Cattle tender histories intertwine

The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration’s livestock program is thought by some to be the largest effort of shipping animals overseas in world history. In the two years between June 1945 and April 1947, they had shipped a total of 369,048 draft and food-producing animals from the Western Hemisphere to Europe and a few other locations to help countries recover from World War II. This included, by UNRRA’s count, 174,202 horses, 28,976 mules, 36,199 cattle, and 129,671 other types of farm animals to Europe and a few other countries. There was another time in history, however, which out-paced UNRRA’s efforts – the difference between the two being that UNRRA’s mission helped heal the wounds of war, the other helped create them.

UNRRA heifers ready to ship out of Newport News, Virginia, June 1946. Photo: Lyle Chambers

Three decades before UNRRA’s “seagoing cowboys” came into being, cattle tenders would have been required to care for the hundreds of thousands of horses and mules shipped from the United States to serve as beasts of burden and transport in World War I. According to the International Museum of the Horse, “In the four years of the war, the United States exported nearly a million horses to Europe. This seriously depleted the number of horses in America. When the American Expeditionary Force entered the war, it took with it an additional 182,000 horses. Of these, 60,000 were killed and only a scant 200 were returned to the United States. In spite of the innovations of World War I, one reality remained the same; the horse was the innocent victim.”

World War I war horses. Signal Corps photo.

Large numbers of mules also found themselves on ships to Europe. The United States World War One Centennial Commission  notes, “The 1922 British War Office report on statistics of the Great War states that 275,097 mules were purchased from North America.” One large Missouri firm, Guyton and Harrington, contracted with the British army for horses and mules. According to author Michael Price, they alone “sold 180,000 mules to the British army from 1914-1918. . . . They also sold 170,000 horses to the British.”

Mule at use in World War II. Photo: Army Pictorial Service.

Some of the horses and mules used by the U. S. Army were bred and trained at the Army Quartermaster Remount Depot at Fort Reno in Oklahoma. When World War II rolled around with its advances in war machinery, horses and mules were no longer needed to the extent they were in World War I. After being decommissioned in 1948, the depot at Fort Reno was reactivated in 1952 to prepare horses and mules for export to Turkey. One of UNRRA’s former livestock ships, the S. S. Calvin Victory, now decommissioned and renamed the S. S. Columbia Heights, became the transport vehicle to take the animals across the ocean.

Todd Blomerth tells the story on his blog “Todd’s Historical Writings” of one of the young Army officers, William Pharr “Billy” Stromberg, involved with three of these shipments to Turkey. The Columbia Heights was in use during that same time period for the Levinson Brothers livestock trips to Israel which carried many a Mennonite seagoing cowboy to the Holy Lands. Interesting how histories intertwine!

Mennonite seagoing cowboys on the S. S. Columbia Heights, June 1951. Photo courtesy of Virgil Stoltzfus.

The Seagoing Cowboys and the Bruderhof

For some reason, the photos intended for this post were omitted this morning, so I am resending it with the images included.

At this time of Thanksgiving, I give thanks for the wonderful people my husband and I met or reconnected with this month on my 12-day speaking tour out east. I also give thanks for the work of sharing the seagoing cowboy stories that has, by providence, been placed in my hands. My tour took us to the Hagerstown, MD, and Elizabethtown, PA, Churches of the Brethren; the Living Branches Mennonite retirement community in Souderton, PA; and four Bruderhof communities in New York and Pennsylvania. I was able to tell specific stories of their own related cowboys at each place – always a joy. And particularly this time at the Bruderhofs.

The Bruderhof is a 100-year-old intentional Christian community with over 25 settlements on five continents. The members practice radical discipleship in the spirit of the first church in Jerusalem. After they came to the United States in the 1950s, a number of young Church of the Brethren families joined the movement, and today there are more than 600 descendants of the Church of the Brethren throughout the Bruderhof. Having grown up and been active in the Church of the Brethren, it was great fun for me when I first visited the Maple Ridge community in New York in 2016 to discover the many connections I had with Bruderhof members.

Heifer Project started in the Church of the Brethren in 1942; and when World War II ended in Europe in May of 1945, the Brethren Service Committee became the recruiting agency for the livestock tenders, dubbed “seagoing cowboys,” which the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration would need for their shipments of animals to Europe. I learned in 2016 that some of the Brethren families who joined the Bruderhof had been active in raising animals for the Heifer Project in those early years, that some of their relatives had served as seagoing cowboys, and that some of their young adults had recently spent a year volunteering at the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas.

