The Longest Ride – Part IV: Risking Danger to Tour the Holy Lands

On its way from Greece to South Africa to pick up a load of UNRRA horses, the S. S. Carroll Victory docked in Haifa, Palestine, for boiler repairs. The ship arrived in the harbor the night of November 26, 1946, during a volatile time of unrest between the Jewish underground and the British who had ruled the country since 1918. The seagoing cowboys, eager to see Jerusalem, wanted to get to shore. The Carroll Victory waited for hours, however, before a pilot finally got the clearance to move the ship into port around 2:00 p.m. the next day.

“We went gradually into the harbor, between the long breakwater with its machine-gun nests and the shore,” Charlie Lord said. “Rumors began to fly as to when and if we would get shore leave. Supper came and went, and we became more and more anxious. We heard we might not get ashore because of the shooting between British and Jews the night before. At 7:00 Mr. Roth sent out word that the passes had arrived.”

The ship’s departure was set for 6 p.m. the next day. The cowboys debated whether to go ashore that night or wait until the next morning, as a curfew was in effect from 6 or 7 p.m. They decided to go by night so they would have more daylight hours to see the sights. “British soldiers told us it was very dangerous to take a truck ride to Jerusalem because of possible land mines or thrown bombs,” Lord said. They hired a truck anyway, as no buses or trains were running after curfew. After some time in Haifa, twenty-seven of the crew met at 10 p.m. and “squeezed into the truck and sat down on the wooden floor packed like sardines.”

Carroll Victory cowboys touring the Holy Lands, packed in the back of a truck, November 28, 1946. © Charles Lord

They arrived in Jerusalem around 5 a.m. Thanksgiving Day and found a restaurant where they had breakfast. At dawn, they made the short drive to Bethlehem. A guide took them on a quick tour to the site of the oldest Christian church in the world, the site of the manger where Jesus was born, and the spot where Herod had all the two-year-old babies of Palestine killed. “Most of the village looks modern,” Lord said.

A star in the floor marks the spot where Jesus was thought to have been born. © Charles Lord

The cowboys met at the appointed time and made it back to Jerusalem by 9 a.m. “We rolled past the countless building projects of Jerusalem, the barbed wire rolls and British soldiers, the railway station with smashed windows and cement from a Jewish bomb,” Lord said. “We stopped near the center of the city, set our departure time at 12:30.” Some of the group engaged a guide who “knew how fast we would have to go to finish by 12 o’clock.” He set a whirlwind pace through the temple area and old Jerusalem, with Lord shooting pictures as he walked—up and down long flights of steps, through heavy traffic and subterranean tunnels “for three solid hours,” he said. “If you stopped for an instant it meant running to catch up.”

Viewing the Mount of Olives from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, November 28, 1946. © Charles Lord

A woman at the Wailing Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, November 28, 1946. © Charles Lord

On their daylight drive back to Haifa, “the scenes along the way were lovely,” shipmate Harold Jennings said. “Arabic tents everywhere, desert lands, camel caravans . . . then banana trees and orange groves with modern irrigation systems.” It was a land of contrasts.

Camels have their front legs tied until loading is complete says Carroll Victory cowboy Paul Beard. Photo by Paul Beard.

The cowboy crew made it back to the ship by 5:15, only to learn that departure had been delayed until 4 p.m. the next day. This gave the cowboys the opportunity to go to Nazareth, as well, and for some to the Yagur Kibbutz near Haifa.

A street in Nazareth, November 29, 1946. © Charles Lord

A Bedouin tent village in Palestine, November 29, 1946. Lord coaxed the bus driver to stop on the way back to Haifa so he could get some photos. © Charles Lord

As Lord, back on board the Carroll Victory after his first excursion, wrote of his experiences in Palestine to his wife, he noted, “A depth charge just shook the ship under us. They are to keep Jewish frog-men from putting mines under English ships.” Not a very consoling thing for his wife to hear, I’m sure. For the seagoing cowboys involved, their excitement about touring the Holy Lands overrode any concern about the potential dangers facing them on their travels. They safely departed Haifa at midnight November 29 and headed for Port Said, the Suez Canal, and Africa.

