The granddaughter of Elsie Waterland (nee Holliday) who wrote this account of a journey she made on an Ellerman Wilson Line ship in 1950 sent this to us.
By Elsie Waterland (nee Holliday)
… I had an over-riding desire to visit my five brothers in the States, some of whom I had not seen since I was a very small girl at school. So that was the start but then I have noticed that very good speakers like to finish with a few lines of poetry but because I am afraid I might forget to include them and because they represent to me very effectively my feelings I give you them now.
“On alien ground, breathing an alien air,
A Roman stood, far from his ancient home,
And gazing, murmured, “Ah, the hills are fair,
But not the hills of Rome!"
Over another shines the self-same star,
Another heart with nameless longing fills,
Crying aloud, "How beautiful they are,
But not our English hills!"
[Where a Roman Villa Stood, Above Freiburg; Mary Elizabeth Coleridge]
A lovely Ellerman’s Wilson Line ship, the S.S. Consuelo, set off from Hull on a lovely day and in my cabin two lovely vases of flowers.
Goodness knows how they got there but you can only realise what an inspiration they were if you can recall a first attempt to cross a wide sea.
So to the Humber mouth, Spurn Point, Withernsea, from the sea, Bridlington and Flamborough, on a lovely calm night, then the lights of Scarborough and with Whitby within sight, came the dusk inviting us to think of bed. Lines I have passed by as meaningless many a time, now I shall always halt to read again.
“Oh! what know they of harbours
Who toss not on the sea?”
[Plymouth; Ernest Radford]
I must always have a tender spot for this ship and her crew. Not old, 1940, she was then the “Pride of the Fleet” but now Sacramento’s and Borodino’s have taken her place but better ships or not, the Consuelo is rivetted in my memory.
It was only a cargo ship but remembering Miss Hunter’s lecture I can fully appreciated her experience of receiving as one amongst so few passengers attention which one could not possibly get as one amongst thousands like the Queen Mary.
So the Whitby light, bed and then round Scotland through the Pentland Firth, the Butt of Lewis and with my limited knowledge of geography,
I knew England was falling away behind me. Lovely weather and then the other came. Luggage, pots went flying, passengers were ill. I had a cup of tea and then I knew I should not want another sight of tea for the rest of my life… Then fog, whistles, radar, wireless, fog horns for hours. So we went on, came to the Gulf Stream which meant we could enjoy our tea and biscuits in dec-chairs on deck in brilliant sunshine.
It all seemed very marvellous to me, the captain was more than amiable – he allowed us with him on the bridge and there the Radar picked up the Sacramento, 200 miles away, on her way to Montreal. Some of the other passengers were ill at times and needed our help and, without being sick at all on the voyage,
I reached the point when I didn’t desire to see another cup of tea as long as I lived. Over a week had passed now and we passed the Queen Elizabeth, the first ship we saw since the Pentlands. Then preparations were made for the Pilot to come on board; it was getting hot and we were nearly at New York. Then when they summoned us to see the lights of New York, what a sight I can never forget. America and remember please, I went to see my five brothers and not primarily to see this country.
It was too late to catch a train in order to make the two days’ journey to Omaha but an American lady who after a long stretch had been visiting Lincolnshire opened her arms without being asked and I was whisked away to her house on Long Island, New York. That night, a trip by car around the city and next day I was on the train to Omaha. I rang up one of my brothers in Omaha from New York and heard a voice I had not heard for 40 years; he was waiting for me at the end of the rail stretch of 1,700 miles.
So New York to Chicago and thence to Omaha, half way across this continent, very new to me. One expects a welcome from one’s own brothers; their wives (American) and sons and daughters and grandsons and grand-daughters; so we talked to after midnight and then next day after the telephone had done its work, brothers started to arrive but you would like to know about the others in this country.
Hospitality and welcomes were just rife, as spontaneous as it was possible to be. That impression lasted all through my stay.
Another impression whilst I remember is that those Americans (rich or not rich) work and work hard. There is plenty to eat and generally speaking plenty of money but do not forget there is plenty of work; they are no idlers. What marvellous picnics, too; my first sister-in-law took me in the car to my first amongst 9 ladies “We Help Others” club starting at 12 noon. Each lady took food and what a spread! It was all arranged in dishes and placed under a tree.
Another table carried the knives and forks etc. and, as visitor, my invitation was to take the first plate and help myself from the dishes. Fried chicken, potato and fresh salads, macaroni salad, sliced onions, sweet carrots, sweet potatoes and salad creams followed by coconut pie, lemon pie, cherry pie, iced tea and I never saw women eat so much in my life; I gave up the task of keeping up with them.
