• U.S.

Transport: Going Home

4 minute read

In nightmarish Paris last week two aged sisters quietly parted, perhaps forever. Unconcerned for her own safety, but anxious “to relieve my son of all unnecessary anxiety,” spry, 84-year-old Mrs. Sara Delano Roosevelt had decided to cut short her European jaunt. Equally serene, her nonagenarian sister Mrs. Dora

Delano Forbes preferred to pass her remaining days in her Paris home. Cool and capable, she helped her sister pack, warmly embraced her, watched her motor off for Le Havre. Few hours later, aboard United States liner Washington, the President’s mother joined Grandson John, his wife Anne Clark Roosevelt, who had been nervous as cats because “nobody ever knows what grandmother will do next,” and their friends Mr. & Mrs. Edward G. Robinson of Hollywood.

Meantime, in Washington, President Roosevelt worried plenty. World War II threatened to trap not only his own family, but 69,000 other U. S. citizens junketing or living in Europe. Not a moment too soon did the Washington clear port. Next morning many a U. S. citizen, his war jitters sharpened by the grim warnings of U. S. embassies, was wildly storming steamship lines only to learn that every vessel was jampacked to the gunwales. During such squalling hours as shipping had not seen since World War I:

>Ships, standing by for wartime service, canceled their sailings, among them nearly every German and Italian liner.

>At Hull and Newcastle shipowners suspended sailings to Baltic and North Sea ports, while exporters refused fat German contracts twelve months ahead.

>At Sorel, Quebec the freighter Königsberg, cargoing zinc oxide to Canadian consignees, received instructions, as did many other German vessels, to full-steam home before she could unload. Defying Canadian Revenue Department orders to stay put until she had done so, she cut her mooring lines, nosed off without warning. But, some 100 miles down the St. Lawrence, a police boat overhauled her. Its officers, acting for consignees who claimed they had paid up but had not received their oxide, held the Konigsberg’s skipper on larceny charges.

>Of some 50 transatlantic vessels still operating on schedule almost all were booked solid through September, their ballrooms, corridors, bars crammed with cots for which passengers eagerly paid cabin fare. In London one badly scared girl offered to buy her own bedding if a ship would sell her space anywhere aboard. Cluett, Peabody & Co.’s President Chesley Robert Palmer & family, who had crossed in a de luxe suite on Holland-America liner Nieuw Amsterdam, on the homeward passage shared three deck mattresses. To get ailing Steelmaster Charles M. Schwab, his nurse, valet and physician accommodations, Ambassador Joseph Kennedy had to intervene. Others who squeezed in just under the sellout: Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr.; Financier John Pierpont Morgan; a man who described himself as “only a postage-stamp merchant,” named James A. Farley, carrying an album of rare stamps given him by French Minister of Posts and Telegraphs Jules Julien.

>German railroad travel slowed to a crawl as the War Ministry requisitioned trains.

>Gasoline prices, upped by the Government 40% to conserve fuel for military use, forced most motorists off Italy’s high ways.

>If westbound Atlantic liners enjoyed a boomlet, their eastbound sisters shaved the profits. Heeding the U. S. Government’s advice to stay home, 50% of the French Line’s Europe-bound passengers canceled their bookings. The He de France, with its 1,640-passenger capacity, carried only 255. Cunard White Star’s Queen Mary and Mauretania carried 869 and 745 respectively.

>On shipments to & from Italian and German ports marine insurance underwriters upped their rates 50% to 500%.

>By week’s end, with 2,000 U. S. citizens still stranded in London, 3,000 in Paris, 1,000 in Berlin, the U. S. State Department disclosed its program to: 1) establish a special unit for repatriation and protection, 2) advance money on promissory notes to straitened citizens abroad, 3) use the American merchant marine for evacuation work.

>Touching U. S. soil after a visit home, Viennese Tenor Walter Slezak sighed: “I kissed my American passport several times a day.”

*From left, President Roosevelt’s son John, Mrs. Edward G. Robinson, Anne Clark Roosevelt, Cinemactor Robinson.

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