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Our Perilous Travels

A conversation among Kodai classmates, taken from our Kodai '55 yahoo group site

Jo Hiebert Sorensen:
I remember one time our friends the Warkentins had put Johnnie (age 3 or 4 at the time) into a train compartment and then were with the rest of us on the platform getting the luggage. The train started to move and Mr. Warkentin and our dad raced toward the engine, hollering as loudly as they could. Luckily the engineer got the word and stopped. Whew--that was too close.

Lowey Thoms Dickason:
One of my nightmares used to be getting separated from family and friends by either being left alone on a train or platform. I actually had that experience after graduation when enroute home with Mom and Dad from Kodai. We were running to catch the underground train in London. Mom and Dad jumped on and I got left on the platform. I stayed as they were swept away. I was so naive that I did not even think to remember the name of the Hotel where we were staying or know what to do in case of getting lost. I stayed put on the platform for at least a half hour and then thought that maybe I should get on a train and at least go to the next station and look for my parents there. Just as I was boarding a train, Dad came running up behind me and jumped on. It turned out that the train was going to a different next station and I would have messed up even more. Now that I am a seasoned traveler, I wonder how I could have been so ignorant. Of course, I should have stayed put no matter how long it took for my parents to find me. I probably could have managed better in India, but London was overwhelming. Whew, is right!

Jean Towle Reed:
You jogged a memory long-buried. When we were in San Francisco at the end of 1946, waiting for the Marine Adder to take us back to India, I was with my father. He was running errands, so he parked me in a hotel lobby and said he would be back soon. But Dad ran on Indian time--was famous for it. There I sat with nothing to do and no one to turn to. I felt abandoned. As you said, I probably would have felt less lost in India. When I began to cry, several people in the lobby tried to comfort me. When Dad shamefacedly returned and claimed me, he got a number of dirty looks.

Owen Thomas:
Seems many of us have had instances of being left, or fear of being left during travels.

My Mom, Dad and I spent some time in Kashmir during one of the vacations (Sophomore year, I think). Despite warnings not to do so, I swam in the Dhal lake and came down with Yellow Jaundice. I was actually sick enough that my Dad and I flew from Srinagar in a very small plane (my first airplane ride) to a hospital in Delhi and then took the train to Bombay even though I was not fully recovered--at least they figured I would not die by that time! On the train trip, Dad left the compartment at a station looking for food, or something, and the train began to leave the station without him. I was sure that I had been totally abandoned and had no idea what I was going to do--but he was able to get into another compartment and rejoined me at the next station. What relief! I was in a cold sweat--how much from the jaundice and how much from fear, I don't know! (My mother followed by bus from Srinagar to Pathankot--a long and nerve-racking ride crossing a lot of mountain passes, and then by train, eventually arriving in Bombay to take care of her poor, sick son!)

That is the route we took going to Kashmir and I remember clearly the bus stopping high up in the mountains and the driver pointing out 5 or 6 army lorries way down in the river--one driver fell asleep and the others in the convoy just followed him over the cliff! Then our driver told us that he had not had any sleep for two days! Everyone talked to him constantly from then on...

But, Kashmir was wonderful, including the houseboat we stayed on and our "own" private shikar (a small boat with an awning or roof and place for 4 people to sit in the shade while the boatman sat in the back and either paddled or used a pole) that would take us from the houseboat to wherever we wanted to go. The shikar had a nameplate, "Heavenly Panoo." We finally figured out, after many tries, that Panoo was Piano! Strange name for a boat, but there was a piano on the houseboat!

Jo Sorensen:
(From my sis Betty;s autobiography; this event occurred when she was about 4 years old, shortly after their ship, the Tango Maru, had survived a Level 5 typhoon.)

While in Japan, the passengers went ashore to do some shopping and were given a time and date when the ship Tango Maru would be ready to complete the trip to India. Mama held my hand tightly so as not to lose me in the throng of people crowding the narrow streets. The women in their kimonos were fascinating and the clacking sound of wooden clogs mesmerizing.

In the heat of the day our hands got sweaty, and I disengaged them without Mama realizing it. Suddenly Mama realized she and I were separated. Panicked, she used sign language to enlist help finding me. Fortunately an English-speaking couple had noted that I was wandering by myself amid the crowd. They took me by the hand and began looking for Mama. They informed storeowners to be on the lookout for a frantic American woman asking about her child. After a considerable amount of time had passed, our paths crossed, and I was reunited with my mother with just barely enough time to board the ship. I can vividly recall the kimonos as well as the tears on Mama's face as she held me close while we made our way to the ship.