Bruderhof member Kathy Fike Mow & her sister Elsie in the right of this photo join other children in presenting money they had raised for a heifer to farmer Paul Rhodes in Astoria, IL, in 1944. Photo courtesy of Kathy Fike Mow.

So on this year’s trip, I went with stories in hand of Bruderhof relatives’ involvements in the Heifer Project and as seagoing cowboys to share with the four communities we visited. Being able to share a piece of their ancestral history at their high school and three of their elementary schools was the highlight of my trip.

Presenting the Heifer Project and seagoing cowboy story to 9th graders at Bruderhof’s The Mount Academy. The high school is located in an amazing former monastery. Photo credit: Rex Miller.

After basking for six days in the love and hospitality offered to us in the Bruderhof settlements we visited, and being inspired by their model of radical discipleship, my husband and I came away with hearts full of gratitude and refreshed for our journey home and the responsibilities that awaited us there.

With my husband Rex on the Hudson River at The Mount Academy, November 10, 2021.

May the Spirit of Thanksgiving embrace you as well.

Creighton Victory cowboys adopt a Polish boy to their crew

The seagoing cowboys on the S. S. Creighton Victory trip of July 4, 1946, to Poland were a special crew of interracial students recruited by the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen for UNRRA to determine if they could send integrated crews to Europe. The practice up to that time had been for cattle tenders to be segregated into all white or all black crews.

Fellowship of Southern Churchmen interracial seagoing cowboy crew at Hampton Institute, July 1946. Courtesy of Ben Kaneda.

When this Fellowship Crew reached Poland, they took on a special mission of their own – as described in the newsletter they published during their trip called “The Atlantic Daily.” In it, they included profiles of the entire crew. Profile #36 describes their mission:

The thirty-sixth member of the Fellowship Crew could only be Rog Stanislaw, 12-year-old Polish waif literally adopted by the cattlemen. Rog (pronounced Rook) won the admiration of everyone of the S. S. Creighton by his ever-smiling good nature, his good manners, and his honest desire for cleanliness.

The first evening that Rog left the Creighton after visiting with the men aboard, one of the ship’s regular crewmen gave him enough money in the form of Polish zlotych to enable him to buy himself a pair of shoes. Although Rog could speak only one or two words of English and German, his pride of his new shoes was apparent when he returned aboard the Creighton the next day.

Rog Stanislaw aboard the S. S. Creighton Victory in Nowy Port, Poland, July 1946. Photo courtesy of Ben Kaneda.

In spite of the fact that Rog often protested taking gifts from crew members, he was loaded down with soap, candy, apples, oranges, and gum when he had to leave the ship in the evening. Knowing this affable young boy who never asked for a single thing provided the other side of the picture to the large number of Polish children who followed American seamen by the hoards asking for gifts of all kinds.

Polish children beg for treats from Creighton Victory cowboys. Photo courtesy of Ben Kaneda.

On the last evening in port in Poland, the Fellowship Crew took up a collection of 633 zlotych and presented it to Rog who was both bashful and filled with gratitude.

There were tears in the eyes of Rog Stanislaw as the ship prepared to leave Poland. He wanted very much to go to America too. As he stood on the dock waving, waving, and waving, he became a mere speck in the distance as the Creighton Victory headed her bow in the direction of the Untied States of America, the land of plenty.

The suffering of all Poland was brought home to members of the Fellowship Crew time after time in visits to city and rural areas around Danzig but certainly no more lasting impression of the grief and need that exists there could have been seen than the young tow-headed Polish Rog Stanislaw, homeless waterfront wanderer who wanted to become a part of America so badly that he cried openly when his new American friends pulled out for home leaving him standing on the dock . . . alone.

The three Brethren mavericks behind the Heifer Project and the Seagoing Cowboys

In 1945, the Brethren Service Committee of the Church of the Brethren (BSC) and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) came together to create the seagoing cowboy program. Three Brethren mavericks made it happen.