Two More Seagoing Cowboy Thanksgiving Stories

November 28, 1946, was a memorable Thanksgiving day for two seagoing cowboy crews.

Story #1:

In November 1946, three weeks into what would turn out to be a five-month trip, the SS Carroll Victory had unloaded its cargo of horses in Kavalla, Greece. Expecting to head home, the cowboys were surprised to be sent on to South Africa to pick up another load of horses. On its way, the ship docked in Haifa, Palestine, the day before Thanksgiving. Harold Jennings tells us in his diary,

We hired a truck for $4.00 round trip to Jerusalem – 27 fellows took the trip in spite of warnings from British soldiers of terrorists and the curfew, besides the roads being mined. Fortunately we were stopped only once by police and our coffee stop besides all rest stops. We arrived in Jerusalem about 5:00 a.m. [Thanksgiving Day].

 

Touring Palestine

SS Carroll Victory crew climb aboard their rented truck to tour Palestine. Photo courtesy Charles Lord.

The crew spent the day touring Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, driving past Bedouin tent settlements and a Jewish kibbutz.

Jesus birthplace

Altar in Bethlehem built in the place where the manger in which Jesus was born was believed to have been. The star on the floor marks the spot. Photo courtesy Charles Lord.

Jerusalem gate

New gate to Old Jerusalem. Photo courtesy Charles Lord.

 

 

 

 

 

Nazareth

Road into Nazareth. Photo courtesy Charles Lord.

 

 

 

 

 

Bedouins

Bedouin settlement. Photo courtesy Charles Lord.

Girls at work at Kibbutz

Girls working at Yagur Kibbutz near Haifa. Photo courtesy Charles Lord.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charlie Lord summed up the day in a letter to his wife that evening: “Today was a page from a fairy book.”

Story #2:

While the SS Carroll Victory was sailing contentedly across the Atlantic that early November for its first stop in Greece, another ship met a different fate. The SS Occidental Victory carried a split cargo, with 193 horses on the top deck and 6,000 tons of sugar and 2500 tons of beef below. A mere eight seagoing cowboys and one veterinarian were required for this shipment. After unloading the horses in Poland, the men enjoyed the opportunity to explore the ports of Turku and Helsinki, Finland, where the sugar and beef were unloaded.

Turku, FInland

Seagoing cowboys Norm Weber and Dick Jantzen on right with Finnish guide outside a Turku art museum. Photo courtesy Norman Weber.

At Tsar's summer home.

Vaino Aksanen and his sons take Norm Weber (right) and friends to the 1884 summer home of the Tsar of Russia near Kotka. Photo courtesy Norman Weber.

After more days in Kotka, Finland, to pick up paper pulp for ballast, the ship finally headed home. Cowboy Norman Weber recorded in his journal on Nov. 7,

This morning, good and early, we pulled out of Kotka….We’re beginning to hope to get home by the beginning of December.

About 1:30 P.M. we were sailing along smoothly, when suddenly our ship struck a rock. She jumped and hit again. It was a strange feeling, our great ship jumping like that….

Immediately the deck crew were busy opening the hatches and looking for water coming in. The great ship started listing, and there was much oil on the surface of the water.

The Occidental Victory was soon dubbed the Accidental Victory by the cowboys. She had hit a hidden rock and ripped open the bottom of the ship in two holds, puncturing the oil tanks. Weber explains,

The Victory ships have a double bottom, and in between are the oil tanks. Had this been a Liberty she would likely have sunk, but the second bottom seems to hold her afloat.

The ship slowly made its way back into Helsinki where it was inspected and deemed seaworthy enough to head on to Stockholm for repairs.

On November 28, Cowboy John Wesley Clay wrote in a daily account that he printed up and gave his fellow cowboys at the end of their voyage,

This is Thanksgiving day, and to the eight cowboys it has been the most significant Thanksgiving day we have ever spent. We limped into Stockholm [Monday], eighteen days after striking the rocks in the Gulf of Finland, and it was glorious to set foot on land again.

Our food supply had been almost completely exhausted, and we were approaching a desperate situation, but in Stockholm we found another American ship who divided supplies with us, so today we had a real American Thanksgiving, with plenty of turkey and all the fixings. We were thankful to the depths of our hearts.

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Next post: Christmas for the Occidental Victory crew