Horses in Helsingborg, 1947

When the S. S. Virginia City Victory left Savannah, Georgia, January 29, 1947, her 30 seagoing cowboys had no idea what was in store for them. No doubt they had heard of other cowboys’ trips taking care of horses, heifers, or mules sent by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration to help rebuild Europe after World War II. They expected to take care of the 774 horses on board as they crossed the Atlantic to Poland, to get to spend a few days exploring the recipient country, and to return home when their ship was unloaded. The extremely harsh northern European winter of 1947 scuttled those expectations. They never made it to Poland.

The intended route of the Virginia City Victory took the ship through the Skagerrak and Kattegat straits dividing Denmark from Norway and Sweden. While anchored off Sweden in the Kattegat, the Master of the ship received diversion orders from UNRRA via the shipping company on February 12. Ice in the Baltic Sea made it impossible to travel on to Poland. UNRRA ordered the ship to turn around and proceed to Rotterdam for further orders. The Master awaited confirmation orders from UNRRA’s London office.

Still in place two days later, 50 horses had already died on the trip. UNRRA representatives in Copenhagen, Denmark, suggested the horses should be discharged immediately. Suitable accommodations and agreement of local authorities made Helsingborg, Sweden, the port of choice. UNRRA canceled the orders to proceed to Rotterdam and instructed “master discharge forthwith and return [to the US].” The London office also suggested to the US office that the ship’s veterinarians and livestock attendants remain in Helsingborg so they could tend the animals when the weather allows the horses to be transported on to Poland. The veterinarians and cowboys would then return to the USA on another livestock ship.

This evidently did not sit well with the cowboys, the majority of whom came from the warm clime of the state of Georgia. Less than 15 minutes after the first cablegram from London, the US office received another: “Vessels attendants all wish return with vessel. Swedish authorities state they can provide attendants [to Poland] and all inclusive cost will be 3 Swedish kronen per horse per day.”

The Virginia City Victory docked in Helsingborg February 15, expecting to complete unloading and set sail, with cowboys on board, for New York City around February 20.

Watering horses on the Virginia City Victory in Helsingborg harbor before unloading. Photo from Kulturmagasinet/The Museum of Helsingborg, photographer Olle Lindberg.

Swedish historian Pelle Johansson, of the Kulturmagasinet/Museum of Helsingborg, alerted me to this story. According to newspaper accounts, Johansson says, “The main concern was finding stables and the fear of contagious diseases. The veterinarian at the local cavalry regiment seems to have been very careful. On the 15th, a delegation from UNRRA arrived in Helsingborg from Copenhagen to make an inspection and give their okay to an unloading. They are also awaiting an okay from Swedish authorities. Through the local newspapers, the veterinarian calls out for finding stables amongst the local farmers.

Unloading UNRRA horses in Helsingborg, Sweden, February, 1947. Note the ice in the harbor. Photo from Kulturmagasinet/The Museum of Helsingborg, photographer Olle Lindberg.

“The call was heard,” Johannson said, “so between February and May the [nearly 700] American horses were placed in farms and stables around the region. At the end of May two Danish ships came to collect the horses and took them to Gdansk.”

UNRRA horses on one of the farms where they were stabled near Helsingborg. Taken May 5, 1947. Photo from Kulturmagasinet/The Museum of Helsingborg, photographer Olle Lindberg.

UNRRA horses being loaded onto Danish ship for transport to Poland, May 13, 1947. Note the different type of vessel that allows the horses to simply walk down a ramp onto the ship. Photo from Kulturmagasinet/The Museum of Helsingborg, photographer Olle Lindberg.

Mr. Johansson is attempting to find some of those farm families who housed the horses to capture their stories. “One of the men I’ve interviewed,” he says, “remembers that the horse his father took to the farm was in a bad condition and was a ‘shy and worried one and probably didn’t do any work’.” Another lucky mare, however, gave birth to a foal, and the two animals were purchased and got to stay in Sweden.