Dan West (1893-1971) – The Visionary

Dan West. Photo credit: Kermon Thomasson

Drafted into the Army as a conscientious objector in May of 1918, Dan West came out of World War I with the lifelong goal of doing as much for peace as a soldier does for war. Two decades later, in his position as Peace Representative for the Church of the Brethren, he was sent to Spain at the invitation of the Quakers to provide relief to those suffering from the Spanish Civil War. Observing children dying from a shortage of powdered milk, he thought of his own little girl at home. “This idea struck me hard,” he said. “Suppose we were unable to provide plenty of food for her right now. I was suddenly determined to do something for these children.” That “something” was his idea of sending cows to Spain so the people would be able to feed themselves.

West promoted this idea relentlessly after coming home in early 1938. Finally, in 1942, the Church of the Brethren District Men’s Work of Northern Indiana took hold of the vision and set up a committee to make it happen. Shortly after that the Brethren Service Committee adopted it as a national program which they chartered in January 1943 as “The Heifer Project.” West served as secretary of HPC for many years, continuing to provide his vision for the evolving organization.

M. R. Zigler (1891-1985) – The Promoter

M. R. Zigler in his Geneva, Switzerland, office, circa 1951. From the Guest book of Gerry and Bernice Pence.

A contemporary of Dan West, M. R. Zigler shared West’s passion for peace. Brethren historian Donald Durnbaugh referred to Zigler as “the soul of the Brethren Service story.” Zigler started his service to the denomination in 1919 and in 1934 was named to head up the Board of Christian Education which was in charge of the church’s responsibilities for peace concerns. Both West and Zigler worked tirelessly together on peace issues as rumblings of war grew stronger and stronger in the 1930s. They pushed for the creation of a Brethren Service Committee to be ready for postwar relief. Started in 1939, BSC became a chartered board of the denomination in 1941 with Zigler as its Executive Secretary. His bold and loving personality inspired and influenced people to give of themselves and their resources, and he became a great promoter of the Heifer Project. As such, he convinced UNRRA, which had not been planning to include livestock in their relief shipments, to ship the Heifer Project cattle. A trial shipment of purebred bulls to Greece was set up, introducing Maverick #3 to the picture.

Benjamin G. Bushong (1898-1965) – The Tireless Administrator

Benjamin G. Bushong. Photo courtesy of Mark Bushong.

A longtime friend of West, Pennsylvania dairy farmer and Guernsey breeder Benjamin Bushong was called upon to find the bulls. With the success of that shipment, UNRRA decided to include live animals in their agricultural rehabilitation shipments. They called on Zigler for help in finding the men to tend their animals on board for a few shipments. Zigler, in turn, put out the word for livestock attendants and drafted Bushong at the June 3, 1945, HPC meeting to go to Washington to oversee the process. Before long, BSC had signed an agreement with UNRRA to provide the estimated 8,000 livestock attendants UNRRA would need for their planned shipments of 200,000 animals. The “seagoing cowboy” program was born, with Bushong, the tireless red-tape cutter and organizer, at the helm. After serving on a volunteer basis for a number of months, he became Heifer Project’s first full-time salaried Executive Secretary in January 1946.

In his biography of M. R. Zigler, Pragmatic Prophet, Don Durnbaugh states,

“No doubt it took the qualities of all three leaders to make the Heifer Project what it became—the visionary Dan West, the promoter M. R. Zigler, and the tireless administrator Ben Bushong. Added to their talents, of course, were the contributions of countless thousands of donors, seagoing attendants, fund raisers, and the rest.”

 

Hats Off to Archivists!

I just learned recently that October is American Archives Month. I’m interrupting my stories on seagoing cowboys today to take my hat off to the many archivists who have helped me gather my own archives of historical materials from which I write this blog.

Over the past nearly twenty years, I’ve been traveling around the country gathering materials from archives and individuals to document this little-known history of UNRRA’s and Heifer International’s seagoing cowboys. And what a rich history it is! I could not be telling it without access to the gems of primary source materials which I have found in the archives I’ve visited.

