entailed as spelled out in a document titled “Information for Livestock Attendants.”

The following information comes from men who have already been to Europe as livestock attendants and is backed by their experience.

Handling of Animals

  1. Attendants should have and should exhibit a natural love for animals – a calm voice, with gentle treatment and manners, with no evidence of fear, is most effective.

    Cowboys on the S. S. Adrian Victory tend the horses on way to Greece, Oct. 1946. Photo: Elmer Bowers.

  2. Attendants should check carefully the eating habits and bodily functions of animals under their care and should report irregularities to the veterinarian at once.
  3. Each attendant will feed, water and care for 25 to 35 animals (cows, heifers, horses, mules, bulls) under the supervision of the veterinarian and the supervisor.
  4. Each man should assume his duties willingly and discharge them faithfully. This is not a pleasure ship.
  5. Cleaning should be done daily, as per instructions.

    Luke Bomberger cleans cattle stalls on the S. S. Boulder Victory to China, Feb. 1947. Photo: Eugene Souder.

  6. Be diligent in keeping watch – sometimes a delay of 15 minutes may mean the life of an animal under your charge.

Customs Aboard Ship

  1. It is well to have a talk with the ship’s captain or one of the mates before putting out to sea to learn the practices aboard ship, to discover what suggestions he may have regarding conduct of the crew aboard ship, privileges, responsibilities and general conduct. Remember the captain is the absolute master of all aboard his ship.

    Cowboys on the S. S. Carroll Victory watch chief engineer and mate cut chain. 1947. Photo: Charles Lord.

  2. Be friendly at all times with the ship’s regular crew. Let nothing disturb that relationship. Crew members respect character in others and expect to be treated as gentlemen.

    Luke Bomberger gets a tour of the engine room on the S. S. Boulder Victory to China, Feb. 1947. Photo: Eugene Souder.

  3. Ignore the caste system aboard ship and don’t let it disturb you.
  4. Do not abuse dining hall privileges. Snacks at night are for men who are on duty. When using this privilege when on duty, men must assume their part in cleaning up.
  5. Danger of fire at sea is terrific. Refrain from smoking.
  6. Men should be sure their mailing address is understood and forwarded to their homes before leaving. There are many uncertainties and do not be too much disturbed if mail does not reach you.

    Seagoing cowboy Bob Richards made sure his crew on the S. S. Virginian knew their mailing address. Orville Hersch scrapbook.

Conduct in Foreign Ports

  1. One can reflect credit or discredit upon the organization and the people he represents by the way he conducts himself among strangers. Be sensible – act discreetly and with an open, frank friendliness toward the people in the foreign ports. Act like Christians at all times.

    Shopping at the open air market in Trieste, Italy, Feb. 1946. Photo: Elmer Bowers.

  2. Never try to violate port rules or to evade port inspector’s regulations.
  3. Plan your own shore tours with competent guides. Ignore “gate offers”. Consult the UNRRA representative who boards the ship, the U.S. consul, and if available representatives of private relief agencies, cooperatives, Red Cross, church men, FOR members, et al.
  4. Crew members and livestock attendants are faced with the temptation to trade with black market operators in foreign ports. Cigarette sales, as well as sales of clothing at exorbitant prices are temptations to many of our men. Faced with such a situation one must keep in mind his purpose in coming to Europe. He has come to the people with help – not to help exploit them.

To be continued…