Was there confiscation of UNRRA and Heifer Project livestock?

Rumors abounded among seagoing cowboys who went to Poland that UNRRA horses were being stolen by the Russians and shipped off to Russia. I’ve found assurances in archival materials that this was not the case. The following letter dated October 28, 1946, was sent to the Brethren Service Committee by Brig. C. M. Drury, Chief of the UNRRA Mission to Poland in Warsaw:

Subject: Livestock imported to Poland

Although we have received rumors from various sources that some livestock brought to Poland by U.N.R.R.A. has been taken by other countries, particularly Russia, our investigations have repeatedly proven all such rumors to be without foundation.

I can say without hesitation that to date as far as I know not one U.N.R.R.A. animal has been stolen from the Polish people by the Russians.

On the other hand, the Polish Government Repatriation Office informs us that the Russian government has permitted repatriated persons returning to Poland from Russia to bring with them up to the end of the first quarter of 1946: 52,536 horses, 121,347 cows, 36,775 hogs and 55,329 sheep and goats.

Signed: C. M. DRURY, Chief of Mission

An identical letter was signed by Dr. A. G. Wilder, Chief Veterinarian.

Polish farmers receiving their new work horses at a collection station, 1946. Photo credit: James Brunk.

This assessment was confirmed by Gaither P. Warfield of the Methodist Committee for Overseas Relief and Methodist representative to the Heifer Project Committee who visited Poland in early 1947. Minutes of the March 29, 1947, HPC meeting state: “Warfield said he had not seen any confiscation by the Russians in Poland since they came into the country in the last six or eight months.” Ralph Delk, at the same meeting, reported that “Dr. Wilder has traced down rumors of confiscation but not in any single instance have they found Russian confiscation of American gifts.”

So the seagoing cowboys can rest assured that their animals most likely got to where they were meant to go.

There were two instances, however, where animals sent by the Heifer Project were diverted within Poland. Thurl Metzger, later to become Executive Director of the Heifer Project, spent mid-October 1946 to mid-April 1947 in Poland working for both UNRRA and the Brethren Service Committee. He reported these happenings to the Heifer Project Committee on his return to the United States.

In March 1946, 228 HPC heifers were shipped to Poland on the S. S. Woodstock Victory. Apparently by mistake, these heifers were sold by the Polish government as regular UNRRA supplies. Metzger discovered the mistake, backed up his claim with evidence, and approached Polish officials about the missing animals. “Armed with only my youthful indignation,” Metzger reported years later, “I was able to secure a settlement.”

Based on the average the Polish government received for the sale of UNRRA heifers to Polish farmers, a total of 4,104,000 zloties was deposited by the government in the Naradowy Bank Polskie in Warsaw. This posed a problem for Metzger: What to do with $41,040-worth of zloties that outside of Poland were worthless? He reported to the Heifer Project Committee that the answer “came like a revelation.” The money was used that July to pay the passage for ten Polish students from the College of Agriculture of the University of Warsaw to the United States to spend a year in the homes of American farm families. This planted a seed, which lay dormant for a decade due to the Cold War. Then in 1957, the Church of the Brethren began the Polish Agricultural Exchange Program, which lasted for nearly 40 years.

Students from the College of Agriculture of the University of Warsaw, Poland, gather with officials in the United States in 1947. Thurl Metzger, top left. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller collection, courtesy of Thurl Metzger family.

The second diversion of cattle happened in December 1946 when a private company contracted by the Polish government to handle all imported livestock substituted some poor quality cows for Heifer Project’s best heifers through a slight of hand. They would have gotten away with it were it not for a brave peasant impressed by Heifer’s humanitarian efforts who came forward several days later and reported the incident to Metzger’s office. An investigation ensued, and five Heifer Project animals were identified in the firm’s herd by their ear tags. “Again the government acted in good faith,” reported Metzger, “and ordered the firm to turn over the five identified cows which were additions to the substitutions that had already been made.” Metzger concluded, “[I]t is significant that the Polish government reputed to be Communist was concerned enough about their relations to a small church group that they made an unusual effort to keep the records straight.”

Good for a Laugh

I am just finishing a three-month sequester at the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas, to work on a book about the first decade of the Heifer Project. Today, I’ll share with you three gems I found as I was sorting through my research files that I brought with me.

1. The following is a clipping from an unidentified newspaper I found in one of Dan West’s files passed on to me by his children:

 

2. A letter included in the agenda materials for a Heifer Project Committee meeting follows:

WHAT WILL WE BE OFFERED NEXT ? ? ?

October 31, 1946

Church of the Brethren
Brethren Service Center
New Windsor, Maryland

Dear Mr. Metzler:

At the suggestion of Mr. Victor Tuda, of the N. Y. Polish Consulate’s office, I am writing to inquire if you can use a mother cat and four kittens.

I learned of an apparent need for cats in Poland and offer this fine family, hoping they may be useful.

If this offer is of interest and you can forward information as to where I may deliver them in this area, I will be obliged.