Searching through Heifer International historical materials at Vital Records Control, Maumelle, AR, 2011. Photo credit: Rex Miller

Kudos to the many archivists who have assisted me at:

  • The Brethren Historical Library and Archives [BHLA] in Elgin, Illinois – home of the historical materials of Heifer International founder Dan West and the many Brethren leaders and organizations that helped usher in the Heifer Project. A special tip of the hat to the late Ken Shaffer and the recently retired archivist Bill Kostlevy.
  • The United Nations Archives and Record Management Section in New York City – home of the archived materials of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration [UNRRA], a precursor to the UN.
  • The Manchester University Archives – home of alumni seagoing cowboy records and Brethren history. Kudos to archivist Jeanine Wine.
  • The Mennonite Church USA Archives when they were located at Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana – home of records of Mennonite seagoing cowboys. My thanks to former archivist Dennis Stoesz.
  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Wilson Library – home of the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen records.
  • And last, but not least, the many staff members of Heifer International who have been caretakers of Heifer International’s historical materials while they were located at Vital Records Control in Maumelle, Arkansas, and are now located at Heifer’s headquarters in Little Rock. May these precious materials one day find a dedicated archival home. Many, many thanks to retired staffer Kathy Moore, herself a seagoing cowgirl, for her organization of Heifer’s historical materials before I started my research. You made my search for relevant documents ever so much easier than it would have been.

    Kathy Moore receiving Heifer International’s “Make a Difference Award” during their 70th anniversary celebration, March 2014.

“Archivists bring the past to the present. They’re records collectors and protectors, keepers of memory. They organize unique, historical materials, making them available for current and future research.”
— Lisa Lewis for the Society of American Archivists

Thank you to archivists everywhere who help us navigate the present by understanding the past.

An Amish Seagoing Cowboy’s Story: Clarence Stutzman

Clarence Stutzman grew up in an Amish community in Hutchinson, Kansas. When I interviewed him in 2015, he said, “It’s still a mystery to me how my mother let me go.” When he read of the need for seagoing cowboys in the Mennonite Weekly, he thought, I can do that.

“I was a light-weight guy at the time—17 and 120 pounds. I remember my mom saying, ‘Aw, you’re too small, they wouldn’t take a child like you.’ I went ahead and sent in a letter. The first thing I knew, I get a telegram to report to New Windsor, Maryland. No questions asked. No physical, no interview, no nothing.”

It was a big thing in those days to get a telegram. “I guess my folks were so shocked they didn’t know what to do.” He said they didn’t want to go against MCC, so they agreed and bought him a train ticket.

On arrival at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Maryland, where the seagoing cowboy office was located, he sorted clothing and did other relief jobs for a couple of weeks the end of December 1945 until his ship was ready to go.

On the campus of the Brethren Service Center, former Blue Ridge College. The old gym on the right housed much of the relief activity. Photo credit: Howard Lord.

There he learned that he had to be 18 to get a seaman’s card at that time. Fortunately for him, his birthday was December 31, as his orders were to report to his ship January 1st. He made it on board the S. S. Virginian when it departed from Baltimore for Poland January 4, 1946.

The cowboy crew on Clarence Stutzman’s ship, the S. S. Virginian, January 1946. Photo courtesy of Alpheus Rohrer.

“The trip was life-changing for me,” Stutzman says. His experiences mirrored those of other cowboys who went to Poland. Floating mines in European waters, a tour by UNRRA in the back of an army truck that took them to former concentration camps and battlefields, acquiring souvenirs. He bought a songbook from an old peddler scavenged from the abandoned Danzig Mennonite Church .

The Danzig Mennonite Church destroyed in World War II. Photo credit: Stutzman’s shipmate Richard Rush.

Title page of a songbook retrieved from the Danzig Mennonite Church by seagoing cowboy Levi Miller, summer 1946. The title means “The Day Begins.” Photo by Peggy Reiff Miller.

One souvenir in particular initiated the change in Stutzman’s life—a belt buckle that he cut off a dead German soldier’s uniform. Being Amish, he knew the German language. The buckle bore the words “Gott mit uns,” meaning “God is with us.” Having been taught all his life by his Amish and Christian upbringing not to fight, this hit him hard. 

Belt buckle of a German soldier. Peggy Reiff Miller collection, from the
family of cowboy Milton Lohr.

“We were thinking of the Germans as very heathen for what they were doing—not that there might be Christians on the other end of the fighting. When I saw that this was a Christian fellow and he was killed on the battlefield, how Christians were fighting each other, it put me into a real paradox theologically.”

Unlike Amish cowboys Cletus Schrock and Lores Steury who were excommunicated for taking their trips, Stutzman was welcomed home and treated well. His theological questioning had begun, however. About four years later, he left the Amish church and joined a Mennonite congregation. His obituary says he lived an “incredibly full life….He was full of ideas, grand plans, ingenuity, wonderlust [sic], and eternal optimism.” He traveled the world and had two patents.