John Heins:
Here is another tale of traveling terror and the kindness of strangers.

In 1941 we were living in New York City at the graduate student apartments on Riverside Drive while my dad finished up an MA in Education at Columbia. Connie had just turned three and I was six when our mother decided to take us on the subway to Bronx Zoo on a nice spring day. I held Connie's hand as mom scooted us onto the subway car which at that very moment closed its doors and pulled out, with mom still on the platform! The look on her face as she frantically pawed at the door matched my feelings of sheer horror. Conrad let out a wail that was probably heard in Hoboken. I noticed a grown-up signalling something to my mother through the window as the train gathered speed. Then she knelt down to our level and explained that she would get off at the next stop with us and wait for mom, who would be on the next train. This was very consoling and Connie's cries settled down to sobs punctuated by hiccups.

We stood on the platform with our rescuer at the next station eagerly awaiting the arrival of the next train...we heard it coming and watched in disbelief as it roared through the station in a blur, with mom's face pressed anxiously against the glass of the high speed express. The lady was making hand signals again and was mouthing something to mom in the clatter and din of the passing train. Conrad's wail of dismay this time probably got the factory workers to start on their lunch breaks in Scranton! The lady's gentle hand on my shoulder helped me to restrain my blubbering as she picked Connie up and held him.

We got on the next train and rode to a joyful reunion at the next express stop. I can't remember what the lady looked like but I do remember that her touch was very gentle and reassuring, and her voice was kind and calming...and yes, I do believe in angels!

Other Travel Memories

Beverly England Williams:
(referring to Jean's mention about the Marine Adder in her note above.)
Jean, while I wasn't left anywhere, I was surprised to see the name of the ship. We left Norfolk, VA for India in November of 1946 on the Marine RAVEN.

Owen Thomas:
Interesting--we sailed from Norfolk on the Marine Raven on the 11th of October, 1945!

I wonder what shipping company the Marine series of ships belonged to and why so many of us were on their ships! We were supposed to dock in Bombay (my dad was already there having gone back almost a year earlier) but instead went to Colombo. However, they would not let us leave the ship there, so we ended up in Calcutta and had to take the train back to Bombay. It is a wonder to me that my mother kept her sanity through out those years...

Ed Tegenfeldt:
I believe that all the Marine ships were part of the Presidents Line fleet. Many were converted troop ships from WWII. We were on one called the Marine Swallow in November of 1947 from San Francisco. I was seasick right from the golden Gate Bridge to Yokohama harbor. Some passengers jokingly referred to it as the Marines' Wallow.

David Swan:
The Marine series were prefab flat bottomed ships assembled in something like 1-2 weeks by several ship yards to meet the tremendous need to transport troops and supplies during WWII. As soon as hostilities ended, European first, the no longer needed ships were sold/leased to private ship companies to replace the many ships lost in the war. All of the ships were essential identical, like cars coming off an assembly line, also cheap and carried the first name of Marine. There was also the better line of ships built very similarly but more to the standard ship profile known as the General line. They were assembled a little more slowly and did have some individualization.

Jo Sorensen:
Okay, Ed, this is weird. We also left San Francisco on the Marine Swallow in November of 1947. I just checked our family writings about this trip and Paul says we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge while it was enshrouded in fog. He said the Marine Swallow was a small troop ship hastily built by Kaiser Ship Company and it had no stabilizers, so it was very unstable and rocked a lot. Bets remembers that the voyage was so rough that my Mom and Gwen were seasick most of the time.

One neat memory we have of this trip is the time folks could be a part of a performance and we Hiebert kids put on the play "Howdy Ma, Howdy Pa." You have to bob up and down in unison throughout the whole play--clearly long-haired stuff! We won first place but wished we'd come in second: we got some yucky fruity cookies, while the 2nd place prize was GUM---clearly better than our prize.

What do you remember of the trip, Ed? I keep telling my siblings that there was a celebration when the ship went over the equator. Anyone who was going over it for the first time got smeared with spaghetti and thrown into the pool. The others don't remember that. Do you? Say yes...then I can tell the others I'm right!

