October 13-15, 1918 ~ RECOVERING CORPSES FROM OTRANTO WRECK

All through the end of October, 1918 news of the Otranto shipwreck would continue to float across the Atlantic.  Ray City and Berrien County, GA residents waited for news of loved ones; Effie Guthrie Knight waited for news of her husband, Private Ralph Knight. It would be weeks before survivor lists were published. There would be few bright spots; mostly the news was grim and grimmer.

From the Atlanta Constitution:

RECOVERING CORPSES FROM OTRANTO WRECK

Island of Islay, Scotland, Sunday, October 13. – Work of recovering bodies from the wrecked troopship Otranto proceeded without interference today as the sea was calm. Wreckage was strewn along the coast for a distance of three miles. There was considerable debris still floating, and it was believed this was covering numerous bodies.
Six American survivors remain here. They are Sergeant C.A. McDonald, of Galesburg, Ill., and Privates Thomas Kelly, of Augusta, Ga.; Earl Y. Steward of Nashville, Ga.; Noah E. Taylor, of Spruceburg, Ky.; E. Garver, of Cincinnati, Ohio, and William Cooney, of Augusta, Ga.
Private Cooney has pneumonia and his case is critical. All the other men are in excellent condition. Five other survivors, all Americans, have been taken to Glasgow. Two more Americans were brought ashore alive, but they died before regaining consciousness.

Private Cooney would only survive another week before succumbing to pneumonia.

GETTING BODIES FROM WRECKAGE.

Island of Islay, Scotland, October 15. – A British army labor battalion has begun to remove the Otranto wreckage pile in enormous masses in many deep gullies on this savage shore. Only by much laborious and systematic work can the bodies believed to be buried under the wreckage be recovered and it may take several weeks before the task is completed. Other bodies are imprisoned in rocky inlets and great beds of kelp, or tangleweed, as the islanders term it.
The Otranto went to pieces on great rocks a mile out, almost at the very entrance to Machir bay, whose sandy beach might have offered a haven to the disabled transport. A year ago a small steamer stranded in a storm on that beach intact, without the loss of a single life. Here over a hundred bodies came ashore and were recovered easily.
The storm that raged at the time of the loss of the Otranto was so terrific that wreckage was carried by huge waves over the cliffs a quarter of a mile inland. It is regarded as a miracle that anybody escaped, yet with one or two exceptions the twenty survivors who reached Islay shore showed little effect of their fearful ordeal.
Sergeant McDonald, a husky Illinois boy, was hurled by a giant comber into one of the deepest rocky ravines among grinding timbers, broken boxes and portions of the Otranto’s cargo. He climbed out with scarcely a scratch and with strength so unimpaired that he was able to help two others get beyond the reach of the pursuing waves.
Private Robert F. Shawd, of Lebanon Pa., had a still more remarkable experience. According to Shawd, two of his brothers were on Tuscania and both were saved. They wrote urging him to learn to swim. “If I had not taken their advice,” Shawd said, “I would not be alive today.” He tried to jump from the Otranto to the destroyer [rescue ship, H.M.S Mounsey]  but fell into the sea, eventually he was thrown up on Islay.
Several survivors say the cotton-padded collar of their life preservers saved them from fatal blows by pieces of wreckage, and they believe if the heads of the swimmers had been similarly protected many others probably would have escaped. This theory is supported by the bodies found. The consensus of opinion that far more were killed by timbers than were drowned.

About Sergeant Charles A. McDonald:

McDonald, Charles A., Galesburg, IL

Sergeant Charles A. McDonald, of Galesburg, IL, was one of 17 men who survived the swim from the wreck of the HMS Otranto to the rocky coast of Islay, Scotland

Sergeant Charles A. McDonald, of Galesburg, IL, was one of 17 men who survived the swim from the wreck of the HMS Otranto to the rocky coast of Islay, Scotland

Private Battery D, 54th Reg. 1st Army Artillery. Son of Mr. and Mrs. T.W. McDonald; wife, Edythe A. McDonald; born Feb 20, 1896 at Galesburg. Enter the service April 2, 1918, at Galesburg; to Ft. Screven, Ga.; made Corporal May 9, 1918; made Sergeant Aug. 8, 1918; Supply Sergeant Sept. 20, 1918; reduced to private when transferred from 3rd Co., C.A.C., to 54th Reg., Dec. 1, 1919; on Otranto when it was shipwrecked Oct. 6, 1919, off coast of Islay, Scotland; hung on to rafts in water for three hours and swam and floated three miles toshore; in the service 353 days; discharged March 21, 1919.

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3 Comments

  1. Connie Bozeman said,

    August 13, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    Does anyone have a list of the sailors lost? I’d love to see that list. email directly at cbozeman2@bellsouth.net

  2. Connie Bozeman said,

    August 14, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    Found a list published in New York times. Attaching an email from my nephew who found it and links.

    the left side of the article is clipped, but about 1/2 way down, listed under Privates there’s “zeman .A .C. ; T. A. Bozeman, Sylvester Ga.” listed in the men lost in the Otranto disaster

    Maybe there’s better copies at the library on Microfilm or something?

    anyways here’s some more articles on the wreck

    http://blog.islayinfo.com/article.php/otranto-disaster-6-october-1918

    http://freepages.military.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~cacunithistories/HMS_Otranto.html

    It is a pdf file list from New York Times…send me an email address and I will forward so you can see others lost from this ship.

  3. September 12, 2011 at 6:39 am

    […] October 13-15, 1918 ~ RECOVERING CORPSES FROM OTRANTO WRECK […]


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