The ship that would become the Washingtonian of this story was built on contract in 1919 for the USSB per a standard design by Osaka Iron Works, Sakurajima Japan and launched as Eastern Mariner. See here for a picture of her in Bellingham, Washington in 1923.
In 1927 she was purchased by American Merchant Lines and renamed Willzipo.
American-Hawaiian acquired her in 1937 and renamed her Washingtonian.
She had arrived in New York from her previous voyage on November 24th, 1941, and was lying at Pier 10 on Staten Island, just two weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. She was expected to sail for “Red Sea Ports” on January 3rd, and was likely carrying supplies to British forces in the Middle East, as Arkansan and other A-H ships had and were doing.
Unknown to Raphael, he was sailing right smack into a significant Japanese offensive in the area. Just a few weeks earlier, around the middle of March, at their Penang, Malaya Headquarters, Japanese Combined Fleet ordered that the western coasts of India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) be reconnoitered before the commencement of “Operation C" - raids in the Indian Ocean.
The Imperial Japanese Submarine I-4, commanded by 40 year old Hajime Nakagawa (Class 50, 1922) had arrived in Penang on March 8th, and departed on March 28th to reconnoiter the Eight Degree Channel and Colombo areas on her third war patrol.
Nakagawa had taken over command of I-4 less than 5 months before on October 31st, 1941, and was part of the fleet that had attacked Pearl Harbor. He had two successes prior to this, the Norwegian freighter M/S Hoegh Merchant, and the small Dutch merchant steamer SS Ban Ho Guan.
On April 5th Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo's Carrier Striking Force ("Kido Butai") attacked the British naval base on Columbo, Ceylon. They wrecked the base's facilities, destroyed 27 aircraft and sank several ships. A floatplane found British Vice Admiral James Somerville's Eastern Fleet's cruisers HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire at sea. Nagumo's airmen sank both ships, but were unsuccessful in their search for the rest of Somerville's fleet.
On April 6th 1942 at the Western approach to the 8 Degree Channel, Washingtonian was struck at about 1600 by two Type 96 torpedoes fired from the I-4. The torpedoes impacted on the port side, abreast of the No. 2 and No. 3 holds. This set fire to fuel tanks, which quickly spread and the ship attained a 20 degree list to port. The ship was still burning on the afternoon of April 7th, but in a sinking condition.
The approximate coordinates of the attack where 7° 15' N, 73° 3' E. The 39 crew and 2 passengers all managed to get away in the life boats, and despite their misfortune, were lucky to run into Nakagawa at this stage of his career as I will detail later. Their ordeal was not quite over yet, however.
The survivors spent the rest of the afternoon and that evening in their lifeboats heading south and reached the island of Berinmadhoo the following day. This is in the northernmost series of atolls that make up the island nation of the Maldives, approximately 15 miles southwest of where they were sunk. Unfortunately, no one on the island spoke English so the next day they boarded native dhows and traveled 25 miles southeast to another atoll, Noliwang Faro.
They stayed at Noliwang Faro for 4 days, and while they were there the action continued to the East. On the 9th the Japanese Striking Force attacked the British naval base at Trincomalee, Ceylon. They wrecked the base's facilities and shot down nine planes. A floatplane spotted the old light carrier HMS Hermes and the Australian destroyer HMAS Vampire at sea, and the Striking Force soon sank both. Nagumo's aircraft also found and sank several smaller ships.
Around the 10th or 11th the survivors took larger dhows 175 miles south to the Maldive’s capital Malé, but since they could still not communicate, departed again on April 14th for Cochin, India. This was a substantial journey of some 450 miles to the northeast across the Laccadive Sea. By the time they arrived 6 days later most of them required hospitalization.
Even the native dhows were not safe, and on April 10th off Colombo I-4 battle-surfaced on a 200-ton Indian dhow in the area and fired 14 rounds from her deck guns, reporting the target as heavily damaged.
The Washingtonian survivor’s had the good fortune of not running into I-4 again or any of the other Japanese forces in the area and after recuperating in Cochin they are transported 675 miles north to Bombay, where they caught their ride home.
The USAT Brazil, operated by Moore McCormack Lines departed Bombay on May 31st under the command of Master Harry N. Sadler. The liner had a crew of 266, and 864 passengers comprised of 3 Filipino musicians, 177 Chinese Army Cadets and officers, and 684 civilians, mostly Missionaries and their families leaving the war zone, but also including the survivors of the Washingtonian.
May 4th issue of Life Magazine, the Chinese cadets may have been part of a larger force of Army cadets “that started arriving months before Pearl Harbor to train as pilots at Thunderbird Field in Arizona. They had received their ground training under American tutelage at Hangchow (present day Hangzhou). After that flying school was bombed by the Japanese, they marched 1,000 weary miles to Chungking (present day Chongqing) then to Kunming. From there they came to the U.S. and then to Thunderbird Field” which was a private airfield. The article goes on to say “How many more will follow them is a problem of wartime transportation”. It is important to keep in mind that the American Volunteer Group, also known as ‘The Flying Tigers’ were based in Kunming China at the time providing what little air power the Chinese Nationalists had to counter the Japanese offensive there.
I was fortunate to find the passenger list for this voyage on Ancestry.com, but unfortunately all passengers were efficiently listed together alphabetically and no effort was made to differentiate the Washingtonian survivors. Comparing Washingtonian’s crew list from her previous voyage to that of the Brazil there were only 4 men that stayed on board:
Colman Raphael – Master
Rolland A. Penner – Radio Operator
Thomas F. Morgan – Chief Engineer
George E. Morrison – 2nd Cook
Coincidently, 3 of the crew that had left Washingtonian before her last voyage ended up on the Arkansan when she was hit (but survived as well):
Robert F. Mundell – A.B.
Joseph F. Heuser – A.B. (Bosun on Arkansan)
George Tisdale – O.S.
Some of the pages of the passenger list were very faded and difficult to read, but eliminating the families left 62 individual men between the ages of 20 and 55 that were potential Washingtonian survivors:
Hopefully one day I will be able to positively identify all of Washingtonian’s crew. The men in bold were either listed as “Repatriated seamen from US Consulate in Bombay” or I was able to find Merchant Seaman work histories on them and so they are most likely from the Washingtonian. Moore noted Washingtonian had a crew of 39 (unclear if the Master was included in that number) and 2 passengers, so with only 4 positively identified and 23 probable there is still some work to do.