I wonder how many of us traveled on the same ships and didn't know it. It would be interesting to find out.

David Swan:
Ed, The Marine class did wallow badly due to their flat bottom. Collectively the Marine and General line we called Liberty Ships.

Alice Graham Silver:
I remember my first ship voyage from Bombay to SF in the summer of 1946 was on the General Gordon, also a troop ship. The women and children were in the officersą cabins, 12 berths (3 deep) to a cabin. The men were below in the troop quarters, and more per cabin. We never got to see those quarters.

David Swan and family were also on that ship. We both remember it. The crew were great to us kids! And, (foodaholic that I am) I remember how wonderful the food was. Milk as a beverage! and ice cream! and I distinctly recall that we had turkey diners twice and it wasn't even Thanksgiving!

On another voyage, on the QE I, Molly Schmitthenner and I were sailing out of NY to Southampton in the fall of 1947. We were part of a group of kids that ran all over the ship, ignoring Class limits and signs that appeared on elevators that "children must be accompanied by an adult". We just sneaked in, close behind the nearest adult , looking wide eyed and innocent!, and continued to explore the ship. I don't know why our parents weren't keeping closer track of us....

Owen Thomas:
Jo, Rest assured, your memory of crossing the equator with a "ceremony" is a long naval tradition, probably going back to the 1700's, maybe earlier.

I was "initiated" when we crossed the equator coming back to the States in 1943 on the Niuw Amsterdam (going to San Francisco from Australia, from South Africa, from Bombay--a long detoured trip!). One goes from being a "wog" to a "shell back", and the ceremony can be quite elaborate. King Neptune has to be appeased! But once you are a shell back, you are a shell back for life!

Our son crossed the equator with the Navy and his report of the ceremony was hair raising--having to wallow in garbage, etc.--the Navy has since made it much less of a hazing experience.

When Meg and I crossed the Arctic Circle on our Norwegian trip, King Neptune also appeared--this time with ice cubes to stuff down people's backs!

Joyce Holleman:
Regarding traveling together, the Swartzs and the Longs were on the Maloja with us from Southampton to Bombay in about Feb., 1949, and had probably been on the QM from New York to Southampton, but we'd had to go Cabin class as third class was full, so didn't meet them. Thanks to them, our folks were convinced to send us to Kodai, and thereby hangs the tale.

Coming home after graduation, Nancy Spears traveled with us, and Hermann, I think Dave Stenger, and tons of other young people were on the Victoria from Bombay to Italy. There were a couple dozen of us all together and we soon had the ship scoped out and snagged first class desserts from the kitchen all the time. From Southampton to NYC on the Ile de France, I think Gerald Buker was the only other Kodaiite, and we managed to con some officer into letting us into the 1st class swimming pool as there was none for the lowly third class passengers. The food on both ships was sooooooo good, and I also remember especially the apricots in Venice as we crossed Europe, and the tree roses in Lucern, Switzerland. Funny what will stand out after all these years.

I don't remember any close calls while traveling, but I do recall the immense responsibility I felt for the care of my brothers and other "little" ones on the trips across India by train. As we all got older I was less concerned--they were pretty capable of taking care of themselves. But when they were young I was scared to let them out of my sight. There was one connection we had to make in Madras--changing stations with no time to spare. That was always hair-raising as the trains were usually late, even the Bombay Mail or whatever it was called. Later the connection to narrow gauge trains to South India was made much later in the day and we had to spend about 8 to 10 hours at the YMCA college until train time. Was that enabled by the Stengers, as they were with the Y, weren't they? It was so much better than having to hang out at the station all day.

I have very fond memories of those trains we used to cross India twice a year. We'd have a compartment to ourselves, and sit in the doorway of the train while India passed in review. It was always beautiful and somewhere there were mountains within sight. Sunrises and sunsets were particularly memorable and I always slept like a baby rocked and lullabied sleep by the clicking rails and the swaying cars. I've seldom ridden the train in this country, and it wasn't nearly as great.

