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Sentimental Journey Continued

David Meakes March 8, 2018

Sept. 16th to the 25th 1945

On board the Mexican on the Atlantic Ocean

 

Our horse crew of 40 had 3 foremen, 2 cooks, 2 guards, and one Veterinarian— Dr. MacDonald. The Mexican had about 100 horses on a smaller top deck, and about 290 on each of two lower decks. Five of us, including a new friend, Dave Miller, were designated to look after 87 horses on Deck 2. Our initial job had been to bring pails and U-shaped hooks from storage, and make sure every horse had a U-hook and a pail on a breast-level wooden bar. The pail was filled with water, later emptied, and hay or a mix of bran and oats, placed in the pail. We also moved bailed hay by block and tackle from the hold to the top deck. The horse manure was washed out floor-level apertures into the ocean. That became our daily routine for the entire trip.

Most horses are affable and cooperative to handle. But one horse, who I never recorded in my diary, appears vividly in my memory. She was a medium-sized black mare, and she either inherited a terrible temper or she had a miserable childhood. She persistently kicked or tried to bite any person or horse that was close to her. She would arch her neck around the stall and bite the shoulders on each horse beside her. Arranging an empty stall on each side of her solved that problem.

I sprained my ankle and smashed my thumb. Ray Rose, the ship’s purser cared for both. He also cared for any valuables, was pay master at the end of the trip, issued passes, and also opened the canteen periodically. A carton of 200 cigarettes sold for 70 cents, so a package of 10 was 7 cents. The packages were printed sea stores for consumption outside the United States.

The American ship crew did their routine work unobtrusively, but they must have wondered about our mouthy ‘horse crew’. Except for my fiftyish, alcoholic friend “Mac’, they were mostly a quarrelsome, cantankerous group of Montreal-docks denizens, non-veteran youth. Their lives appeared randomly purposeless, taking a 6 week return trip that would drop them back on the same dock, having been paid $75 but with ‘no gain.’ I felt limited compassion for our dour, permanently-angry, foulmouthed, horse crew foreman, Tip Neil, who seemed to have zero control of the rebellious horse crew. He was regularly told how hated he was by all.  Having recently come from the formal, structured military services, I understood his lack of control of the horse crew, and anticipated early mutiny.  Confessed thieves among them included the guy who freely told of stealing truck tires off an air force base, filing off the identifying numbers, and selling them. Also, the guy who laughingly told of the day he joined the horse crew, when his wife was at the front door talking to the police while he was escaping out the back door. He exulted that he was where the police couldn’t now knock on his door. As small items were being reported stolen, I made sure I wore my army-era money belt at skin level.

About four days out, a storm came up, with large deep waves. The horses, at first, fell a lot, making wounds on knees and rumps. We initially had to help them up. But by the second day, they impressively got their sea legs. When the ship rolled from side to side, the heads and tails of the horses faced sideways would emerge from or disappear into the stalls. The horses in the lengthwise stalls would all lean left or right. They soon adapted to changes of wave direction.

Ten horses died on the trip, and their bodies were hoisted into the ocean. When asked, Dr. MacDonald said, “Yes. The horses had died of sea sickness, but without the vomiting.” I suspected that was a prepared answer for a bothersome questioner. Dr. MacDonald also had a cryptic answer when I (the bothersome questioner) asked: “Why when grey horses were less than 2% of the 680 horses (13) that 40% (4 out of 10) of the horse deaths were grey?” His answer “Dunno.”

For more stories of the follies of war, grab a copy of my book, Perspective: The Golden Rule. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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    David Meakes

    David Meakes

    David Meakes is a Canadian-born World War II veteran. He is ninety-five years old and a retired podiatris... read more

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