Today, we look at how the experiences of the cowboys to Germany after World War I contrasted with those of the UNRRA seagoing cowboys after World War II.
The trip across the Atlantic was much the same in 1921 as in 1946 – seasickness, smelly holds, ocean vistas and all. The animals demanded the same attention for feed and water. However, the 1921 shipments contained a greater percentage of cows needing to be milked, with some cowboys responsible for as many as 60 head. Must have been some sore hands on those ships! The milk was dumped overboard.
The differences in the two eras manifested when the ships docked in Bremen. With little damage to structures by World War I artillery, the cowboys of 1921 found an exciting city still intact, with one crew heading into town for beer and to refresh their work-encrusted bodies in a public bath house. The cowboys after World War II could only step into the rubble left from saturation bombing and had no such pleasures.
Being of German-speaking heritage and delivering dairy animals sent by ethnic Germans, the 1921 cowboys were met on board in Bremen by a welcoming committee and taken on tours through Bremen and around the country. They visited poet Goethe’s home in Weimar, banqueted with city council members in Leipzig, visited an orphanage in Halle where some of the cows were sent, and marveled at palaces and museums in Berlin. The UNRRA cowboys had no welcoming committees. The livestock they delivered were sent via rail on to Czechoslovakia, as Germany was not a receiving country for UNRRA goods. These cowboys made their way around the ruins of Bremen on their own, and that was as far as most of them got.
Living like kings ceased for the 1921 cowboys when they returned to their ship, however. “If the Germans looked on with warm hearts,” writes La Vern J. Rippley, “the West Arrow’s Captain Forward cast a less friendly eye.” At his command, the cowboys spent 13 days of their return voyage “pitching manure, scraping stalls and washing down the interior of the ship.” No matter that the work wasn’t in their contract.
Even though the cowboys of 1921 had not seen the brutal devastation witnessed by the UNRRA cowboys of later years, like the UNRRA cowboys, they came home realizing the reality of war. Cowboy Peter Andres commented in a New York Times article of February 25, 1921, “There is too much misery here.” Others noted, “We have had plenty to eat and have been banqueted everywhere but everywhere we have seen hungry children and tubercular adults who need milk.”
The human face of war is timeless.
Sources for this post were two articles by La Vern J. Rippley: “Gift Cows for Germany,” North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains, Summer 1973 and “American Milk Cows for Germany: A Sequel,” North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains, Summer, 1977.