I was contacted by the Granddaughter of James R. Trumbauer in the fall of 2012 and provided her some assistance in ordering her grandfather’s Merchant Mariner files from the National Maritime Center. She knew he was a survivor of a sinking in 1942, so it looked promising, but unfortunately I have not received any confirmation yet.As I was going through the crew list trying to separate out the single men from the civilian families that could possibly have been Washingtonian’s crew, one name jumped out at me: Gregory Boyington from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. At the time Boyington was on his way back to the states after a stint with the Flying Tigers to re-join the Marines. He would later be known as “Pappy” Boyington, of the famous “Black Sheep” squadron (VMF-214), Medal of Honor recipient and one of the best flight leaders and aces of the Pacific theater during WWII.
Dave Warren, who was 18 at the time of the voyage, and a recent graduate of Kodaikanal School (see section below), recalls that Boyington actually lectured to them. That must have been an interesting dynamic, Boyington, known for being quite rough around the edges, lecturing civilians about flying and fighting. One can imagine one or two colorful words sneaking out during the process. Dave thought there may have been other Flying Tigers aboard and I attempted to cross reference their known members with my list of potential Washingtonian survivors, but struck out.
USAT Brazil arrived in Capetown, South Africa where they picked up 47 additional passengers and departed on June 21st.
The next stop was Bermuda, where they picked up 252 construction workers and then departed July 10th.
Brazil and the Washingtonian survivors finally arrived in New York on July 13th, 1942.
According to Gale Potee; A strong rumor came up the ghat [valley or pass] that the entire Japanese Navy had been sighted off of the Andaman Islands, heading for Madras. It was everyone’s belief that Japan intended to attack South India, cutting the country off from the North, on a line from Madras to the West Coast. Kodai School was clearly below that Red Line. As the situation developed, Papa Phelps [Carl W. Phelps (1894-1984), Principal of the School] gathered a small group of the older boys from Boys’ Block for a special mission: They were to find an escape route for the entire school if the Japanese marched up the ghat road in an outright attack. There were already seen small Japanese surveillance planes flying over the school, so that seemed quite possible.
The Kodaikanal School was less than 150 miles from the northern tip of Ceylon. Air raid procedures were actually written up for the school, and Don Wilder sent me an example:
NOTES ON AIR RAID PROCEDURES FOR KODAIKANAL SCHOOL.
1. The "Alert", -
(a)Intermittent ringing of school bell.
(b)Whistles in possession of all Staff Members should pick up the "Alert" signal as soon as heard (either from the bell or from other whistles) using the rhythm - 3 blasts, pause, 3 blasts, pause, etc.
The "Alert" as above, shall be the signal for all within hearing distance, anywhere in Kodai, to take cover immediately - the best available within a few yards.
DO NOT RUN FOR MORE THAN A FEW YARDS FOR COVER.
The "Alert" signal may and should be sounded by any member of the staff, or High School student (Grades 10-12) on sight or hearing of a plane over Kodaikanal.
2. "Go to trenches" signal,-
The intermittent striking of steel rail will serve as the signal to transfer to trenches, or to certain parts of school buildings.
Only those specifically deputed to give this signal should give it. The signal,- 2 strokes, pause, 2 strokes, pause, etc.
3. "All Clear",-
The striking of a gong (for 3 to 5 minutes after a raid) should serve as the signal for "All Clear".
1. The best cover would be a trench, ditch, drain channel, or other depression deep enough so that the surrounding ground on both sides is at least above the body level, when lying prone.
2. Lie face down, on the softest ground available, supporting the chest off the ground by the elbows. Keep mouth open. Bite on something soft - eg: a handkerchief, or other cloth, etc. Stuff cotton in ears.
3. When running for shelter, keep under trees or other cover, as far as possible. Keep your head! Do not leave your temporary shelter position for more distant trenches, or other shelter until the "Go to trenches" signal is heard.
1. If inside a building when the "Alert" is sounded, stay inside. Keep off verandahs. Don't shift school rooms.
2. Lie down on floor, away from windows, under beds, or tables, among library stacks, etc.
3. Preferred locations in each building are as follows:-
School Building: Your own classroom away from windows.
Teachers Hall: Corridor mid-point.
Offices: Store-room. Passage in front of
Kitchen: Maty room away from windows.
Boyer Hall: Passage way in Lower Boyer.
Kennedy Hall: Shower room.
East House: Narrow corridor in west wing.
Sherwood Lodge: Your own room away from windows.
Wissahickon: Room cupboards.
Airlie: Miss Husted's room, or west inside.
Gymnasium: Rear passage way, in center.
Shop-Laboratory: Back of lecture table, or supply room.
HEED THE SIGNALS !!! SEEK COVER !! AWAIT THE "ALL CLEAR" !
Women and children were evacuated to the north. Don and Charles Wilder, their siblings John and Dave, and mother had spent the last three weeks in Ahmednagar, just east of Bombay. All four boys had in fact been born in south India. Their parents, Dr. Edward Wheeler Wilder (1892-1965) and Harriet Minerva Wilder née Wyman (1889-1977), had come to India separately in 1921, where they met, married and started a family.
Then news of a passenger liner that would be departing India for New York was spread amongst the western ex-pats. On May 19th, Forbes Forbes Campbell & Co. Ltd., local agents of American President Lines, sent letters to those families that had expressed interest in booking passage to inform them of the conditions they could expect on board the ship. The identity of the ship was kept secret at the time, but we now know they were describing the conversion of the SS Brazil into the troop transport the USAT Brazil:
Dear Sir, Madam,
With reference to your application for accommodation on the passenger vessel leaving India shortly, we have to advise that the sailing will be from Bombay. You will be advised as soon as possible the date on which you should arrive in Bombay.
It has now been possible to obtain information regarding the accommodation and we must make it quite clear to you that she has been fitted out entirely as a troopship and there are now none of the comforts normally found on a passenger vessel.
Cabins and Public rooms have been completely stripped of all furniture including chairs, fittings, cupboards, carpets etc. and all have been filled to absolute capacity with steel troop bunks. The number of bunks in cabins varies between 6 and 28 and it will be appreciated therefore that married couples cannot be berthed together in cabins. The most baggage that could be taken into the cabins would be one small suit case per person. The bunks consist of oblong steel frames across which canvas is stretched and there are no mattresses. Passengers will be required to provide their own bedding and towels.
