Henry Elmo DeLaney, Survivor of the H.M.S. Otranto Disaster

Grave of Henry Elmo DeLaney, City Cemetery, Nashville, GA. Image source: Searcher

Henry Elmo DeLaney, of Berrien County, GA, was among the WWI soldiers aboard the troop transport HMS Otranto on October 6, 1918 when it was fatally damaged in a collision with the HMS Kashmir off the coast of Islay, Scotland. The transport had sailed from New York on September 25, 1918 carrying more than 1,025 American soldiers and crewmen as part of a convoy headed for the fight in Europe. Delaney and most of the Georgia soldiers aboard the Otranto had trained at Fort Screven on Tybee Island, GA.

Delaney was below decks, just finishing breakfast when the collision occurred.

The seriousness of the situation was not immediately apparent to the men, who were told to remain where they were.  But within 15 minutes, every was ordered to go up on deck. The  ship was beginning to list, and the lights went out. The men emerged into a gale force wind and the footing was treacherous on the wet decks. Henry Elmo DeLaney emerged on the “B” deck with other men of his company and took a seat on a bench near the hatch.  He was seated next to Joseph Eden Hewell, a soldier from Woodville, GA when they observed the British destroyer HMS Mounsey coming along side the Otranto,  the destroyer looking tiny in comparison to the huge troopship.

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When the destroyer maneuvered to get alongside, Capt. Davidson of the Otranto warned Lieut. Craven, commanding the destroyer, not to make the attempt. When it was seen that Craven would make the attempt anyway, The men were ordered to remove their shoes and heavy clothing…

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Captain Craven, standing on the Mounsey’s bridge as the two ships came within leaping distance, used his megaphone to encourage the men on the Otranto. He shouted over and again, as loudly as he could, “Jump men! Jump.”

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” As the Mounsey neared the side of the Otranto the men began to jump from thirty to forty feet from her decks…many of the men leaped too quickly and missed their reckoning and dropped between the boats. Some of these disappeared in the water, but others of them were caught and crushed to death between the boats and the lifeboats which had been lowered to act as buffers…Many of those who reached the decks of the vessel suffered broken bones or otherwise were hurt. Those who missed the deck of the destroyer went to almost instant death.

Delaney and Hewell stood at the rails of the doomed Otranto, and watched as their fellow soldiers leaped for their lives.

Delaney observed they had better jump, too. The rough seas were crashing the ships together and men who lept with ill-timing were crushed between the hulls or plunged through to the frigid waters below. First DeLaney then Hewell managed a safe landing on the deck of the destroyer, and were taken to Belfast, Ireland along with nearly 600 other survivors. Hundreds of others stayed behind with the Otranto and went down with the ship when she broke up on the rocks off the Isle of Islay.  Hewell later wrote a journal about the final voyage of the Otranto (see Hewell’s 1918 Journal.)

The overloaded Mounsey precariously made way with the survivors to Belfast, Ireland where the American Red Cross was  waiting for their arrival. Not knowing when or where the disaster would come, The American Red Cross had prepared in advance for disaster.  Of those who succeeded in leaping to the deck of Mounsey, some perished from injuries or exposure and were buried in Belfast, Ireland.

Many, many bodies washed ashore on Islay, Scotland and were buried in mass graves. Berrien men among the hundreds of Otranto dead  included  Benjamin F. McCranieJim Melvin BoyettJohn Guy CoppageHiram Marcus BennettLafayett Gaskins,  William C. Zeigler and other men.  Early Steward of Nashville, GA was among the very few who washed up on the rocky coast of Islay still living.   The lost Georgian soldiers would later be honored in the Georgia WWI Memorial Book, (SEE Also Ray City, GA Veterans of World War I), and Berrien County, GA would commission the first monument to commemorate American soldiers killed in the Great War.

After recuperation, Henry Elmo DeLaney was sent on to France where he was assigned on December 3, 1918 to Battery F, 57th Artillery, Coastal Artillery Corps.

WWI service record of Henry Elmo Delaney

WWI service record of Henry Elmo Delaney

Battery F, which had seen heavy fighting in the Meuse Argonne, had been “ordered back to Brest, France to prepare for embarkation back to America.

1st Lt. Charles J. Foley, of the 57th Artillery reflected :

All operations having ceased, we were assigned to Doulevant to prepare for our return home. Property affairs were settled and the regiment proceeded to the camp at Brest for Embarkation. It might be well to state that we knew of no other ports from which we would prefer to sail, but not desiring to disappoint the A.E.F. officials by selecting any other route, we accepted their invitation and submerged ourselves in the mud of camp Pontenazen.