“My experiences were real wide,” he told me. And it all started with a cattle boat trip to Poland.

UNRRA Livestock trips from the eyes of a veterinarian

At the age of 25, with his army discharge and a degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in hand, Harold Burton launched the beginning of his veterinary career hired out to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration for $23 a day—darn good pay in 1946. He spent time with UNRRA both on land and sea.

Harold Burton, DVM, on the S. S. Mercer Victory delivering horses to Trieste, Italy, for Yugoslavia, December 1946. Photo courtesy of Harold Burton.

Doc Burton spent several months working at both the Levinson Brothers Terminal Stockyards off Pier X in Newport News, Virginia, and the Owen Brothers Stockyards on the property of the Atlantic Coast Line in Savannah, Georgia, where the animals were railed in from around the country. The yards were designed to handle 4500 and 3500 animals respectively. When delays in shipping happened, the numbers would often swell much beyond capacity.

The Levinson Brothers Terminal Stockyards off Pier X in Newport News, Virginia, 1946. Photo credit: Charles Lord.

All animals were screened on arrival at the stockyards. Both facilities included hospital pens and equipment sufficient to accommodate a large number of animals. Animals arriving sick or injured during their rail transport were sent to the hospital pens. “I was assigned the job of getting as many of them as possible ready to ship,” Burton says. “I had two big, strong farm-grown cowboys who were with me in Savannah. We think we did a good job. The only problem was the pen kept getting new patients.”

On the sea, Burton says, “the veterinarian’s job is to end up in Europe with as many healthy animals as possible. The old Victory ships had four holds with a small walkway in the middle and four stalls with four horses each on each side of the aisle. We wore a backpack with medicines and syringes, etc., and hobbles, ropes and twitches to restrain the animals if we had to give them injections or sutures or whatever. It was very poorly lighted, hot, dusty and VERY smelly. Your feet were in manure all the time.”

Cowboy in lower hold on the S. S. Carroll Victory, late 1946. Photo credit: Charles Lord.

Burton’s two livestock trips across the Atlantic took him to Poland in September 1946 and Trieste, Italy, in December 1946—both with horses. Most of those animals came to his ships wild from the western US. “My father was a country blacksmith and farrier,” Burton says, “and growing up I helped him. I learned how to hobble a horse, tie one leg up by rope to stabilize him so he couldn’t hurt himself or me. This was good to know working with these completely untamed beasts.

“It was extremely dangerous,” he says, “especially in rough seas. To give an intravenous injection or a blood transfusion, or anything where we needed to be close to these untamed animals, was worth your life. Bites, kicks, bumps and bruises were a daily thing. One time, a horse grabbed me by the left shoulder blade, picked me up, shook me and spit me out. I weighed 140 pounds at the time, but I can still feel the pain.”

Doc Burton’s seagoing cowboy crew on the S. S. Saginaw Victory to Poland, September 1946. Photo credit: Harold Burton.

Burton says the veterinarians were expected to keep good records of the sick and injured horses. They used a canvas sling under a sick horse’s belly to lift the animal from below deck to the hospital stall on the top deck. “We saved a fair percentage,” he says, “considering the circumstances we worked under. If a horse died, we swung it up on the roof of the top deck stalls and did a complete autopsy before pushing the carcass overboard.” UNRRA used these reports to better the program.

An autopsy on the S. S. Lindenwood Victory, summer 1946. This was not one of Doc Burton’s trips. Photo credit: L. Dwight Farringer.

“We veterinarians got lots of excellent experience firsthand,” Burton says. “If you could make an intravenous injection or suture or bandage on an animal on a rolling vessel in an extremely crowded area with wild savage beasts, it was a piece of cake in a barn on a farm back home.”

Instructions for Masters of Livestock Carriers

A year ago, this blog took a look at the “Information for Livestock Attendants” issued to seagoing cowboys by UNRRA’s recruiting agency, the Brethren Service Committee. Created by a couple of cowboys eight months after the program began, the document would give applicants an idea of what to expect on their trips delivering dairy and draft animals to Europe after World War II. It took a whole year into the program and many misunderstandings about the lines of duty between the regular ship’s crew and the cowboys before UNRRA saw the need to supply the Masters of the ships with a document outlining these duties to clear up existing confusions. Here’s a sampling of their instructions:

All Veterinarians and Attendants are directly responsible to the Master. Attendants will take orders directly from the Veterinarian in charge.