Bathing facilities will be severely restricted and in all probability only salt water will be available.
There are very few stewards aboard and therefore no room service can be provided. Dining Room service will be the absolute minimum and any men passengers that may be carried will probably have to obtain their food in "cafeteria" fashion. While every effort will be made to make the menus as attractive as possible, the wide variety of items normally found on passenger vessel menus cannot be provided as all supplies will have to be obtained in India. The Dining Saloon can provide seating accommodation for only 417 passengers and passengers in excess of this number will have to take their meals in the auxiliary dining saloon standing at benches about 4½ feet high. In allotting seats in the regular dining saloon preference will be given to those who are physically incapable of standing in the auxiliary saloon.
Very little deck and recreation space is available at present but efforts are being made to improve this situation before the vessel sails. Passengers who have small deck chairs or small folding chairs of their own are recommended to take them with them. No dogs can be carried on the vessel.
Passengers who are not absolutely physically fit and able bodied will only be carried if the ship's surgeon approves. For the present only American citizens can be booked but it is not yet definite exactly how many passengers can be carried. We hope to advise you on this point in a day or two.
In view of the nature of the accommodation, the fares may be revised and you will [be] advised immediately if there is any change. There are on board a small number of cabins in their original condition and equipped with two beds. Bookings for these cabins must for the present be restricted to passengers whose physical condition does not permit their traveling in the troop accommodation.
Civilians from across India would
have likely made the trek to Bombay, for they assumed at the time that this would be the
last ship out before the Japanese invasion. As mentioned earlier, women and children had already been evacuated to the north, closer to Bombay. Probably a good thing as the trip from Kodaikanal to Bombay
was over 1,100 miles.
It must have been pandemonium on the docks before they could all board. Hundreds of men, women and children, each with their “small” suitcase, and perhaps a mattress and deck chair. People were being examined to make sure they were not sick. In some cases men were sending their spouses and children off to what they hoped would be safety, although the vessel would be under the constant threat of attack by Japanese submarines, German surface raiders and U-boats. Those staying behind faced an uncertain future even though the immediate threat of a Japanese invasion had passed by this point.
Below is a partial list of passengers compiled by my Kodaikanal contacts which shows those associated with Kodai School who traveled on the USAT Brazil. This list includes Kodai School students, their parents and siblings, and staff. The graduation years shown as "KS 'xx" indicate the class the various students were in, but some of those students actually graduated from other schools. Not listed are missionary families that did not have those connections with Kodai School. Some of their children attended another school called Woodstock.
The list starts with five new graduates from Kodai School:
Ruth Seamands would later write a book about her missionary work including the evacuation on the Brazil called ‘Missionary Mama: The Lighter Side of the Labors of Those Who Serve the Lord in Strange, Exotic Vineyards’ (2011 - Literary Licensing, LLC, ISBN 1258133504, 9781258133504).
Charles Wilder’s diary picks it up from the time he reached their cabin and the Brazil departed Bombay:
Small cabin with 12 berths consisting of narrow iron frames with canvas stretched across. I used my own mattress. Very, very hot and stuffy.
Gun practice. "Half anti-aircraft" gun at bow fired. Then the machine guns shot at the resulting puff of smoke using tracer bullets. "They seemed to be pretty good shots."
We slept on deck last night but it will be prohibited after this.
Since the ship set sail it has been a little cooler below decks but it is still pretty bad. Our cabin is a terrific mess. There is no room to do anything. No chairs. Can't sit on bunks because you hit your head or neck on the one above. Each row has four tiers of bunks, the lowest 6" from the floor and you can't sit on the top one because of the roof. Our bunks are the farthest from the port hole which makes it worse still.
Pretty seasick. Didn't bring a deck chair on board like most of the passengers and spent most of my time sitting on the stairs on deck. They say this is just the "edge of the monsoon".
Crossed the equator. Those who hadn't been across it before had to be made fools of during the initiation presided over by King Neptune. [Editor’s Note: This was the Navy tradition called the “Crossing the Line” ceremony.]
Because of the blackouts at about 4:30 cabins are absolutely pitch black and if we keep our port hole open we are not allowed to open the door for fear of letting in some of the very dim blue light from the corridors. On deck you can see absolutely no light.
Occasionally we see a ship in the distance and it sometimes signals us with lights. Today a freighter passed quite close to port carrying airplanes on its deck and more presumably military vehicles and supplies below decks. Watched them cleaning the 4 inch guns aft. Some say we are in the Strait of Mozambique. Saw a whale spout several times.
Were told that fresh water would be rationed unless we cut down on our consumption.
A convoy of 4 ships passed.
Some fool disobeyed the orders about flashlights or cigarettes and all the port holes were closed last night and will continue to be for some time. The glass is painted black and admits no light. It's very stuffy and you can't tell when it's morning until the sailor comes to open the port holes.
We saw the lights of a mercy ship carrying a lighted red cross and said to be carrying prisoners who had been exchanged.
The clocks were retarded an hour again last night. It is said that a British cruiser approached us this morning but I was still asleep. Also a ship which we had passed sent us an S.O.S. just before it was sunk by a raider. Of course we could not turn back.
Boat drill at 3:30.
Slept on deck because of the stuffiness but woke up before midnight and had to go to the cabin for a blanket. Was aroused early in the morning by water spurting from the hose of the deck cleaners. Mattress and dressing gown drenched with salt water and blanket slightly wet.
During chota [breakfast] saw a British airplane which came very close and signaled to us.
Woke up amid terrible creaking and groaning as the ship braved mountainous waves.
Land was seen this morning.
Excerpts from "Notice to passengers -"
Garbage and debris will be disposed of at set hours.
No cigarettes, matches, papers or other articles are to be thrown overboard during daylight hours.
Cameras are not permitted to be used at sea or in any port.
Radios are not allowed aboard, in the event of any person having a radio, it is to be turned in to the Chief Officer.
Any person who willfully disobeys these rules will receive disciplinary action and be held for investigation.
After going to bed last night with two blankets I expected to be quite comfortable but the wind blew right through them. Went down to the lounge to sleep the rest of the night. It is getting terribly cold and windy and the sun is never seen. Have no warm clothes so I have to stay inside most of the time.
This is the worst storm we've had. It's too cold to sleep on deck tonight and even the cabin is cold now but it is still as stuffy as ever.
