The Gripsholm Exchange and Repatriation Voyages



The Shanghai Evening Post American Edition, Dec. 3, 1943, page 1.
Credit to MRL 12: Foreign Missions Conference of North America Records, Series 2B, Box 33, Folder 9,
The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

The Committee on East Asia comprises a large part of the Area Committees section in MRL12: Foreign Missions Conference of North America Records. One specific event of note details the Gripsholm Exchange and Repatriation Voyages during World War II (WWII). The MS Gripsholm, a ship that serviced the Swedish-American cruise line and was originally built in 1925, was used from 1942 to 1946 for repatriation efforts by the United States Department of State. A second ship called Drottningholm also helped with these efforts.

Gripsholm served under the International Red Cross with a Swedish captain and crew. Making thirty-three trips to exchange women, children, diplomats, prisoners of war, and other nationals between Japan/Germany and the United States/Canada, the ship carried over 27,000 repatriates.


The Shanghai Evening Post American Edition, Dec. 3, 1943, page 1.
Credit to MRL 12: Foreign Missions Conference of North America Records, Series 2B, Box 33, Folder 9,

The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

Along with articles and general information on the Gripsholm voyages are detailed lists of Americans returning on the MS Gripsholm. People are recorded in alphabetical order, as well as their status, such as “clerk,” “consul,” “American Red Cross,” or “husband,” and their residence if known. Other documents include lists of boards having missionaries on the Gripsholm, and single letters searching for information on individuals.


Credit to MRL 12: Foreign Missions Conference of North America Records, Series 2B, Box 32, Folder 1,
The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

An interview between FMCNA Secretary, Joe Mickle, and Sidney Walton of the WHN Special Features Division, held November 29th, was the third in a series of programs in connection with the return of the exchange ship. When asked about the ‘terrible hardships’ suffered by the missionaries, Mickle said:


Credit to MRL 12: Foreign Missions Conference of North America Records, Series 2B, Box 33, Folder 9,
The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

Letters were received by those in America from missionaries on the ship. One, written to the secretary of FMCNA Joe Mickle from Olive I. Hodges and Paul S. Mayer, makes the voyage sound pleasant:


Credit to MRL 12: Foreign Missions Conference of North America Records, Series 2B, Box 32, Folder 2,
The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

Though this was an exchange, those coming back on the Gripsholm still had to pay their own way for passage and incidental expenses. The FBI also checked the passengers upon their entrance to port:


Credit to MRL 12: Foreign Missions Conference of North America Records, Series 2B, Box 32, Folder 2,
The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

After the repatriation and exchange voyages of the Gripsholm and Drottninghalm were complete, there were mixed emotions regarding future mission work in China. The following article was written by George E. Sokolsky, who lived in China for a time period. The article was originally published in the New York Sun of November 13, 1943 and was republished with permission by the FMCNA:


Credit to MRL 12: Foreign Missions Conference of North America Records, Series 2B, Box 32, Folder 1,
The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York.

23 thoughts on “The Gripsholm Exchange and Repatriation Voyages

  1. Anthony Elia

    This is great, great stuff, Brigette!  Keep up the good work.  The details and archival materials offered here are amazing!

    Reply
  2. KL Brisby

    Are there any logs or diaries from the OUTBOUND Gripsholm voyages? Particularly the first one, in 1942?

    Reply
    1. Pete Wallace

      I have a book called “Exchange Ship” that I found on Amazon that details the trip from Lourenco Marques back to the States.

      Reply
  3. Norm Plummer

    My wife (Maria Asayo Ishu) was born on the Gripsholm just outside of the South African port of call. Her birthdate is October 1, 1943, so I think that would have been the second voyage.

    Reply
  4. Pete Wallace

    My father was taken prisoner in Shanghai in 1942. He was a vice consul in the foreign service so he was a diplomatic prisoner. He was later put on the Conte Verde and taken to meet the Gripsholm. He thought he was going home from there but was given orders to go to Vladivostok. I have ben researching this for a while. I have a book called “Exchange Ship” that talks about this period. Along with the Conte Verde the ship Asama Maru arrived in Lourenco Marques to exchange passengers with the Gripsholm. So I have a great reference regarding the Asama Maru, but, I can’t find much on the Conte Verde. Does anybody know of a good reference for that ship and it’s transfer with the Gripsholm?