Yours very truly,

F. H. J.
604 Grove St.,
Upper Montclair, N. J.

3. And a request from the same Heifer Project Committee meeting agenda:

I just read your “Heifers for Relief” article in the July 17, 1946 Pathfinder. Who is this Dan West fellow? I wish I knew that man. I’d like to talk to him or know his address.

And about those heifers — it says $150.00. Does that mean you there will buy and get it ready to go for that money? I don’t live on a ranch or even on a farm and I don’t own a darn thing but I can get that much money if I want it. Only if I buy one of these will you let me be one of the cowboys and take it across myself? I don’t care what kind of a boat or who else goes, that’s all O.K. if you just let me go. I won’t be much trouble and can feed and take care of it. I did as a child on a farm. I’d like to take a pony too for some little boy but I realize its the cow that gives the milk.

. . . .

I can go almost at the drop of a hat, course I will pack the little red bag and make the necessary arrangements. Only strings on me. (I’m the Mother of 3 boys) but they are very nearly able to take care of themselves, and they’ll let me go. That “Ambassadors for Peace” is right down my alley. I know a lot about Peace and I’d like to see first-hand some children overthere.

Don’t say it can’t be done. I may be seasick, but honest I’ve always been able to row my own boat even when the waves are high. I’m not much — just a human being who wants to help.

I’ll send the $150.00, if I have to rob a bank if you just let me go.

Answer Please,

Marie
(Dad’s Girl)

70th Anniversary of the Ceremony of the Bulls

UNRRA made its last livestock shipment from the U.S. in April 1947, delivering another load of heifers to China on the S. S. Lindenwood Victory. On its way home later that month, the Lindenwood was the only ship to be sighted by the three Heifer Project seagoing cowboys of the S. S. Alfred DuPont on their way to Japan – a symbolic passing of the torch from UNRRA to the Heifer Project. The Alfred DuPont carried the precious cargo of 25 purebred Holstein bulls, a gift from the Heifer Project to help Japan rebuild its dairy industry after World War II. This first shipment of the Heifer Project after UNRRA’s disbanding was also a deliberate symbol of peace and goodwill to a country with which the U. S. had been fighting only months earlier.

Norman Hostetler at the Stanislaus District Fairgrounds in CA with one of the bulls he selected. Photo courtesy of Norman Hostetler.

The job of selecting the bulls fell to Norman Hostetler, a young Brethren man trained in animal husbandry who had been a cowboy supervisor for UNRRA on two trips to Poland and worked in the cowboy office in Newport News, Virginia. “Not a single farmer approached for the purchase of these bulls was averse to sending cattle to Japan,” Hostetler said. After an exhausting round of visits to breeders in California, Hostetler and two fellow seagoing cowboys boarded the Alfred DuPont along with their charges at Pier 90 in San Francisco.

“Our voyage of 21 days was extremely rough,” notes Hostetler. “Waves were washing over the decks frequently and on several occasions the cattle stalls were damaged somewhat. It was remarkable to me that the bulls came through it all in excellent condition.” The rigors of the trip were to be rewarded, however.

Bulls in the barge that took them to shore in Yokohama, Japan. Photo: Norman Hostetler.

“We three kings of Orient are, and I’m not fooling!” notes cowboy Martin Strate in a letter to the Heifer Project Committee. “Since our arrival May 9, things have been happening! The bulls were unloaded and taken by barge to the Quarantine station by noon of the first day. The press was present en-masse.”

“There were at least fifteen photographers there including the Japanese as well as the Army and the Associated Press,” says Hostetler. The trip had been approved and arranged through SCAP, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers which controlled Japan after World War II, and transportation was provided by the U. S. War Department. “Army officials told us that our shipment was the most important one to have entered Japan since the war, insofar as the Japanese are concerned,” Hostetler says. “Then when they learn that the animals are a gift of the Christians of America, they are overwhelmed. They can scarcely imagine a gift of 25 bulls, the value of one being about 30,000 yen.”

The Ceremony of the Bulls, Yokahama, Japan, May 19, 1947. Photo courtesy of Norman Hostetler.

On May 19, 1947, seventy years ago this month, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry staged an official reception for the bulls. “The presentation ceremony was held in the grounds of the quarantine station, with about 100-150 people there,” notes cowboy Charles Frantz. “The sun danced royally on the red-and-white striped banners. There were half a dozen photographers present, and the occasion and hospitality really outdid itself for us Occidentals. Tea, beer, soda water, peanuts, fruit, meat, and flowers followed the ceremony.”

A Japanese official formally presents his appreciation to the Heifer Project. Photo courtesy of Norman Hostetler.

Norman Hostetler addressed the gathering on behalf of the Heifer Project, as did Lt. Col. J. H. Boulware on behalf of SCAP. Several Japanese dignitaries gave speeches of thanks for the bulls, which were to be distributed to livestock experimental stations and breeding farms throughout the country. And the seagoing cowboys were presented with gifts. Hostetler recalls receiving a bolt of silk from which his future wife made her wedding dress. “We’ll never forget the occasion,” says Frantz.