Let out a line with hook and bait for the auks which flew behind us looking for garbage dumped from the ship. No luck.
Haven't begun to study my shorthand or trig.
Arrived in Cape Town this morning. Expected to see some war ships but we've only seen one so far. The town and Table Top Mountain are very impressive. Cape Town has thousands of lights but the harbor is blacked out so our portholes were sealed as usual, much to our disgust.
Wonderful American turkey supper with cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, peas, ice cream.
Saw three baby sharks in a pail caught by three of the young Chinese men who are coming to America to learn to fly. Have to stay below most of the time. I'll buy a sweater if they ever let us go ashore. [It's the middle of winter in Cape Town.]
Went to the bar just before bedtime. Said I didn't want anything but Gale ordered vanilla soda and I didn't know it till I got it. It was the first time I spent any money on the trip.
Air Raid Drills, one short, one long ring continued for one minute. Passengers to assist closing deadlights on all port holes so as to reduce danger of flying glass. If it is necessary to abandon ship persons assigned boats are to go to their boat station, persons to rafts, to go to the rafts. Persons assigned rafts are to put over the disembarkation nets for the purpose of getting off of the vessel. After the nets are over, cut away large rafts made fast to the vessel's decks."
Rotten scrambled eggs. Still cannot go ashore. Drizzling all the time.
Saw several seals and also some grebes and ducks. The machine used to pull up anchor [windlass] is broken and they say that this has caused some of the delay in getting ashore.
Went ashore at about 2 p.m. Must be back tomorrow at 12 p.m. Saw tanks, trucks, guns and tents.
Wanted sweater but terrifically expensive. Went up and down escalators and boy were we thrilled.
No tram to Table Mountain on account of the weather. Beautiful trees, grass.
Woke up late thinking we would be sailing but found that shore leave was again extended to noon. Back to ship but found that leave was again extended to 8 a.m. tomorrow.
Not allowed to go ashore because the gang plank had broken in the bad weather yesterday; in fact when we got on board last night we had to do so on a thin board only about one and a half feet wide.
The diver is working on the screws.
[Editor’s note: Details of their experience in Cape Town will be filled in later by Gale Potee.]
Can't go on deck because of the severe cold and wind. Stormy. Happy to get to bed safely with my dinner still inside me.
A notice has been placed on the bulletin board to the effect that fresh water is to be rationed by closing all fresh water faucets except from 7 to 9 in the morning and from 4 to 6 in the evening.
My first laundry day on board ship. We tied our clothes on the ends of a rope and let them dangle in the water behind the ship for half an hour. Then we rinsed them out in fresh water and they were clean.
Another gun practice. First the big 4 inch gun at the very back of the ship fired three shots at an empty tin barrel about a minute after it was thrown overboard. Two of them were very close. Then the 3 inch guns in front shot into the air and the anti-aircraft guns on top aimed at the puffs of smoke they made.
Clocks were retarded again last night.
Crossed the equator again and had to endure another initiation advancing from "pollywog" to "shellback".
After dinner we went to the library to study but it was blacked out. It's worse than ever now. No lights in cabins and flash lights are confiscated. All ready, etc., must be done during the day. Every day the gunners shoot at flying birds, boxes, balloons, etc., with a rifle.
The anti-aircraft guns have been firing all day and the gunners have been shooting with their rifle again.
Anti-aircraft guns and rifle have
been firing all day. Got pretty mad at
Gale for using my sandals which are useless now because they have stretched so
much while wet (Gale's fault).
There has been a raider or some very queer ship behind us. Only riding lights but switches on all lights when it saw us. We beat it.
Independence Day -- various forms of entertainment. The pretty Filipino girls sang and danced. Very good July 4 supper with a "swanky" menu (described in some detail) which was "really a treat" and "each man, woman and child was given a hat, a whistle, and a rattle".
We do not sing "God Save the King" any more at the daily sings on account of the soldiers' aversion to the "Limies". They join wholeheartedly in our own patriotic songs.
Another boat drill.
All day we have been seeing floating seaweed and partly submerged ocean turtles.
Tomorrow we will go to New York time (clocks retarded again).
Late last night a ship stopped us and we were getting signaled to us and a plane flew around us six or seven times. We were getting ready to shoot at it when a plane, seeing the situation, dropped a flare and we saw that it was an allied ship. The whole horizon seemed lighted up by our searchlight or signaling light.
When I got up this morning for breakfast (Gale and the rest were not yet up) a plane was circling around us and very close to us.
I was rudely awakened at about 5:30 by a very excited Dave [Warren].
“Bermuda, Bermuda! Ships, planes, everything!” he yelled, waking all the occupants of the cabin.
Evidently the ship and plane yesterday ordered us to come to Bermuda because we had already received orders to report for landing cards for New York today. This, of course, was canceled. Bulletin board gives us sun-up and sundown times in Bermuda for a week so we can expect to wait quite awhile. Rumor that we are waiting for a convoy.
Hastily pulling on a shirt, trousers and sandals, I ran out and, sure enough, there was the beautiful green island with light house, some radio towers, a few houses and a factory. No dock in sight and we cannot see the city. Seaplanes hovered low and very close, even running along beside us and just barely clearing us as they passed over. A tug came up and we lowered a rope ladder for two officials who came from it in a tiny rowed boat to come aboard. I went down and dressed and when I came back on deck we had begun to move again and were approaching the other side of the island. We were following a very queer looking aircraft carrier and saw a swiftly moving and very small looking U.S.A. camouflaged destroyer and a small submarine. To our great dismay and anger we stopped very close to the island and tied up to a buoy (anchor not in working order). Then Gale, Harry [McClelland], Whacker and I stood in the doorway from which the rope ladder was suspended and watched the lifeboat which was inspecting the anchor. We were drifting nearer and nearer and soon the cable broke and the buoy was pulled underneath the ship. It took much manipulating to re-secure ourselves.
It’s very disconcerting to be so near and yet have to stay on board ship. Spent much of our time on deck playing bridge or Rook and often glancing longingly at the inviting shore.
Watched the tugs, launches and boats of all kind loading on new passengers from Bermuda. Almost all of them work at the Air Base there and are rough, loud, with big swearing vocabularies. Dave says that they are typical Americans but though some of them talked very nicely with us, I sure hope they are not. They are running out on their jobs breaking their contracts.
