The Mail Must Get Through

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The Mail Must Get Through

The Mail Must Get Through

Snugged down financially though it was, American Express officials regarded the immediate future with grave anxiety. For one thing, it was predicted that the sales of Travellers Cheques would reach a new low. The exact contrary proved to be the case. As the citizen armies gathered and were shifted from one part of the country to another, the wives and families of the men followed them about in pathetic anxiety to be with them until the last possible moment. As always when people are on the move, they bought American Express Travellers Cheques as the safest means of carrying their money.

Then, too, the United States Government encouraged the G.I.s to carry their accumulations of pay in American Express Cheques, and these were sold in the post exchanges of most of the great cantonments, as well as in ships' service stores.

Later, when the tremendous movement of troops abroad began, the soldiers carried American Express Travellers Cheques, which they knew they could spend wherever their secret voyages took them.

Through the Seamen's Church Institute of New York a service was set up to board ships coming into New York Harbour and sell Travellers Cheques to merchant seamen returning from the convoys across the sea. The men from the long and perilous Murmansk run frequently had £3,000 to £4,000 due them. If they carried the cash ashore on their exuberant first leave, the crowd of sharpers and thugs who waited by the piers to "roll" them would often take all. But if the sailors carried Travellers Cheques, their money was safe even though they were ambushed and the Cheques stolen. Millions of dollars' worth of Travellers Cheques were purchased by seamen on the ships, and it is a fair guess that most of it might have been lost to them had they carried it ashore in cash.

The wave of war, moving across the world like a Fundy tide, came closer to America. During the summer of 1941 the long crisis with Japan heightened inexorably. Even so, many Americans could not believe that the island empire would be so foolish as to dare the last extremity. The officials in charge of the Far Eastern Department at 65 Broadway held to this opinion, which was strengthened by reports from the Americans in the Orient.

In November 1941, when the Japanese transport fleets were already gathering for the invasion of the Philippines and Malaya and the carriers were alerted for the dash to Oahu, Lynde Selden talked by telephone with the Airier-jean Express Far Eastern vice-president and general manager, Frank Groves, in Manila. Selden, by background and experience, had an intimate knowledge of the Orient, while Groves had been constantly travelling through all that troubled area and had a multitude of friends in every Eastern port. They agreed that they should not close American Express offices. Japan was bluffing, they thought - an opinion shared by many in higher places.

So when Japan bombed Pearl Harbour, American Express was as unprepared as the world at large All American Express personnel had been evacuated safely from occupied Europe, but it was a sadder story in the Orient. Frank Groves and Lloyd Cecil were trapped in Manila, where they kept the office open until the city fell. William Robertson and John Stenersen were captured in Hong Kong and Don Riggs in Shanghai Max Elliot, now manager in Bombay, was caught in Singapore and worked as a slave laborer on the infamous Burma Railway. Howard Terzin and Fred Bridger were more fortunate. Terzin went on furlough in November 1941, but stopped at Singapore to inspect the office there. As the Japanese infiltrated down through the Malayan jungles, Frank Groves instructed him by cable to get a ship to India and take the records with him, which he did Bridger was caught in Peiping, but he managed to be repatriated with the American diplomats in 1942.


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What next? Sitting Tight

Sitting Tight

American Express Manager M. J. Korpershoek, Jr., kept the Rotterdam office open, right up to the moment when the German bombers razed the heart of the city, and he bravely reopened it soon afterward. Korpershoek was not a man to live submissively under a conqueror's rule. At some later date he paid the price of patriotism as fixed by the Nazis. He died in a prison camp.

Meanwhile Vice-Presidents Bergeron and Boyce were at 11 Rue Scribe. As Holland and Belgium surrendered and the small valiant British Army escaped across the beaches of Dunkirk, they, like everyone else, realized that Paris was doomed. When the French Government ordered all Paris financial institutions to prepare to evacuate the city, Bergeron rented two ch�teaux in what he thought would be unoccupied France, but he and Boyce kept the flag flying in Paris.

The German Army regrouped swiftly and began the last drive through France. Against the uncoordinated resistance of the demoralized... see: Sitting Tight


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