The Dunkers and the UNRRA

By Marilyn Kettering Badger

July 4, 2016

The Dunkers and UNRRA

 It was 1945 and, according to Time magazine, the Baltimore stockyards were full of livestock, and an empty ship waited in the harbor, but there was no one to herd the animals on to the ship and overseas to the hungry survivors of World War II.  The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) didn’t know what to do. 

That is, until Benjamin G. Bushong, a member of the Church of the Brethren entered the picture to cut the red tape.  It seems that Brother Bushong, in an effort to send cattle overseas as part of the Brethren relief program (Heifer Project), had run into a snag.  Like the UNRRA, he had cattle, for Dunkers from the city had raised money for calves and feed, and Dunkers from the country had fattened the calves.  But the Church of the Brethren relief program had no ships.  Brother Bushong made a deal with UNRRA:  he would find livestock hustlers if UNRRA would provide shipping space.  Benjamin Bushong, dairy farmer and cemetery owner, was successful in recruiting one hundred volunteer herders, who had to respond to only two questions: “Who are you? What can you do?”  As the ships set sail for various ports in Europe, pacifist Bushong is quoted as saying, “Perhaps shootin’ isn’t the only way out of this world mess.”


                                                        Time magazine, July 23,1946.

           Reuel Pritchitt was one of several volunteers who traveled to Greece with a boatload of     
            horses.  Pritchitt was a farmer, pastor, and elder of the French Broad congregation in
           Tennessee.  With his customary Brethren garb, long, trimmed beard, and a black broad-
           brimmed hat he was a commanding personality.  This is how he remembers that trip.


I was once an ocean-roaming cowboy for horses.  Several days after the close of World War II, we set sea at New Orleans with 350 horses and 10,000 tons of foods and feed and relief goods to distribute in Greece.  The name of our chubby freighter was the Charles W. Wooster.  I was 485 feet long with a capacity of 10,500. Tons, and we had it loaded to the hilt.  The propeller on our ship was 18 feet in diameter and had a top speed of 71 revolutions per minute…..

 Dan West, by the end of the war, was collecting a log of heifers and also calling for volunteer cowboys.  I happened to be among the first volunteers.  The Brethren made a contract with UNRRA and the United States government that we would help them take their horses over if they would let us have a ship to our cargoes over. So our gang of cowboys went with horses, not heifers, and took orders from Washington.

 I happened to be chosen captain of the sixteen men whose duties it was to take care of the horses.  I wasn’t supposed to work, but I worked all the time to keep the men a-working.  Our ship wasn’t built with horses in mind, and everything was unhandy.  We had horses in the hull, in cages on the deck, even the upper deck, and in any corner we could find room to lodge one in.  We fed them oats and hay twice daily, watered them in buckets that hung on the stable railings, and shoveled and windlassed and dumped overboard the old soiled bedding……

 A horse boat a day or so ahead of us hit a mine.  Ship cargo, and all the horses perished at sea, though the men were saved.  As we sailed into those waters, we could see a horse now and then swimming forlornly, a little out of sight of Thessalonica.   Swim and swim they would till they gave out and yielded to the sharks……

 Wandering through the streets of Thessalonica, I saw a scene that can stand for a thousand other scenes.  A bunch of girls and women were sitting on the ground around a spigot.  It was not running a trickle of water as big as a pencil.  They had little cups, gourds, or anything, each one trying to ketch a sip of water.

 Pritchett, Reuel with Dale Auckerman.  On the Ground Floor of Heaven. Elgin, IL: Brethren Press, 1980.

John Eller was also one of the seagoing cowboys.  In a diary, he published his vivid impressions of delivering horses to Poland.

 June 25, 1946….. Up early.  Did not have to feed the horses.  They unloaded most of them last night.  We lost 47 horses in all…. We got our shore passes around 9 a.m.

 Many people are walking the streets with no place to go.  No home!  No people!   Nothing!  If they are caught stealing they are shot.  Some have heard shots at night. We heard some today. Everything is all to pieces.  An American Negro was shot tonight.  The name of the little town where we docked is Newy Port.  Some of the boys saw a little boy who stepped on a mine. He was bleeding pretty bad. 

 June 26, 1946……We were in Danzig proper but a few minutes.  It is very depressing.  There is hardly a building standing and those that are have great holes in them.  The stench is still terrible in some places.  The population was reduced from 1,000,000 to 30,000 during the war.  People live in filth, rubble, and haystacks.  As our vet has said, “It is like going into the bowels of the earth.”

 Eller, John.  Wave Rider for Peace:  A Diary of a Seagoing Cowboy to Poland – 1946, n.p., 1990. From Morse, Kenneth I., PREACHING IN A TAVERN. Elgin, IL:  Brethren Press, 1997, #32.


Scripture:  Exodus 20:13. You must not murder anyone.

Brethren saying:  When Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” I don’t think He meant to kill them.

 Prayer:  Lord, help us to teach and practice peace especially in this world that needs it so much.


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