    Reply
  5. Ginny Jaques

    My mother, Mary Smiley, was a returning missionary on the second voyage of the Gripsholm. I recently found a number of newspaper clippings of the events of the time, mostly local to her home town and many without reference of newspaper date or name. Some are from the Kansas (or Hutchinson?) Herald, another from the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, and some from the Stafford Times (I think). Would you be interested in seeing scanned copies of these clippings?

    Reply
      1. Colleen

        Hi. I also am doing some research on this particular exchange ship. I am researching a man, to my knowledge a British RAF regular who my grandmother met in South Africa early 1944. Apparently he was a prisoner in Burma?(had a bad back injury that he got from rifle butts) but to my knowledge no-one except a very few managed to escape from prison camps, so the only possible answer I can find as to how he got to South Africa is via this exchange ship (although according to us, he was not a civilian) He left Liverpool in November 1942 for Burma. It says though that it was mainly American and Canadians on board? My question thus is, did this ship stop at Durban port South Africa and unloaded some of the prisoners? Will there be records somewhere of these people? I do not have any more information on him except his name and date of death.

        Reply
        1. Antonio

          Lourenço Marques to Durban is about 400 miles, so not far.
          The Grisholm did not stop in South Africa
          There are detailed records of everyone who was on board all the exchange ships. Officials went over and over the lists over months.
          Having said that, a guy does not just show up in South Africa coming from Burma in the middle of WW2.
          Regards, Antonio

          Reply
          1. Antonio

            Sorry – on the second exchange out of Lourenço Marques, in September 1942, the ship City of City of Canterbury stopped in South Africa.

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  7. Kim Brengle

    I just came across this–how interesting! My grandparents, Kenneth and Elsie Oliver; my mother, Celia; her brother, Peter; and sister, Alison, sailed on the Gripsholm, departing Haifa on September 17, 1945 and arriving in NY on October 9. My grandmother was American, and Alison had been born in the US in 1926. My grandfather was a British subject, born in Lebanon, and was a surgeon on the faculty at the American University of Beirut. Both my mother and uncle were born in Beirut and had British passports.

    Reply
  8. Paul Cannon (in Cape Town)

    My father, FL Cannon of the 3rd South African Infantry Brigade, was captured at Tobruk and ended up at Stalag 344 at Bremen. In 1944, he and other very ill South Africans (and allied POWs I think) were repatriated on the M/S Gripsholm to the Uk, and landed at Liverpool I think. In early 1945, he returned somehow to Cape Town – a broken, white-haired 39 year-old.
    I would like to know from where to where definitely he was repatriated, and where a walkingstick he brought back – with the capital letters DIEPP (sic) burnt into it – might have been acquired. Surely not in Dieppe, France? Also confusing is the existence of a letter dated 19 September 1944 to him from my mother in CapeTown, expressing delight at his already having landed in the UK, and saying there was no airmail between CT and the UK. (She obviously sent the letter to his parents in the UK.)

    Reply
  9. mort soroka

    I’m writing a book and would like to know whether permission is needed to use the two pictures from The Shanghai Evening Post American Edition, Dec. 3, 1943, page 1. that are displayed. Are they copyrighted? Is it in the public domain?I know the The Shanghai Evening Post stopped publishing in 1946. How can permission be obtained

    Reply
  10. Dave Harrington

    Can you tell me where the departure city was for the Gripsholm that arrived in New York on or about 26 Sep 1944?

    Reply
  11. Maureen Errity Rush

    My mother, 2 brothers aged 9 and 11 and myself aged 7 came across from Ireland in 1946 to New York harbor. We had to stay in Ireland till after the war( I was born there and my father was in NY). I remember my mon saying we came across on the Gripsholm. Is this true , and are there any records of this voyage. I am trying to catch up on family history for my grandchildren. Thank you

    Reply
  12. Maureen Errity Rush

    Are there any records for a voyage from Ireland to NY harbor in 1946 on the Gripsholm. My f!ily came over right after w2

    Reply
  13. steve wintermute

    is it possible to get passenger list of the second repatriation voyage that docked dec 3, 1943? My maternal grandparents William and Leada Berst, missionaries in Chefoo China were aboard. One of my cousins is writing a book.

    Reply
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  15. Anna Margaret Binder

    My grandmother and aunts, Pieterdina, Katherine and Henrietta Sietsema were interned in Liebenau Germany as US citizens and repatriated aboard the Gripsholm in March 1944. Any further information surrounding their circumstances would be most appreciated.

    Reply

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