My thanks to Mr. Johansson for sharing photos with me from the museum’s archives. The basic information for this post comes from my UNRRA research at the United Nations Archives in New York City and Mr. Johansson.

 

Trials of the S.S. William S. Halsted, Part III

After enduring storms at sea, the William S. Halsted delivers its goods to Poland and faces yet more trials, as Robert Ebey reports:

December 10 – – – [This morning] we visited Danzig which is about 90% destroyed….

Ruins of Danzig

Peggy Reiff Miller collection, courtesy of Ray Zook

The Polish Department of Agriculture sent a truck at 1:00 p.m. to take us on a tour of Danzig, Gydinia and Sopot where we were guests for a fine banquet. Even a band was there and played many selections including Yankee Doodle.

Tugs rescue William S. Halsted

It took two tugboats to dislodge the William S. Halsted after running aground in the channel outside of Novy Port. Photo credit: Robert Ebey

December 11 – – – We weighed anchor and headed for Copenhagen, Denmark. As we were leaving the Polish ship channel leading to the Bay of Danzig, the Halsted ran aground. Two powerful tugboats were sent for and an hour later our ship was freed.

December 19 – – – ….our last day in Copenhagen and six of us took a train ride to a small town outside the big city. We visited a grade school and a cooperative farm. Now that the 6000 tons of coal are unloaded, we are heading for Sweden to take on a cargo of 4000 tons of paper pulp to be taken to Boston, Massachusetts.

Icebreaker leads the way.

An icebreaker leads the way for the William S. Halsted into the Angerman River in Sweden. A ferry had just crossed the river creating another path across. Photo credit: Robert Ebey

December 23 – – – Arrived in Harnosand, Sweden, at the mouth of the Angerman River. We are about 300 miles south of the Arctic Circle. It is WINTER! As soon as an icebreaker arrived, we started up the Angerman River….About twenty miles upriver we reached the town of Waija. The paper pulp was brought to our ship on barges towed by tugboats….

December 24 – – – By noon the last of the 700 tons of paper pulp is in the holds and again the icebreaker leads us, this time down the river.

December 27-28 – – – We are at Iggesund and take on 1200 tons of paper pulp. Shore looks so inviting, but we have no way of getting there.

December 29-January 4 – – – Our final stop in Sweden. 2100 tons of paper pulp are loaded. Luckily, we are at a regular dock so we can come and go as we wish.

January 1 [1947] – – – We attend a New Year’s evening service in the Swedish Lutheran Church in Ljusne, a town about three miles from our ship….

January 3 – – – The ladies of the Ljusne Lutheran Church in our honor prepared a truly delicious evening meal. The children sang several carols in Swedish and we did so in English….

January 4 – – – At 8:30 a.m. our anchor is raised and we are on our way home.

January 6 – – – Copenhagen Harbor again. We anchored for just a few hours to take on water, vegetables, fresh meat and milk.

January 7 – – – We are in the North Sea and are experiencing a very severe blizzard. Visibility is nearly zero. Our fog horn blows constantly at regular intervals. We just missed another tanker. We don’t need another experience like that. This is by far the roughest water of the trip. In spite of the one inch ledge all around our table the dishes crash to the floor time and time again. Ray Zook and Bob Ebey are again the only ones to escape seasickness. The ship rocks over so far we cannot sleep. We need to hang on to keep from rolling off our bunks.

Ice on William S. Halsted

Ice coats the William S. Halsted after sailing through two snow storms. Photo credit: Robert Ebey

January 17 – – – Another severe snow storm has made walking on deck very difficult and hazardous. Our captain has ordered us to walk back and forth only for meals.

January 19 – – – At last the ocean has calmed down. We can now be out on deck at any time. The bow is covered with thick ice.

January 23 – – – Docked in Boston at 10:00 a.m….

January 24 – – – HOME AT LAST! Three and a half months away from home on a six weeks leave of absence.

 

Next post: The vessels used: Liberty and Victory ships converted into livestock carriers