Then they had a little committee and decided to give a wheelchair to the Children’s hospital there and each lady had taken a fancy tea towel which were raffled for a dollar, the winner taking the lot. Amongst the conversations, inadvertently I betrayed a unique accomplishment; I could ride a bike. I was famous; not one of the ladies there could rice a cycle. So the picnic finished about 3pm and away to another brother in the same city who works in a bakery. There on the table was a big cake.
One place that had me entranced was Arkansas State with its Ozark Mountains and Eureka Springs. One brother and his family devoted a week of their holiday to taking me on a trip to the Ozark Mountains. Eureka Springs are reputed for their healing properties… The town – Eureka Springs – I can only describe by calling it precipitous.
You will believe me when I tell you that the first lawsuit on record there was filed by a housewife, irritated at a neighbour’s habit of throwing hot dishwater down her chimney. The neighbour lady had not climbed up on the plaintiff’s roof. She had simply stood on her back porch and tossed the water to the ground probably with no bad intentions. The catch to this story is that Eureka Springs is more up and down than back and forth. The deluged chimney was practically under the neighbour’s back porch. This place is on the top and sides of a 2,000 foot ridge in North Western Arkansas, in the centre of the Ozarks’ most rugged terrain.
Because of this arrangement, you will appreciate that 40% of Eureka Springs population live below street level. The answer is simple; their homes are the reverse of ordinary homes. The first floor will have the bathroom, the kitchen, porch, perhaps a sitting room and a stairway leading down. So you have the rare opportunity of going down to the second floor. There usually is the dining room, living room, library and possibly a bedroom. So the third floor still further down provides 3 bedrooms, a sleeping porch on the fourth floor and on the fifth they would call it an attic instead of a storeroom if it weren’t in such a ridiculous position.
Elsewhere in Arkansaas there are numerous places like Eureka Springs and such as Hot Springs and there seem to be healing waters all over he State. It is a real wonder State. Despite that, you may consider this reminiscence by an American writer a bit tall:-
“I remember one time when I was a boy, I was walking down the railroad track with my dog. All of a sudden a fast cannonball passenger train came through and we both tried to jump clear, but the dog didn’t quite make it, and the train cut my dog’s tail off. Well, I looked around, and there by the railroad track was one of them springs, so I picked the dog up and threw him in the water and the dog come out with a new tail. Well, I started to leave [?] and I happened to look down and I spied this old tail laying in the middle of the track, and without thinking I picked the tail up and threw it in the spring, and a new dog swam out”.
So I could tell you a lot about Arkansas State and yet just scratch the surface.
In other States there were just the opposite; long mountainous stretches with cornfields about 500 miles long but, for these Ozark mountains, you will see they are just magic country and springs.
Interested as I was in this New Land, one thing made me just a little anxious to get home quickly. There is plenty of money there but comparatively with us, some things are much more costly; it is a dear job dying as funerals are very costly.
Advanced as they are, they do some things which we are apt to regard as old fashioned. For instance, and I felt they were not just doing it for my benefit, we never had a meal without saying Grace. They go to church, too. I remember going along with my brother and family and, even for a morning service, they were “queueing up” to get in.
Then this corn attracted me. There was a great belt in the Mississippi valley, three-fifths or their output. In that one state I remember, IOWA, more than one-tenth of the world’s corn is grown, apart from the great quantities grown in Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
This corn consists of field corn (fodder), sweet corn (table) served with melted butter also canned, popcorn. Those six states I mentioned produce half the corn crop of the U.S. 40% goes to hogs, 24% to cattle, 6% to human food and it is easily the most valuable crop raised by the farmers. The Government buys the corn at a guaranteed price and the farmers buy it back if needed. Pigs are put into the fields to feed from the corn, which saves the labour of stacking[?] it.
There is red clover grown and the land most fertile for this is in Iowa. The other important uses of corn are corn oil and corn sugar. The oil is used for salads, making soap and drugs of many kinds. This kind of sugar is especially suited to the making of candy and confectionery and because it contains dextrose, the kind of sugar in our blood, it has great medicine value. Most people are familiar with the corn sugar in the form [of] table syrups.
When Columbus discovered America, he observed people growing and eating corn and later explorers reporting on this new land which they still believed to be Indian, called the plant Indian corn.
The origin of the plant is still unknown for there is no record of its ever having grown wild. It is a most adaptable plant for there are varieties which will grow and ripen in almost every type of climate. It can be grown in fields covering many acres, yet it will grow and flourish in little patches of country cottages.