Attendants will board the vessel 24 hours previous to loading of animals. They are signed on separate articles at 1¢ a month, but are not required to sign off. [But don’t feel sorry for them—they received $150 per trip from UNRRA.]

Newspaper and date unknown. A seagoing cowboy gets his one-cent pay from his Captain.

Attendants shall place hay in all stalls previous to loading and shall feed and water animals and keep stalls clean and assist the Veterinarians in every way possible. They shall move all feed, etc. from feed compartments to the different decks where animals are carried.

Pulling up hay on the S. S. Woodstock Victory, January 1947. Photo courtesy of Roy Auernheimer.

Where winches are used to hoist feed, dump manure or dead animals, the winches are to be operated by members of the ship’s crew. The crew is to assist in every way possible, especially in the removal of dead animals.

Not all animals survived the trip. The S. S. Charles W. Wooster crew buries a horse at sea, April 1946. Photo courtesy of Perry Bontrager.

The Attendants will always move manure to the square of the hatch and place same in cargo net. The crew will then discharge it over the side.

At the present time, all ships, except those proceeding to Bremerhaven, are saving manure for disposal in Europe, as it is needed for fertilizer. It should be stowed on deck, or in any convenient place below deck, but should not be allowed to collect in stalls. For ships calling at Bremerhaven, manure should be dumped at sea. Stalls are to be cleaned at least twice a week.

Manure is offloaded from the S. S. Mount Whitney at Nowy Port, Poland, July 1946. Photo courtesy of James Brunk.

A small amount of manure and straw left in stalls is desirable, as it helps the footing of the animals.

The Chief Engineer shall make certain he always has a full supply of spare parts for the blowers. The Bureau of Animal Industry may at any time ask for a volumetric test to be made of the ventilating system, to make sure they are getting a complete change of air every five minutes.

One hour before the loading of the animals, the ventilation system should be put into operation. The Chief Mate should see that all buckets are in place, fresh water hoses led out, and that the Attendants have feed in the stalls. This is important as the animals, just after loading, are in a highly nervous condition. [The lack of ventilation systems on some early shipments led to many animal deaths.]

When horses are carried, there is usually from 40 to 50 stalls left empty for use as hospitals. Cleaning the stalls can be accomplished by moving four horses in one ten foot pen into these empty hospital stalls. When this pen has been cleaned, the horses in the adjoining pen are moved into the pen just cleaned, and so on down each row of stalls.

Hospital ward on the S. S. Attleboro Victory, December 1946. Photo courtesy of Harold Cullar.

On the return voyage, the Attendants will clean and wash down all compartments where animals were carried, so that on the vessel’s arrival at her loading port, she will be ready for disinfecting. This will mean a considerable saving in both time and expense at the loading port.

Washing down the stalls on the S. S. Lindenwood Victory, August 1946. Photo courtesy of L. Dwight Farringer.

It is suggested that at the commencement of each voyage, the Chief Mate of the vessel and the Veterinarian in charge of the Attendants, instruct their respective men as to the duties of each group, in order to avoid friction later.

How well these instructions were adhered to is anybody’s guess! Some Captain’s had a mind of their own.

First Heifer Project shipment to Czechoslovakia sailed 75 years ago this week

The Czechoslovakian Embassy in Washington, DC, expressed interest in Heifer Project’s offer to send cattle to that war-torn country in early December 1945. In the short time of one month, all red tape was cut and 171 heifers, donated by church groups from ten of the United States, departed from Baltimore January 6, 1946, on UNRRA’s S. S. Charles W. Wooster. On arrival in Bremen, Germany, the seagoing cowboys on this trip would have had similar experiences with those of UNRRA’s first shipment for Czechoslovakia. The animals, however, had little time to adjust to standing on solid ground. Czechoslovakian cattle experts transferred them into rail cars for a long arduous week’s trip to the Silesian area of northeastern Czechoslovakia, one of the regions that suffered the most during World War II.

The heifers arrived in Silesia in good condition February 4, where they were put in quarantine at the State Farm in Nerad near the border of Poland. After a meeting in Frydek to finalize distribution agreements, the officials involved drove some 25 miles to the farm to inspect the cattle.