Mary Martin has been very excited and impatient. Edwin, her brother, is vice consul here and yet he probably never knew that his sister was so near. Yesterday she managed to get a note to him through the shore officers and today he came out in a launch to see her. Dave sent a telegram through him but of course he can’t mention Bermuda.
The big flying boat which met us coming in zoomed low near us again.
Won the finals at shuffleboard and received a prize of a pair of garters.
Today the shore searchlights were practicing keeping a plane in their beams. All of the beams combing through the sky makes quite a spectacle.
Woke up this morning and looked out the port hole to see the ocean speeding past. At last we were leaving Bermuda. We had just started and were going very slowly by the same complicated route by which we had come in [mines?]. Two Vaught-Sikorski OS.2v-1 observation planes followed us showing off by seeing how closely they could miss us. Also quite a new Destroyer 442 Ericson class 37-9 whose top speed is 36 knots.
Soon the two observation planes with a final zoom left us and a large plane, P.B.M.-1 (Patrol Bomber Martin Type) came. It circles around and around us all the time and the destroyer which escorts us is running along beside us and cutting across our path every once in awhile. We are both zigzagging a lot. At about seven the plane went back to Bermuda after flying very close to bid us good-by and another one just like it came for night duty from America.
Packed my suitcase and put it with by bedroll outside as instructed. I was just getting ready to go on deck when we heard dull thudding sounds. Arrived on deck just in time to see the last depth charge released by the destroyer just ahead. Many people were utterly terrified and the bells which called the gun crews to their positions were mistaken by many to be the signal for us to go to our boats with our life belts. The halls and stairs were absolutely impossible because of the crowd.
Once near evening the destroyer left us but presently it came back again.
Many people have been so frightened that they are sleeping in their clothes.
Neither plane nor destroyer with us any more.
The first lighthouse of New York was seen at about 2 o’clock this morning and Gale woke me up to see it. There has been a dense fog over the harbor all night and we did not see the skyscrapers till we were right up close when they loomed up sudden and majestic. On the way to our pier we saw many of the new type of freighter loaded with tanks, airplanes, trucks, and other military vehicles, all of them streamlined, new looking and heavily armed. One with 9 guns on her. The Statue of Liberty seemed more imposing than ever, standing haughtily above us through the mist.
NEW YORK AT LAST!
As mentioned above, Charles’ best friend, Gale Potee, filled in some of the details of their experience in Cape Town in a letter he wrote to his parents and younger sister (hence "Three Fifths" or three out of the five family members, Gale being the fourth, and his older sister the fifth, perhaps away at college):
Dearest Faraway Three Fifths: Mid-Atlantic, July 1, 1942.
To tell all that has happened since I wrote you last I’ll quote parts from my diary.
Cape Town – Wed. June 17th:
It is fortunate I started this when I did because things really began popping today. The morning began as usual – a late arising, 9:15 breakfast, and ennui from the start. We were still out in the harbor, which was a disappointment after the anticipation of an early morning advance to the docks. This morning was worse than usual. A steady drizzle swept the deserted deck and rolling grey swells swept past. Towards noon Charles and I went for a bath and then it happened. The anchor chain had been cut because it was impossible to weigh it with a damaged winch. Our engines turned over and with the aid of two tugs we steamed past the grey neighboring ships, through the break water, and along a dock. By the time lunch was over the ......[The name of the ship was redacted for security purposes.] was tied up secure to a Cape Town pier and the gang plank was down. At 2 p.m. we four, Chas, Dave, Harry and I were bundled up for the worst weather, our pockets filled with American money and traveller’s cheques, passports, passes, and handkerchiefs. We were ready for anything, and sincerely expecting and hoping for considerable fun after 18 days of ocean. We stepped off the ship and on to Africa among the first, striding past the crowded bus stop, turned left around a long ware house and paced forward to the city. This mile of ship yards, R. R. lines and canteen sites was our route to town and we walked it many times in the next few days.
We reached the toll gate well ahead of most of the ships throng, showed our passes and walked on. There was a large camouflaged factory and smoke stack to our left and when we reached a Nash car dealer’s we turned right up the hill to the center of town. We were looking for the American Express but a passer-by pointed out Thomas Cook’s two blocks down the street, so we made for that. A brisk walk and lucky instructions saw us there when there was only a short line; five minutes later it stretched half way down the block. I had four dollars and a $10 cheque on me. Each was changed into British money which was fascinating, but we found that one has little appreciation of foreign money and its value, and I fear the theory was well proven by four prodigal lads in the next three days.
Cape Town is very American and a very modern city. The sidewalks are jammed with throngs of white people, many in uniform, including women, and about as many Negroes and Africans. The streets are filled with cars and buses, are broad and well lined. Transportation consists largely of double story, stream lined glassed-in electric buses which are as modern and efficient as any. Skyscrapers (15-20 storeys) line the streets and the elaborate window displays in the plate glass windows of the shops do ample justice to the complete and cosmopolitan array of goods. The movie theatres (we should know) compare to those of the best in a large U.S.A. city in both size and beauty. Refreshments attracted our particular attention throughout and the range and variety compensated for the high costs. We were to find that the modern beauty of the buildings extended beyond the office buildings, civic centers and churches, and amply included swanky homes, private hotels and symmetrically curving soft colored apartments in the respectable residential districts.
Three blocks from Cook’s we entered the largest building downtown, the post office. An immense room was lined on four sides with windows carrying on the various business of postal communications. The high arched walls were decorated with giant frescoes of industry, travel and shipping. I bought the airmail postage for my letter to you; Dave sent a cable to his Dad in Jamshedpur and another to his mother in Landour.
It cost only 3 shillings and he was given the assurance of its arrival the next day. Dave was marveling over this speed the rest of the day. Chas and Harry each mailed letters and then we were again beating the sidewalks. Next we went in to a modern hair dressing saloon. Chas. and I were racked by momentary compunction for mercenary reasons but soon we had joined our pals in the classiest hair cut I have had since Indianapolis, or perhaps since Los Angeles. The white bibbed sleek barbers were well trained in casual talk and soon had each of us talking about ourselves. Our straight cuts cost 1/6d but Dave got a Shampoo and Eau de Cologne spray which set him back five shillings. It was now about four and we turned into Woolworth’s for a milk shake – banana split snack. A big department store escalator two streets down proved innocent fun. Walking further we passed the Majestic, a 2nd rate theatre where we spent 2½ hours watching a double featured wild westerner – “Along the Rio Grande”, and the “Lone Rider Fights Back”. Both were very kutcha [Hindi for crude—uncooked, etc.] and mediocre, especially the latter, but were typical cow boy thrillers and we loved them.