Camp Pontanezen was most likely where Henry Elmo DeLaney caught up with the 57th Artillery CAC. Camp Pontanezen  at Brest, France, was the point from which American soldiers were returned to the United States. Sergeant James L. Grace, Battery D,  57th Artillery CAC called Pontanezen “ a camp of mud and water. We were put into tents; where we remained until the 29th of December; 1918.

WWI Camp Pontanezen at Brest, France

WWI Camp Pontanezen at Brest, France

CAMP AT BREST

        Here we have a great port of embarkation for American soldiers. At times 80,000 men were camped there, the harbor crowded with shipping. In the early months after we entered the war, when everything had to be done with a rush and we were new to the job, conditions were very bad at Brest. As we see, it is a dismal, unattractive spot, cluttered with buildings, railway spurs, and raw, stark barracks. It rains most of the year at Brest, and the roads, firm underneath, are coated with slippery, semi-fluid mud which endless lines of motor trucks whirl viciously to every side. There is nothing to see but dismal wet barracks or soaked the bedraggled tents. At first, thousands of our boys had to camp in these tents, sleep on the damp ground, wade interminably through thick, sticky mud. One who had the misfortune to be at Brest in those days will never forget the place.
       But American energy and enterprise transformed Brest before the war ended. Enough barracks were built to accommodate everybody, board walks were laid everywhere. The camp was made as comfortable as a camp could be in such a moist climate.
       Brest is at the head of a magnificent, landlocked bay on the northwest coast of France. For centuries it has been a great port, Richelieu, in 1631, constructed the first wharves that were built there. It is the capital of one of the five naval arrondissements of France. There are gun factories, great workshops, magazines, docks and yards, employing thousands of men.

From the docks at Brest, the men were ferried by lighters out to the waiting troop transport USS Huntington.

Troops on board the lighter Amackassin, waiting to board Huntington for their passage home from France, 1919.

Troops on board the lighter Amackassin, waiting to board Huntington for their passage home from France, 1919.

 

US Naval History photo of the USS Hunting underway, circa 1919. The cruiser USS Huntington was converted to a troop transport following the signing of the Amistice ending WWI.

US Naval History photo of the USS Hunting underway, circa 1919. The cruiser USS Huntington was converted to a troop transport following the signing of the Armistice ending WWI.

The regiment embarked from Brest for New York on January 2nd, 1919, on the United States Cruiser “Huntington.” The Huntington had served on escort duty to defend convoys of transports ferrying the dough boys to Europe.

After the Armistice was signed Huntington was converted into a troop transport and assigned to Transport Force, Atlantic Fleet.  Huntington next sailed for France to bring home veterans of the European fighting. She departed New York 17 December, arrived in the harbor at Brest, France on 29 December 1918. On 2 January 1919 she embarked over 1,700 passengers the bulk of which was the 57th Artillery who had seen much action while in France, to New York [arriving] 14 January.

 

Devine services on USS Huntington's quarterdeck, while transporting troops in 1919. Henry Elmo Delaney and the other soldiers of the 57th Artillery CAC were among the first contingent of troops to be transported home by the Huntington.

Divine services on USS Huntington’s quarterdeck, while transporting troops in 1919.

The cruiser USS Huntington was converted to a troop transport following the signing of the Amistice ending WWI. Henry Elmo DeLaney, of Berrien County, GA, was among the 1,700 passengers on her first voyage as a transport returning from France. The ship made five more voyages to France and return, bringing home nearly 12,000 troops, and terminated her last voyage at Boston 5 July 1919.

Henry Elmo DeLaney, of Berrien County, GA, was among the 1,700 passengers on Huntington‘s first voyage as a transport returning from France, January 1919. The ship made five more voyages to France and return, bringing home nearly 12,000 troops, and terminated her last voyage at Boston 5 July 1919.

Delaney’s voyage back from France was uneventful with only two days rough seas and the usual amount of seasickness among the troops of the 57th Artillery CAC. Lieutenant Foley observed, “As we caught the first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty and heard the shouts from the Mayor’s Committee of Welcome we decided that there is but one country on the face of this earth-The United States Of America.”

Hoboken, NJ welcome committee greets WWI troops returning from France.

Sergeant Grace recalled,

 We arrived safely the morning of the 14th of January; 1919; docking at 9:35 A. M. at Pier 5 Hoboken, N. J. We immediately disembarked and entrained for Camp Merritt; N. J.;

Americans glad to be home - awaiting trains for demobilization camp, Hoboken. This is the WWI Port of Embarkation now serving as the Port of Debarkation. U.S. Army soldiers are waiting to board a train. The men are just east of the Headquarters, apparently between piers 3 and 4.

Americans glad to be home – awaiting trains for demobilization camp, Hoboken. This is the WWI Port of Embarkation now serving as the Port of Debarkation. U.S. Army soldiers are waiting to board a train. The men are just east of the Headquarters, apparently between piers 3 and 4.