Nor would many of the Japanese of the day. The cowboys were able to travel to 16 of the livestock stations to which the bulls were taken and treated royally at all but one. Strate reports that at a meeting in Tokyo, “We were most graciously thanked by a gentleman well over eighty years of age. He stood erect and said something like, ‘I stand because I am over eighty years old. In my eighty years, I have never before witnessed such genuine Christian generosity. This gift to the Japanese people will long be remembered because it is the first of its kind and that it came soon after the war.”

L. to R., Martin Strate, Charles Frantz, and Norman Hostetler receive thanks and gifts from Japanese officials. Photo courtesy of Norman Hostetler.

One of the speeches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copies of all speeches were presented to the cowboys to deliver to the Heifer Project. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller, courtesy of Heifer International.

 

Hostetler, Strate, and Frantz inspected the bulls at the agricultural stations to which they were taken. Photo courtesy of Norman Hostetler.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The seagoing cowboys were treated to Japanese hospitality and culture on their tour. Photo courtesy of Norman Hostetler.

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.

 

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 III

A Chinese English language newspaper reports on the arrival of the heifers in China, January 1947. Courtesy of John Morehouse.

The S. S. Lindenwood Victory crew got to celebrate New Year’s 1947 twice. Twenty-two days after attending the Rose Bowl Parade in California, their ship docked in China on the first day of the Chinese New Year, as recorded by Harold Hersch in his diary:

Wed Jan 22 – Land visible when we arose at 7 o’clock this morning. Water soon turned muddy brown and we headed up the Yangtze River. Shortly after we turned into the Wang Po River and headed for Shanghai. Grass and sod huts visible on the banks and river junks thick on the river.

Photo credit: George Weybright.

At about 4 P.M. we tied up to another Chinese freighter. We had to do this because, being the first day of the Chinese New Year, stevedore help was unavailable. It soon became apparent that it was quite uncertain when we should be able to unload, because of the New Year, when most Chinese take 15 days’ vacation.

“No one on shore was willing to take a line from the ship to tie us to the dock,” recalls Les Messamer. “Eventually, one person did tie a small line to a post on the dock. Our own crew members then went hand over hand down that line (on ship, a rope is always called a line) and pulled heavier lines to shore to secure our own vessel.”

Once on shore, the cowboys witnessed the traditional extended family Dragon Dances in the streets, “not as an organized parade,” says Messamer, “but each dragon was its own colorful celebration. The paper mache dragon’s head was carried by an honored member of the family, and the rice paper body of the dragon trailed behind with the rest of the members beneath. Exploding firecrackers were everywhere.”

When unloading finally began, it became quickly apparent that the Chinese dock workers were unfamiliar with cows. Messamer says,

Photo courtesy of Les Messamer. Photographer unknown.

When the first cow, which did have a calf with her, was lowered onto the dock and the door to the crate was opened, the cow and calf walked out into the open. The workers, and there were a large number of them, talked with each other as they stood in a kind of semi-circle. It was obvious they were trying to decide how to get those things from here to [the pen that had been constructed]. One of the [men] came forward and picked up the calf. That is a good way to move a calf, as any farmer knows. Then, another fellow came up and threw both arms around the cow’s neck while several others got behind and started pushing. Farmers know that is not a good way to move a cow. The cow panicked and ran, and literally ran off the dock and fell into the ocean. By using many ropes that were placed under this heifer, she was eventually lifted back onto the dock by manpower. She seemed to be none the worse for the experience.

Cowboy foreman George Weybright noted that the Chinese dock workers followed instructions as best they could, imitating every word and movement of the seagoing cowboys assisting them, as another of Les Messamer’s stories bears out:

On the dock in Shanghai. Photo credit: George Weybright.

The pen where [the cows] were to be taken was perhaps fifty yards away from the unloading point on the dock. The cows needed to be herded between the two points. Early in the process, one of the cowboys happened to be just leaving the gangplank when a loose cow was very near to him and did not know where to go. The cowboy waved both arms at the cow and said, “Go on.” The cow moved, and from that moment on, the workers waved both arms at the cows and, in what sounded like a Chinese word, yelled ‘Gwan.’ It did appear to work.

The Chinese dockworkers left a memorable impression on cowboy foreman George Weybright. He wrote in the Church of the Brethren Gospel Messenger:

Longshoreman carrying bags of feed for the cattle. Photo credit: John Morehouse.

Our men can testify that these longshoremen were decent, hardworking men. . . [They] were honest. One group went far out of its way to return an article of clothing belonging to their cattleman ‘masters.’ They were reasonably clean, considering their background and utter lack of education. They were pleasant, courteous, considerate and cooperative. They enjoyed good jokes. They tried to copy little tricks and gymnastics on a parallel bar that was suspended in hold number 4. Their ability to lift heavy loads (in rhythm with a chant), and run with their loads if necessary, was amazing.

Weybright concludes, “Needless to say, this was a rich experience.”

Harold Hersch diary excerpts courtesy of Heifer International; Gospel Messenger quote used by permission of Brethren Press; Les Messamer quotes from email correspondence with the author.

Next post: The sights and sounds of Shanghai