We were next billed for “Cottage to Let” and a stage show at the Alhambra so we went in and bought our tickets well ahead of the 5 p.m. starting. This was one of the classiest theatres in town. We were always taken for merchantmen which would give us 1/3 seats anywhere in the house at any big show place in town but we never lied or intimated that we held this rank and thus nearly always paid the regular prices.
We ate (drank) chocolate milk shakes next door to the Alhambra after a little encounter with some drunk gunners from our ship. At 8:15 we were in the Alhambra again. The interior decorations showed a star sprinkled sky and the silhouette of an Elizabethan market place. More news reels and shorts.
The stage performance was very good---comic script, singing and piano pantomimes. “Cottage to Let” was British and a mixture of sabotage and love, with a humorous touch. It was out by 12 and we were in bed by 12:30 back on the ship. Dave didn’t sleep a wink that night which was strange because I went to sleep in a minute.
Cape Town-Thurs. June 18:
Our shore leave was to expire at noon so we didn’t wait for breakfast but were off by 7:45.
We roamed the streets in search of food for an hour and finally picked up some chewing gum and candy and crossed the street to an early bird Cafe. Here we all got hot plates of vegetables, meat pie, scones, butter and hot chocolate. The nearby information bureau told us there was no tram up Table Mountain because of the weather, but suggested the Park and Museum. We went back to the Post Office where I wrote cards to Birch and Elinor.
Chas. bought a whole series of South African stamps up to one shilling. Dave and Harry mailed more cards and letters. Next we headed toward the Museum. The Park was beautiful. After many days of ocean the walks, green grass, verdant trees of all descriptions were very pleasing indeed. The little grey squirrels and doves stole the show though. Then a bird cage and greenhouse, and lastly the museum itself. It was 10 o’clock and we had decided to head shipward by ten so could give the museum only a cursory glance. A huge gorilla, a far huger Kodiak bear, (largest species in the world) and albatrosses as well as effigies of South African tribesmen and large deer are most outstanding in my memory. It was smaller than many museums I have seen. Dave had a hard time dragging us away because we were again retarded by the very loveable squirrels. Downtown we met a man who said the leave had been extended. To make sure we returned to the ship, but not before our banana splits, milk shakes and cokes at the escalator place.
The man was right; we had until eight the next morning. We tarried on ship till two p.m., had the first real meal for many hours, a hot bath, Harry, Chas. and I, and a change of clothes.
It had been raining hard and we were soaked. It was more chewing gum and candy and Tarzan’s Secret Treasure at 3 p.m. at the Royal. The same old news reels!
It was now six o’clock--plenty of time before the Coliseum performance so we went up town. Before we knew it we were in another show “When Thief Meets Thief”, with Doug Fairbanks, Jr. and a lot of news reels and slap stick comedy with three stooges. This picture was crumby too, but the “Eat as you Watch” policy was fun. We all had Chocolate Milk Shakes.
Lastly at the swanky Coliseum- “Adam Had Four Sons” with Warner Baxter. We paid 1/10 for seats way up front but they insisted we were merchantmen and the Usheress came back a second time to ask us about it. The picture was very good--the best we saw the whole time and we went to the ship past our chewing gum candy store with a pleasant taste in our mouths. The usual drunks were on the streets and back on board. We were in earlier this evening, by 11:30. What a life!
Cape Town--Friday June 19:
We woke up late this morning, thinking it was all over--to find shore leave extended until noon. At nine we started out again. Sam Richard (Burma) had been sick but joined us this morning. We were forced to change money at Cooks and so my fourth dollar and later a dollar from my $10.00 T. cheque went into shillings and pence and subsequently into thin air. A detour to an uptown milk bar for banana splits and then to the park again with rolls of bread for the squirrels. Sam and I had an interesting discussion of the trees around. The little grey folk were as bold as ever but they scorned our food, seemingly demanding peanuts.
A farewell ride on the Escalator, a showing of passes, a mile of puddles, a turn to the right and we were on board again--only to find leave extended to Saturday. This was becoming rather a habit, and a pleasant one at that! At lunch on board the girls asked us to join them in a show. We met them at the Purser’s office at 1:30 p.m. Our tickets were arranged through Sam and Russ. We four boys rushed up the street to get Dave’s Corona [typewriter] fixed and when we returned we found the whole group had been given seats for 1/3, anywhere in the house. I liked the picture a great deal (Smilin’ Through, with Jeanette McDonald and Brian Aherne.) After the show we went back for Dave’s typewriter. A cheerful middle aged woman on two crutches and one leg took us up in the elevator and left a remarkable impression on my mind. We took an electric bus in front of the Hotel Waldorf to Sea Point, the premeditated place for our evening’s escapades. This evening was the peak of our fun. Sea Point is the swank residential and resort section, a seaside resort with the modernity of any civilization. We located the Adelphi Theatre where we were to see “The Shadow of the ThinMan”, Wm. Powell and Myrna Loy. It was about 7:20. We went into a drug store for sandwiches and then turned our foot steps toward the pounding surf, down a curved boulevard and across the green lawn to the concrete wall that defied the angry seas. Yet the waves tonight broke over the bulwark and the sweeping, drenching salt spray glistened in the glazed street lights. We walked on through this soft mist to “The Smallest Railroad in the World” for the "Biggest Cause in the World”, six inch tracks carrying a train around a several hundred year oval. It was complete with junction, overhead bridge tunnel, crossings, wayside advertisements and all. Dimensions were one inch to one foot and it was run by the Governor’s Ward Fund, a shilling a ride. The beauty of the layout of all we passed as we went on amazed us. Finally a left turn brought us back to the theatre street again. We passed a place advertising ice cream cones and went in. The show was good but the news reel was terrifically stale. A Sea Point bus took us to the end of the line, turned on a circular rampart and brought us nearly home. The conductor overlooked our purchasing tickets and told us to skip it when we informed him of our faux pas.
