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.

 

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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 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!