Good news awaited the cowboy crew of the S. S. Carroll Victory when they pulled into port at Piraeus, Greece, March 7, 1947, with their 277 South African horses and 278 mules. “The UNRRA man here says there won’t be another trip back to South Africa,” Charlie Lord wrote his wife. “I think its probably because of the poor quality of horses. Of our last load 150 have died they say. Also because the Agriculture branch of UNRRA may fold any day, was supposed to on March 1. The last order the Captain has is to come straight to the States.”
During the short stay in Piraeus to unload the horses and manure, Lord had one more wish on this third stop in Greece. He and two other cowboys went to the UNRRA office to inquire. “I asked about how we could get two boxes of BSC relief food past customs and they told me. Then I asked if I could get to an UNRRA horse anywhere near Athens and take pictures of it and the family that owned it. After considerable telephoning, they found where some horses were. The UNRRA official took the 3 of us out to a jeep, he and his driver drove us over the most pilled and bumpy roads I have ever seen out to a little town. There we found a horse in a stable. The man brought it out.” Lord took pictures to his heart’s content of the horse and family, the woman and girls running a loom and spinning wheel in their home, and another UNRRA horse coming back from plowing.
“I feel I’ve covered the field now,” Lord said. “I’m finished with Athens.”
By March 10, the ship was on its way home, but a pleasure trip it was not. While in the Mediterranean, the cowboys were tasked with the job of cleaning the livestock holds – twice, as the first day’s work didn’t pass the Chief Steward’s inspection.
Approaching Gibraltar, Lord wrote, “Everyone is getting a little bit excited about our approaching Atlantic passage to the wonderful States. This has been a very long trip, even for regular seamen, and merchant marines.” Uncooperative weather, however, stretched a trip across the Atlantic that took ten days on the trip over to thirteen on the way home. The ship ran into gale force winds most of the way across, slowing it down considerably.
On March 22, Lord’s shipmate Maynard Garber noted in his journal, “The wind is blowing at a mighty gale and waves 75 [feet] high appear like mountains when we go down with a 40 degree angle. The ship is pitching like a seesaw so our speed is cut down to 10 knots or else the ship would break up. We still have 1250 miles yet to go.”
Lord noted, “Like the old Model T, we travel further up and down than we do ahead. . . . Richter said he had a book on the side of his bed. It was rather weird to see the book rise from the bed, sit in mid-air, then fall on the floor.” After a particularly rough night, Lord said, “About 1:30 this morning this old tub really bounced. All the light bulbs on the fan tail [quarters] screwed out from vibration during the night and broke on the floor. . . . It took me a long time to get to sleep, what with sliding one way and then the other on my sheet.”
Weather wasn’t the crew’s only problem. On leaving Gibraltar May 15, Lord had noted, “Our food supplies are getting low. We’ve been out of butter for about 4 days. They say we have 200 lbs of flour left, enough for about 6 days.” By the 19th, he wrote, “The whole ship is on bread rationing. Yesterday we got 2 slices of bread per meal. Today it was 1 slice per meal.” March 25, three days before reaching New York, Lord said, “We haven’t had any white bread for 2 days, flour is all gone. Had corn bread for lunch that had cereal or something in it, too. Only powdered eggs yesterday and today. Our food is running out. They say that yesterday the captain said, ‘Full speed ahead. We’d just as well drown as starve to death.” Neither was their fate. On March 28 the S. S. Carroll Victory safely reached New York.
Garber noted, “Today at noon we at last saw the Statue of Liberty. It was foggy so we were close before we saw it. This afternoon we dropped anchor out in bay and will be on the boat until the customs have cleared us.
Garber concludes his journal: “Thus after 143 days on ship, we spent 89 days on the sea, 54 days ashore and 46 days at work.”
On the inside cover he quoted this Walt Whitman poem:
The untold want by life and land ne’er granted,
Now voyager sail thou forth to seek and find.
And so the seagoing cowboys of the S. S. Carroll Victory had.