Thus ended one of the fastest three day periods I’ve ever spent in my life. We saw eight movies at seven theatres, walked six miles daily, ate ice cream in all forms, candy, chewing gum, fruit in great extravagance. The weather was miserable but we employed a vehicle only once. We returned home to find that no passengers could go ashore because of a dangerous gang plank. We had drifted and snapped a cable the day before, and a tug was pushing us against the dock all day and that night. So the rest of the kids, when they got on that night for dinner, found they couldn’t get off again.
Cape Town-June 20-Saturday:
This is the aftermath, lying in dock and unable to leave--watching many new passengers crowd on – new individuals with new and strange pasts, presents and futures. The cafeteria lines are especially crowded. There is no one new in our cabin. I don’t see how there could be.
Sunday – I opened the Port hole to let in the wintry blast at 8 this morning. Already a tug was chugging and men shouting orders. There followed for us the usual half hearted wash-up and putting on of yesterday’s clothes. By breakfast time we were out of the jettied area and steaming by low lying weather scarred freighters and auxiliary cruisers. Even now the swells were long and powerful, holding our ship in low rolls. The cafeteria line was rather short. As the mountains and cliffs of Africa backed away and nestled Cape Town, particularly Sea Point, receded slowly, as we rounded the last jutting land of Africa and ploughed northwestward directly into the Atlantic the choppy weather increased.......
June 22nd. Filled out Baggage declarations this morning.
Tuesday. It is very calm today. It was cloudy all day but this evening the half moon is slowly taking away from the lately set sun the role of light bearer. Its light is milky and clean. The ocean moon fights no dust and gives this lonely, grey, fast moving ship its full radiant power. The weather is gradually warming as we near the equator. Clocks are set back another hour tonight. The war news, Tobruk, Sebastapol, Aleutian Islands are all very discouraging. Even on ship board there is some depression. [Here one short sentence was cut out, the only deletion in his letter-E.P.] More Rook today with the 4 gang.
I’ve started studying today – Gregg Shorthand and Latin. Life boat drill this afternoon. An enthusiastic and inspiring singsong this evening with a seven piece orchestra on open promenade deck under the moon and stars. Mr. Hare gave a beautiful cornet solo. Played Rook with the gang in the Library afterwards.
25th Chas. and I washed clothes off the back of the ship. At the same time the four inch gun in the rear practiced at a green barrel target thrown off the back. Singsong this evening commemorating Madame Chiang’s birthday--the Chinese cadets gave some group singing and later parts from Chinese Operas, accompanied by stringed instruments.
27th- Mabel Hamilton and I won at Shuffle Board. Dave and Harry with their partners each won, too. In the evening we went to a rather floppish dance of the young people on the forward deck below the bridge head. Things were rather sluggish until the moon loomed over the bridge head and we improvised a couple of Paul Jones’.
28th—Church on the forward Promenade deck with Rev. Hansen as speaker. The sermon on the Strength of Love was fine. Dr. Kennedy spoke in C.E. on the strength of Christ (Physical). One of the best speakers I have heard and he was even more significant in the Junior Church. I led the service.
Chas. and I decided to stay up all night, as rather being more rational, as long as we could. After an officer’s talk on Astronomy we went up to the library. By eleven the room was deserted and the small print of his book forced Chas. to take to Solitaire. The larger print of my book soon became blurred. At midnight Chas suggested that we get a breath of fresh air on deck. A steady drizzle spoiled my plans of a nocturnal swim.
He went down to bed but I couldn’t get myself to follow, so turned to the Library and read my book, “Crock of Gold” to the end. At three a.m. I closed the book and stumbled down to bed.
Another Neptune which all we kids went through.
July 1st. New blackout regulations. No lights at all in the cabin now. Library closed at night.
July 2nd. Studied shorthand and find it is coming with increasing ease.
July 4th – We speculated at some length this morning as to who would be winning what events at the High Clerc Field meet this morning. Our ocean 4th probably did not compare to one in the U.S. or even at Kodai but it was certainly one of the big days between Cape Town and N.Y. After a morning swim Dave and I played a tournament match of deck tennis and were defeated. After lunch all attended the Crew’s program. It was a brave effort but so crowded and confused that it was a disappointment compared to their evening practices. The big event of the day was the evening meal. Sunday 5th [censored] Latitude of Bermuda. Dr. Dewey’s sermon, “Christian Experience of suffering Together for Him” was most impressive. I washed and began to get things straightened up for New York, repacked trunks. My baby pictures proved the object of great curiosity.
When Jean Dewey got cold feet I read, at the last minute, the Scripture for C.F.
Tuesday-July 7---We will probably get in Thursday or Friday. We are out of the Gulf Stream and there is no more seaweed on the surface. Since this morning the ship has been patrolled by a Catalina Flying boat. The sea has been abnormally blue today--almost ethereal. The sun is bright and warm and many people in bright colored bathing garbs contrast with the grey of the decks. Dr. Kennedy gave us Kodai and Woodstock kids the first of several talks on college life, social relationships, and sex.
July 8-- Touched at Bermuda. Great Surprise! Not able to go ashore. Considerable unmentionable excitement. Dr. Kennedy continued talks. We had a dangerous trip from B. to N.Y. but made it and were very glad to see the Statue, etc. I squeezed through a strict, confused bedlam of customs and censors without any confiscation or duty. Couldn’t believe I was in New York and the U.S.A and still can’t.
July 14th – Prince George Hotel--
Ship arrived yesterday but it was hours before Immigration, Navy Intelligence, customs, etc. were over. It was so near night fall that I came to this place and shared a room with Chas for a day. Dave is at Tenafly, N.J. and has a lot of shipping to do before he goes to Mass. Harry is in the city with friends. It is hard to say goodbye to all the ship board friends we have made. This seems to be a missionary hotel and most of the people we know are staying here.
Chas left for Boston this morning. Each of my friends in turn go their separate ways. I have a date with Dave this morning at 11:30. Although we were on board 44 days there was no extra charge! This hotel is the best I have seen for a long time. After eating on my feet for six weeks and sometimes sleeping on bare floors (night before last) it is heavenly! Later Saw Coney Island with Dave. Wonderful time. It was the hottest day this year in New York, 88 – and about half a million were at Coney.