These Americans, thousands of them, standing about holding aluminum drinking cups are waiting for their first meal on United States soil after a period of overseas service. Their packs are lying on the ground, all of them made up in the regulation fashion but for the present discarded until the much more “important” business of eating is over.

Behind that freight car which is being loaded with regimental baggage, you can see the Military Post Office of Hoboken and the low building next to it is the office of Headquarters, Port of Embarkation.

The building on the top of the hill is one of the Stevens Institute group, and beneath it you can see the side of the Hudson Hut, one of the Y.M.C.A. buildings that catered to the comfort and needs of the men just returned from overseas.

Before the Armistice only 15,000 men had been returned home, and a constant stream of men had been going overseas. The condition had to be reversed after the Armistice. This work of bringing back the men was carried on very expeditiously and in three months’ time more men had been brought back and mustered out of the service than the entire number mustered out after the Civil War.

 

WWI soldiers home from France arriving at Camp Merritt, NJ

WWI soldiers home from France arriving at Camp Merritt, NJ

Sergeant Grace continued,

Arriving there [Camp Merritt] at 2:30 P. M. and going into barracks for the time being. At 3:30 P. M. dinner was served and at 7:10 supper was served and at 8:50 P. M.  we went to the delousing station and all hands were deloused; and God knows we needed it. Delousing process completed about ten o’clock and we turned in for a much needed rest.

A few weeks later Battery “F” was demobilized at Fort Sandy Hook, New Jersey.

After discharge, Henry Elmo DeLaney returned to South Georgia.  In February, The Sparks Eagle reported he was taking up his previous position with the railroad.

The Sparks Eagle reports the homecoming of Henry Elmo Delaney.

The Sparks Eagle reports the homecoming of Henry Elmo Delaney.

By 1920, Henry Elmo DeLaney had relocated his family to Willacoochee where he continued to work as section foreman for the Georgia & Florida Railroad. The DeLaneys made their home on South Railroad Street.

By the 1930s, the DeLaneys moved to West Palm Beach, FL where Henry worked as a railroad inspector.

 

May 27, 1937 death certificate of Henry Elmo Delaney, survivor of the Otranto disaster of 1918.

May 27, 1937 death certificate of Henry Elmo Delaney, survivor of the Otranto disaster of 1918.

Henry Elmo Delaney died of a stroke on May 27, 1937 at age 43. In death he returned to Berrien County, GA. He was buried Sunday, May 30, 1937 in the City Cemetery at Nashville, GA.

Obituary of Henry Elmo Delaney, SFB, June 3, 1937

Impressive funeral services for Mr. Henry Elmo Delaney, 42, were held last Sunday afternoon from the Nashville Methodist Church, conducted by the Rev. J.A. Rountree in the presence of a large number of relatives and a number of local people. The speaker paid a nice tribute to the deceased and impressed those present. Interment followed in the City Cemetery, with the Giddens Funeral Home in charge of the arrangements. Pallbearers were legionnaires members of Otranto Post and were as follows: Messrs J.R. Bennett, O.L. Tyson, Gus C. Vining, Buren Griner, A.E. Alexander and Mark Sutton. Mr. Delaney passed away Thursday morning in the Veterans hospital in Augusta, where he had been confined for several months. The body arrived in Nashville Saturday afternoon and was carried to the home of Mr. & Mrs. S.J. McLendon, parents of his widow.

He was born and reared at Swainsboro, GA, the son of the late J.N. Delaney, who was an engineer on the Georgia and Florida Railroad for many years. His father was born and reared in Ireland and came to this country as a young man.

Twenty-three years ago he was married to Miss Rose McLendon, daughter of Mr. & Mrs. S.J. McLendon of Nashville. At that time the McLendons were residing at Swainsboro.

Surviving besides his widow are two sons, Elmo, Jr. and Jack, also a half sister, Gertrude Evans of Miami, Fla. There are also three cousins, Messrs John, Mark, and Tom Hall of Swainsboro. Out of town relatives attending the last sad rites included Mr. & Mrs. W.H. Dorsey of Augusta, Mr. & Mrs. J.A. McLendon, Mr. & Mrs. W.D. McLendon, Miss Mae McLendon and James Underwood of Swainsboro; Mr. & Mrs. A.H. Martin Vegue, Mr. & Mrs. Fred N. Tittle and Mr. & Mrs. Dave Hughes of Miami, Fl.; Mr. & Mrs. J.A. Coleman, Miss Frances Coleman, Mrs. Ben Gunner, Mr. Robert Moxley, Mr. & Mrs. Wade Moxley of Valdosta.

–Nashville Herald–

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