Ruth and the children
prepare to return to India
What a remarkable person Grandmother Ruth was. When I left for India she had lots to do. She had to shovel coal into a hungry furnace to keep the house warm. She went to many churches and schools to talk about India. But most important she had to take care of Betty Ann, Philip and Barbara, and sometimes my mother. We thought it would be only a few months before she could join me in India but it was a year and a half. Even then she had not been told when she could go until one day she had a telephone call from New york. "There is a ship, the Mercy Ship Gripsholm, which can take you and the children to India. We have just been informed of it. But you will have to leave at onece. Can you come today?
At First Ruth said "no." How in the world would she pack the things for the three children and herself in only a few hours. Then she had a cll telling her she would be able to leave a day later and miracle of miracles, she made it. The very next night she and the children were on the train for Chicago and New York.
Then Ruth got a telephone call one day from the Mission Board Office in New York. "The Gripsholm, a mercy ship, will take passengers to India. There may not be another chance for six months. Can you leave Shenandoah tomorrow?" At first she said "no." but when she told her sister, Margaret, Margaret said, "You should go. Forget the house. I'll take care of that. Phone Father. He'll come and help you pack and Virgil (her husband) and I will take you to the train in Red Oak." Ruth didn't see how she could possibly get the children ready for India in just one day. Then she thought, Jim (that's I) needs to see Barbara and Barbara needs to see her father. I think I'll go! So she phoned New York and said she would go. What a rush it was but at last she was on the way.
There were ever so many things to do in New York but finally they wre ready to get on the ship.
Would you dare get on a big ship and cross the ocean while there were submarines trying to sink your ship? That's what ruth and my three children, Betty Ann, Philip, and Barbara had to do. They crossed the Atlantic Ocean, then they went past the Rock of Gilbraltar, and through the mediterranean sea until they came to Egypt. Up until that time they were a neutral ship and fairly safe, but from Egypt on to Indi they could have been sunk by a [++Page 46] Japanese submarine. The children didn't think of such things while they were on the boat because they were having too much fun. They were on the Gripsholm a whole month. Ruth tells about part of their trip in a letter she wrote from Port Said, Egypt. Here is what she wrote:
"What a rush it was getting off. (They had to have vaccinations and injections and all sorts of papers before they could leave America.) I had so much on my mind that I didn't actually feel like I was going until I got on the boat and the smell of the boat and other things gave me the thrill that I was actually on my way.
"The ship was much better than I expected. (It was the Gripsholm, a Swedish Mercy Ship used to carry diplomats and other high officials during the war.) It is the best one I have ever travelled on. One of my worries was over immediately. the two other boats that I have travelled on just had two railings around the boat, but all the decks here have solid wood up three feet. so my fear of one of the children falling over board was gone. Two other things have made the trip more delightful. We have a table in the dining room just for our family and a cabin just for ourselves. We have twice as much room between bunks as we did on the way home and we have a porthole, which only half of the people do.
"The first deck on the ship was a lounge, the writing room, the bar, and the big decks where we have deck chairs on the open deck; and the enclosed deck has little tables and chairs for any one. The children usually play their games on these tables. Next is A deck where the expensive cabins are, where all the diplomats and oil people are. The on B deck where we missionaries, soldier's wives and oil men are. Then there is C and D decks and the other people are on them. Our Dining room is on D deck as are the other dining rooms. The food is good . . .
"There are between fifty and seventy missionaries and children on the boat, most of them going to India. There are a lot of Jews returning to Palestine, including about 10 Rabbis who have most of their food (kosher) out of tin cans, which are opened and placed on their tables. There are wives of oil men, wives of diplomats, a few Egyptians, and two Indians married to American women. From New York to Itialy we had some 500 undesirable Italian prisioners of war, and others. They had a part of the deck roped off, a separate dining room, and we were not supposed to talk with them. We hear rumor after rumor on this boat. One was that two of the Italians were locked up as they were gangster, that one man would probably meet the firing squad, and that a few were very wealthy.
"In Naples we took on Greeks who had been taken from Greece and Yugoslavia as slave laborers for the Germans. It was so pitiful [++Page 47] to see the clothing they wre wearing and their luggage that most of us had to go down and get handerchiefs. The freight train came right up to the ship and how they were packed in the cars. Some had suitcases, others had cloth packs, and some huge oil tins. All one man possessed was the bathing suit he had on. Among the several hundred were about 45 women. They got on the boat slowly as they all had to be checked. They finished about midnight. I just heard that 525 Greeks got on at Naples and that we had 130 from New York already. The passengers threw them cigarettes as they were standing in line and you should have seen them fight for them. Also oranges and apples. There was one baby in a buggy and several adults gave theirs to the baby. The people had not eaten for two days so the witers got pails of milk, bread and butter, and sausages from the kitchen for them. Some had started from Germany the 3rd of May, and had been on the way ever since. They would go so far and then be held up because of transportation. And now it was June 13th.
"The passangers gave old clothes which were distributed and collected $270 for the Green orphan fund . . .
". . . We got a good view of Mt. Vesuvius. The night that we left Naples we passed Stramboli. At first we could see it only dimly and it would erupt every seven minutes and again oftener. At last we got near and could see a red glow all the time and then the eruptions every few minutes. At midnight it was vest, so we all woke our children and took them up on deck so they could say they had seen a volcano erupting.
"We got to Athens, or rather Pireus, which is the port and joins Athens, about three, Sunday the 17th. After arriving to our surprise, we were all asked to go to the smoking room with our passports to be stamped, as we would be allowed to go ashore.
"I was really not prepared to find Athens as it was. It is very dry. There is not any grass at all and very few trees. It looked so barren and instead of having houses like ours (in America) they are more like the Orient in structure and looks . . .
"The first thing we did was go to the Acropolis. It is on a high hill and from there one can see all of Athens. Athens is level with mountains all around. The Parthenon is right on the top and as you all remember it was built about 500 B. C. as were most of the other buldings on the Acropolis . . . Just below us was Mars Hill and I thought of Dr. Lowstuter (a professor at Boston Univeristy) and all he had taught us in the course on Paul. It was hard to imagine that Paul had stood near where we were and preached to the people. In the distance we could see Socrates' tomb and the stadium with its circle of marble seats where thirty to sixty thousand people used to sit."
Ruth sent that letter from Egypt. The next I heard from her was after she arrived in Bombay. "How exciting to step off the gangplank and how thrilled I am to realize that I will soon see you. I can hardly wait, but must. Moffatt (the agent) said tonight that he thinks we may be able to go (to Jabalpur) day after tomorrow. I hope so. We will wire you as soon as we know."
A few days later they arrived back in Jabalpur and what a reunion we had. You can read all about it in the story "Barbara's Birthday Elephant."
Today (1997) most people travel by airplane. There are still some lovely ships, some of them pleasure boats. I hope you will be able to take a sea voyage some day. My children still talk about what fun they had on the Gripsholm. [by James E. McEldowney, August 1997]
Back to the top
Return to James E. McEldowney's Writings page
Webbed by Philip McEldowney
Last update: Thursday, 13 January 2005
Count: 5,386 since 13 January 2005