“We crossed 29 wooden, propped up bridges, of very temporary construction, as all bridges in this region had been destroyed by the retreating Germans,” says Vlasta A. Vrazova of the American Relief for Czechoslovakia in a February 18, 1946, report to the Brethren Service Committee. “A year ago, war raged through this part of the country for many weeks. There is everywhere the same problem—empty barns. The Germans drove away all the cattle. In the Opava area 28,000 families were completely bombed out, another 20,000 families lost almost everything….Children are in grave danger. In first grade grammar school in the city of Praha 25 percent have tuberculosis and another 50 percent are on the danger line. The chief reason is malnutrition for five years….The crying need is milk!”

The home of Heifer Project recipient Frantisek Martinik of Vresina, Silesia, April 1946. Photo courtesy of the George Craig family.

An UNRRA report describes the ceremony that took place at the State Farm on the handing over of the Heifer Project animals, along with 193 UNRRA cattle sent with them. In a “picturesque mountain village of Northern Moravia,” the report says girls in regional dress presented bouquets to the UNRRA and Brethren Service Committee representatives present. “After a formal reception, the traditional ceremony of village maidens wreathing cows with garlands of flowers took place against the background of snow-clad hills and dark pine forests.” Oh, for a photo of that ceremony!

The UNRRA report notes that some of the Brethren-donated heifers were bought with pennies from school children in Ohio. Dr. J. E. Sayre, of the US Fellowship of Reconciliation, who was traveling in Europe at the time, represented the Brethren Service Committee at the reception. In his remarks at the gathering, he said,

In this gift from the children of Ohio to their needy brothers and sisters in Moravia can surely be discerned the great spirit, not of the moment but of the years ahead, that must illuminate our troubled world. The children shall speak. I have traveled a long way to witness this consummation of the spirit of good will that began with the pennies of thousands of American children. I am happy to find the cattle in such good condition. To the children back home in Ohio I shall report: “Your pennies will soon be providing milk for the babies of Czechoslovakia, and this will be not only for this year but also for next year and for many years to come.”

 

“This cow is our saviour from starvation,” the Kysuconova family tells their donor, Silesia, 1946. Photo courtesy of the George Craig family.


Next post: Recipients share their gratitude.

A Heifer Project Christmas Story

While UNRRA’s first livestock shipment to Czechoslovakia was on its way in December 1945, a second shipment was in the works. The Brethren Service Committee’s Heifer Project had been in contact with the Czechoslovakian Embassy in Washington, DC, offering a gift of heifers to this war-torn country for the neediest of recipients.

On December 5,  BSC’s Director of Material Aid John Metzler, Sr. notified the Heifer Project Committee:

Contacts with the Czechoslovak Embassy show a great deal of interest in cattle there. Cables were sent yesterday getting governmental clearance from Czechoslovakia on the matter of distribution. UNRRA has agreed to transport these cattle . . . provided we can complete proper negotiations with that government.

Wheels turned quickly, with the Committee voting approval of the shipment on December 18 if word of acceptance came from Czechoslovakia.

On December 22, UNRRA issued a press statement to be released on December 24, 1945:

One hundred and seventy-five head of cattle have been offered to UNRRA by the Church of the Brethren for the people of Czechoslovakia. The animals, now at the Roger Roop farm at Union Bridge, Maryland, are bred heifers whose average age is two years. . . . After being shipped by UNRRA from Baltimore to an allied controlled port in Germany, the livestock will be transported by rail to their new homes in Czechoslovakia.

When notified of the contribution, Dr. Vaclav Myslivec, representative of the Czechoslovakian Ministry of Agriculture in the United States, said, “The people of my country are badly in need of milk for their children. In expressing their appreciation for this gift I cannot but recall that there were cattle in the stable on the night when the baby Jesus was born. The spirit of that first Christmas lives on in the hearts of the American people who so generously gave these fine animals to rehabilitate the war-devastated dairy herds of Czechoslovakia.”

On the 12th Day of Christmas in January 1946, 170 heifers — donated by Brethren, Evangelical and Reformed congregations, Mennonites, and other churches from as far away as Idaho and Kansas — began their voyage to Czechoslovakia on the S. S. Charles W. Wooster.

Two of the Czechoslovakian children whose family benefited from the gift of a heifer, 1946. Photo sent with thank you letter, courtesy of Heifer International.

May the spirit of that first Christmas and that of 75 years ago live on.
Wishing all my readers a Blessed Holiday Season and New Year to come.
And God bless the seagoing cowboys who delivered hope to a war-torn world.
~Peggy