The plant itself is very beautiful and there cannot be a lovelier sight than a field of these graceful stalks and “satiny” leaves when the ears are ripening. The leaf is wonderfully constructed to stand the full force of the wind.
Now the houses there. They are nearly all made of wood and they all seem to have plenty of land around, and greenery. Over every window is a mosquito net and the windows were always wide open but blinds down.
Then the climatic conditions so different from ours. My first experience of a storm was between Chicago and Omaha. One minute it was lovely sunshine and the next terrific lightening which seemed to start from about 20 ft. high and run into the ground like forks. Then the torrential rain for say 10 minutes and back into lovely sunshine again. I was never so hot in my life.
One of my brothers lives well into the wilds farming and sone nights I thought I should never sleep. It was the noise of crickets and locusts – they seemed to be yelling all the time, day and night. Then the walls of the house were doubled and there seemed to be a scratching and running up and down when I got to bed.
My young nephew soon consoled me by telling me they were only mice running between the double walls and, more than that, he would go out with me next day and catch a bull-snake in the grounds. (You can imagine my feelings – he could keep his mice and his bull snakes for me). It was the Wild West with a vengeance.
Despite all this, remember they have the most marvellous electrical appliances with the kitchen just a dream – all electric. Amidst all this, many was the night when I just stayed in the bath to get rid of perspiration.
I saw a Rodeo show at Sydney (Iowa) – wonderful as a first experience to me.
One brother lived in a small town of 4,000 inhabitants and typical of all their houses, whether in town, village or hamlet, their houses stood alone – no rows of houses like ours.
It was here I went to several picnics and just to emphasise my point that they eat a lot out there, this was one of the picnic menus --- a huge roast of beef, a dish each of mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, macaroni salad, beans, corn on the cob, tomatoes, black walnut sauce, cucumber and onion with fresh strawberry pie and cream for desert – sorry I forgot the hot rolls and butter.
What spreads – I don’t know where we stowed it. There were squirrels galore playing hide and seek on the lawn – I watched them for hours. Then all the joy I experienced in seeing these squirrels was changed to fear when going through the vinery, my brother found a snake 6ft long stretched across his vines.
Motoring along (they all seem to have cars there – they are as common as our cycles) my brother, wife and daughter all with one accord almost shouted “SKUNK” – they had smelt one.
Then a trip to Eureka Springs and down the caves there. Time was flying fast, days, weeks and months were just speeding by.
I went on a tour round Swift’s plant, the corn beef people. I saw cattle, pigs, sheep etc. taken in alive – knocked down and killed – rolled into pens where they were slung up on the huge pulleys before the skinning, cleaning and cutting up process. There were thousands hanging up in different chambers – pigs in salt and smoking chambers.
A niece’s husband took me to the Films one night – a drive-in open air picture show. We just sat in the car and watched. Dominant I found amongst these Americans was the desire obviously spontaneous to give pleasure to others…
Then a trip round Omaha University.
There is a radio on all buses – I first heard of G.B. Shaw’s accident whilst riding on a bus. The folk there all preferred English films.
In Omaha itself there are 58 parks. But I must leave this country of my brothers or I shall never get back to New York. So I left it early as I had promised Mrs Taylor from New York I would leave 3 days earlier to stay with her there. A terrific land it was – I could not help remembering the old lines “For the strength of the hills we bless thee”.
New York sealed everything – so different from what I had seen already. Old New York, through the tunnel under the Hudson river, Hersey Island, Staton Island. The highest building in the world and we went to the top of it, the United Nations Headquarters.
This lady was a treasure and hailed from my own county of Lincolnshire but I must get on. The ship went and I was on my way home. If you know these lines you will appreciate my feelings –
“He watch’d the liner’s stem ploughing the foam,
He felt her trembling speed and the thrash of her screw;
He heard her passengers’ voices talking of home,
He saw the flag she flew”.
[He Fell among Thieves; Sir Henry Newbolt]
The Marengo was my return ship… Fortune seemed to smile upon me. Instead of returning via the North of Scotland to Hull we went via the English channel to Emden, Germany, where we had a day ashore, I know now why poets are thrilled at the white cliffs of Dover. So came the entry to the Humber one fine Sunday morning, King George Dock, Hull and home. Thank you!...
I want to tell you a lot more but there it is – a terrific country, terrific display of hospitality for one like me who went quite unannounced, terrific workers, terrific anxiety from all to have first hand knowledge of this land of yours and mine, England, and a terrific experience for me in the adopted land of my five brothers.