As mentioned, besides seasickness, the passengers had to cope with two waves of contagious illnesses that swept through the ship. Robert Carman, who was 10 years old at the time, was traveling with his mother, father, aunt and four siblings ranging in age from 11 to 3. He describes the illnesses as follows:
The first of the epidemics was measles, which occurred mostly in the first leg of the voyage, between Bombay and Cape Town. I have heard from some other passengers on the Brazil that it was our family, the Carmans, who brought the measles onto the ship, and indeed it was one of my sisters - Margaret, I believe - who had developed a low fever and slight, but at that point nondescript, rash during the night before we were to board the ship. My father, a doctor, had brought my sister's fever and possible rash to the attention of the ship's medical staff, and our family was held up on the wharf at the base of the gangplank while everyone else boarded as the authorities considered whether or not to let us on board. There was the risk of introducing some infectious disease onto the ship - the actual diagnosis wasn't fully clear yet - but, all our baggage had been loaded, and finding and offloading it from the holds would have meant delaying the ship's departure, and my father was one of the doctors among the passengers whom they were counting on for assistance in caring for the large number of passengers on the ship. It was finally decided to let our family board and sail with the ship, but we were assigned as a family (except for my father and my aunt) to a "private" cabin - which even had its own "private" small deck - as an effort at "quarantine". As it turned out, within days of leaving Bombay, large numbers of children came down with the measles - all five of the children in our family, but also many others - and it was apparent that many kids had been exposed to measles during the couple of weeks we had been waiting in Bombay, staying in crowded guest houses or hostels - for our family it was the Red Shield run by the Salvation Army - waiting for word that the ship was ready to sail. My sister was just the first to show signs and symptoms among the many children who had been exposed and were incubating the disease.
As I recall, the measles epidemic had just about completed its run through the ship by the time we left Cape Town - certainly in our family - but shortly after leaving Cape Town, the whooping cough epidemic started. It, too, affected large numbers of children on the ship, not just my younger three siblings. To my knowledge, there were no fatalities from either epidemic, though for the sick children, and perhaps even more so for their parents, caring for those affected in the midst of the severe "blackout" security controls and with lots of "seasickness" from stormy seas and constant zigzagging of the vessels on its course, the morbidity and hardships were a significant burden during an already long and stressful voyage. Taking care of three small kids with whooping cough in the confines of a small cabin was tough on my mother. This was especially the case at night, when they wanted to keep the porthole open to get some movement of fresh air, but then had to function in total darkness - no flashlights allowed - and many was the time she would awaken after a few winks of sleep to hear one of the kids proceeding from deep coughing to vomiting, only to find that in the dark she was holding the basin or pan to an elbow rather than to a child's chin. The clean-up in the dark was often incomplete, making the need for fresh air - but continued darkness - even more necessary. My elder brother and I, both of us having had whooping cough previously and therefore not getting sick this time, were not able to help much, except that we were recruited to "babysit" in the cabin with our younger siblings for an hour or two in the evenings so that my mother could join my father and huge numbers of other passengers on the promenade deck for the nightly hymn sing - also in the dark.
Of the teenagers on board the Brazil that are mentioned in Charles’ and Gale’s accounts, Charles, Gale, Dave and Harry all went on to become doctors.
Charles and Harry both became
doctors rapidly through the Navy V-12 program. Charles went to the Boston
University School of Medicine, became a cardiologist in Laconia,
NH and passed away in 2011. Harry went to Yale, became an internist and settled
in Tracy, CA, passing away in 2006. Gale Potee is retired
and living in Massachusetts. Dave Warren is retired and living in Virginia Beach.
Mary Martin graduated from Oberlin College in
1946 and worked in Washington, D.C., at the Library of Congress. She married Hans Sterns in 1948, raised a family and led a full life involving Church, music and NPR. She passed away in 2010.
At first it wasn’t clear what became of Russell Jones, other than general agreement amongst the Kodaikanal alumni that he was lost in the war. The Brazil passenger list provided his place and date of birth, and his home address, "1818 Porship Road, Dundalk, MD", which would be key. As he was lost during the war I made the assumption he had joined the military. Searches of Russell D. Jones’ born in 1923, from Maryland and dying between 1942 and 1945, resulted in one firm hit as a bomber crew member, although I still had reservations.
I found some great information on this candidate, but only the year and not the month and day he was born to confirm. There was also no mention of his mother Ethel, and the fact that Jones was killed as a Staff Sergeant and my first inclination is that he would have been an officer based on the trend of Kodaikanal graduates going on to higher education.
Finally, amongst the Army Air Corps reports I found a list of next of kin of those that perished on his bomber. Next to Russell’s name was that of Sara E. Jones, Russell’s new wife, residing at 1818 Portship Road, Baltimore, MD. Dundalk was a suburb of Baltimore, not far away from the famous Sparrows Point shipyard. Perhaps ace Flying Tiger pilot “Pappy” Boyington’s lecture on board the Brazil made a lasting impression on the young Mr. Jones.
Russell was lost on July 8th, 1944, about a month after D-Day and about two years after he returned to America on the Brazil. His Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress was part of the 8th Air Force, 452nd Bombardment Group (Heavy), 729th Bombardment Squadron based at Deopham Green, England about 90 miles northeast of London.
His Group had only began combat operations in February of 1944, but already Russ had flown 29 missions. Below is his mission list (Note several missions to Berlin):
The learning curve was steep, and the odds long. Although only at it for a few months, he would have been considered a seasoned veteran by this point.
His 30th and last mission was to bomb V-1 sites near Rouen in occupied France. Jones was the right waist gunner on the B-17. The rest of the crew was:
At 0715 their aircraft, 43-37747, flying at 15,000 feet was seen to receive a direct flak hit over Nucourt, France and immediately fall from the formation. The aircraft impacted about 25-30 miles northwest of Paris. Of the ten crew, only one man survived, Staff Sergeant Arthur Schulze who was likely blown from the aircraft and deployed his parachute. He became a POW, but survived the war and eventually passed away in 2009.
All the bodies of the casualties were found in the wreckage, but badly burned.
Only three of the nine were initially identified:
1. Pilot Hanson
2. Engineer Grissom
(This was accomplished from their ID tags.)
3. Russ was identified from a bracelet he wore on his left wrist with his name on it and an inscription that read “Hands off. This guy is mine. Sara”.
Jones was first buried at the French civilian cemetery in the tiny village of Boubiers a few miles away the day after the incident. After the war he was moved to the Ardennes American Cemetery and Memorial, Neuville-en-Condroz,Liege, Belgium. He was awarded the Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters and the Purple Heart.