Owen Thomas:
In the "for what its worth" department:

I "googled" Marine Raven and came up with some interesting information (at least to me!). The Marine series of ships was designated as a Class C4 by the US Maritime Commission (as opposed to the Navy). The original design was made for the American Hawaiian Shipping Co. as a cargo ship in 1941. The Maritime Commission acquired the design in 1942 and had 23 of the Marine series ships built for both troop and cargo transport at three ship building yards. These ships were manned by civilian crews but were under the command of the USMC. They were 520 feet long and "cruised" at 17 knots with a steam powered (oil) engine. The Marine Raven was used during the landing at Normandy and carried 2,546 troops from Britain. That is the last reference I was able to find about it. A number of them were used in the Korean War and at least one in the Vietnam war. These ships were separate from the Liberty series of ships of which there were some 400 built during the war on a mass production basis at 20 different facilities. Some of the facilities had no previous history of shipbuilding. There was also a series of C class ships with the name beginning with General that were built on basically the same plans as the Marine series but had various improvements or changes. I would guess that when we were sailing on these ships they were still under control of the USMC and passengers were accommodated on a space available basis. According to a letter from my mother, when we sailed from Norfolk in 1945 the passengers included a number of missionary families and a number of Pan Am families whose husbands were flying the India/China route. There is no mention of any other passengers or of any specific cargo although the ship was obviously headed for the Pacific theater as only passenger baggage was unloaded at Calcutta.

I have always thought that the Marine Raven was a converted oil tanker--wrong! And I did not realize how new the ship really was. When we were on it all the guns but one had been removed although the gun emplacements were still there. And there were no railings, just two chains to keep kids from falling off!

Hermann Tauscher:
Well, all you great sea-pot voyagers,

How about travelling by regular passenger ship, using the Peninsular and Oriental Steamship company, for example the MS Mooltan with 24000 brt. You were offered three meals a day with for the adults, excellent menus for lunch and dinner written in a wonderful large cursive print style on seemingly precious paper, almost of pergament quality. We children missed our curry and hot food. There I made acquaintance with olives, something my parents cherished but we children detested. We were offered menus consisting of at least five courses. And in general before breakfast tea was offered, midmorning between breakfast and lunch, depending on the season of the year, fruit--apples--or in the cold season hot bouillon, or icecream in hotter areas were provided. And not to forget afternoons coffee and cake or biscuits.

Impressing for us children were the endless corridors, the enormous staircases with beautiful wooden--mahagony--decor, so much luxury and elegance. Fascinating the gangway along which one could play shuffles, I think it was named, or just stare into the endless blue of sea and sky, watch the dauphins accompanying us or wanting to be the first to discover land in sight.

We embarked or disembarked at Southhampton in South England and the first or last depressing experiences for me was the Bay of Biscay with its extremely rough and multidirectional waves just getting the ship to rock in all directions. But then after passing through the narrows of Gibraltar we generally had relatively quiet waters. Taking the trip from Bombay back to Germany on two occasions was a torture for me during the first week. We seemed to have preferred the monsoon period for travelling, which meant that the ship was hit by an endless series of huge waves in an angle of about 45 degrees bringing the ship not merely to plunge down and lift off to enormous heights, but also to roll from one side to the other, making walking along the gangway practically impossible and rapidly clearing all tables anywhere. In any case I didn't have to take any such risks since I didn't leave our compartment until we reached quiet waters, and that was--guess where--at Aden port.

Nobody who hasn't suffered under seasickness can imagine the joy of being able to go on deck without all the things turning around or swaying back and forth and forcing him to balance around on deck. That was like having been created anew, a new day, a new body, all pain of headache or dizziness having vanished like the fog in the suns warming rays. Kitchen smells not bringing one to vomit but to impatiently await the gong calling to lunch or dinner. Aden will always be my favorite port. There we stood at the railing watching all vendors of carpets, clothing, shoes, jewelry or whatever coming alongside in their barques. There we would engage in bargaining with them, quite sure to be beyond limits to buy something. Coins were thrown down and young boys plunged to retrieve them. And in the evening the magician would come abord to convince us that pigeons or eggs could be found everywhere or could be created by just murmuring some magical words or using some distracting gestures. We all looked to see if our watches and purses were still at their place, since that magician seemed to be able to get into possession of anything he wanted from those passengers he had invited to come on stage. What an atmosphere ! I am sure you all probably have experienced.

That was voyaging comme il faut and not in pots rebuilt quickly for normal passengers. I hope you all had the chance to enjoy such a voyage on a steamship like the MS Mooltan.

Bohut Salaams.