William C. Zeigler

William Charles Zeigler, a resident of Berrien County, GA, was among the victims of the Otranto tragedy in the closing days of World War I.

William Charles Zeigler of Berrien County, GA was a victim of the Otranto disaster in the closing days of WWI

William Charles Zeigler of Berrien County, GA was a victim of the Otranto disaster in the closing days of WWI

William C. Zeigler grew up in Lowndes and Berrien county Georgia. It appears that he had a difficult boyhood. He was a son of Jesse William “Jake” Zeigler and Lula Tyson, born October 25, 1889 at Blanton, Lowndes County, GA.   His mother suffered from mental illness and allegedly mentally and physically abused his father before abandoning the family.

For the 1900 Census, the family was enumerated in Berrien County, GA in the 1487 Georgia Militia District, the Sparks district.  William was then ten years old .

1900 Census enumeration of William C. Zeigler in the household of his parents, Lula Tyson and Jesse W. Zeigler

1900 Census enumeration of William C. Zeigler in the household of his parents, Lula Tyson and Jesse W. Zeigler.  https://archive.org/stream/12thcensusofpopu180unit#page/n190/mode/1up

Although court testimony later assert that Lula Tyson Zeigler was institutionalized about 1898,  it appears from the census records that she was still with her family in 1900 and was sent to the Georgia State Sanitarium at Milledgeville, GA shortly thereafter. 

State Lunatic Asylum, Milledgeville, Baldwin County, Georgia, ca. 1870-1899 (later known as Central State Hospital). Lula Tyson Zeigler became an inmate of the institution some time prior to 1910.

State Lunatic Asylum, Milledgeville, Baldwin County, Georgia, ca. 1870-1899 (later known as Central State Hospital). Lula Tyson Zeigler became an inmate of the institution some time prior to 1910.

After the institutionalization of his mother, William C. Zeigler continued to live with his father and siblings near Lenox in Berrien County. They were enumerated at Lenox, GA in the Census of 1910. Lenox is situated about 7 miles north of Sparks, GA on the route of the Georgia Southern & Florida Railroad.

1910 Census enumeration of William C. Zeigler in his father's household at Lenox, GA.

1910 Census enumeration of William C. Zeigler in his father’s household at Lenox, GA. https://archive.org/stream/13thcensus1910po172unit#page/n774/mode/1up

At the time of the draft for World War I, William Charlie Zeigler  was 27 years old. He gave his home address as Sparks, GA,. He was still unmarried and listed his occupation as farming in the employment of his father. He registered for the draft for WWI on June 5, 1917.  His physical description was medium height, slender build, with grey eyes and light hair.

WWI draft registration of William C. Zeigler, June 5, 1917, Berrien County, GA

WWI draft registration of William C. Zeigler, June 5, 1917, Berrien County, GA

On  July 16, 1918 William Charlie Zeigler was inducted into the Army, along with other Berrien county men at Nashville, GA.

WWI Inductees at Nashville, GA Courthouse, 1918.

WWI Inductees at Nashville, GA Courthouse, 1918.

The men boarded a train at Nashville, GA.  William C. Zeigler along with Early Stewart, Benjamin F. McCranie, Jim Melvin Boyett, John Guy Coppage, Shelley L. Webb, Hiram Marcus Bennett, Lafayett Gaskins, Ralph Knight, James Grady Wright, James M. Deloach and other men of Berrien County were bound for training camp at Fort Screven, GA.

July 16, 1918 induction of William C. Zeigler into the US Army during WWI

July 16, 1918 induction of William C. Zeigler into the US Army during WWI

Colonel Archibald Campbell confirmed the arrival of the men at Ft. Screven, GA on July 19, 1918.  Fort Screven, on Tybee Island, GA was a part of the U.S. Atlantic coastal defense system and served as a training camp. The fort’s six batteries of coastal artillery defended the port of Savannah, GA.

Fort Screven, WWI, Tybee Island, GA. Image source: http://georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu/gastudiesimages/Title%20Page.htm

Fort Screven, WWI, Tybee Island, GA. Image source: http://georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu/gastudiesimages/Title%20Page.htm

Fort Screven in 1917

Fort Screven in 1917

After training, the men were sent to the Port of Embarkation at Hoboken, N.J.  The Embarkation Service reported the steamship Otranto sailed for England from New York, N.Y. on September 25, 1918 at 12:40 P.M. with 699 military passengers, including the men and officers from Fort Screven, GA.

But the troop ship Otranto went down on October 6, 1918  off the coast of Islay, Scotland after a collision with the SS Kashmir. The Army could not immediately produce a list of the soldiers who were on board. It was not until October 18, that a passenger list for the Otranto was finally cabled to General Harbord in Europe.  The name of Zeigler, William C. 2595855 Pvt. was on the list.

Ray City and Berrien County, GA paid a heavy toll in the disaster. Among the hundreds of Otranto dead were dozens of soldiers from Berrien.  For weeks news of the disaster trickled into American newspapers. Facts were sketchy at best –  In some cases, soldiers who perished in the sinking were incorrectly reported as survivors. It would nearly two months before the names of the lost were known to the folks at home…

A number of soldiers, including James Deloach were rescued by the heroic efforts of the HMS Mounsey, first to arrive on the scene.  Many others went into the sea and were lost forever. Only a slim few who went into the water survived the swim to the Isle of Islay, Scotland. The bodies of 489 soldiers washed up on the coast  where the ship went down.

William C. Zeigler, of Berrien County, GA was among the dead recovered at Islay. He and the other American dead from the Otranto were buried in the little churchyard at Kilchoman in wide graves accommodating twenty bodies each.

Military Salute to Otranto Victims,Kilchoman Cemetery, Island of Islay, Scotland. A military salute being fired over the mass graves of American troops killed in the wreck of the Otranto which occured October 6, 1918. Among the dead were two soldiers from Ray City, GA, Shellie Loyd Webb and Ralph Knight.

Military Salute to Otranto Victims, Kilchoman Cemetery, Island of Islay, Scotland. A military salute being fired over the mass graves of American troops killed in the wreck of the Otranto which occurred October 6, 1918. Among the dead were soldiers from Ray City, GA, Shellie Loyd Webb and Ralph Knight, and William C. Zeigler of Sparks, GA.

William C. Zeigler and the other Otranto victims lay in the Bivouac of the Dead at Islay for nearly two years.  In June 1920, the Graves Registration Service made the decision to bring the bodies home, and exhumation began on July 1, 1920.

William’s body was transported on the U.S.A.T. Antigone arriving at Hoboken, August 7, 1920, from Southhampton, Brest and Liverpool.

After the war, William C. Zeigler and other Otranto dead were transported back to the United states aboard the U.S. Army Transport ship Antigone, photographed here during the war while in service as the USS Antigone troop transport.

After the war, William C. Zeigler and other Otranto dead were transported back to the United states aboard the U.S. Army Transport ship Antigone, photographed here during the war while in service as the USS Antigone troop transport.

According to the New York Times, Antigone carried the largest number of coffins brought home on one ship, 1,575 dead soldiers. “The dead were landed at Pier 4, Hoboken, where preparations were completed to forward the bodies to their last resting places in home cemeteries, as has been the custom with all returned dead soldiers.”  There was no ceremony or funeral observance at the pier, as that detail of honor was rendered when the bodies were consigned to their temporary graves in foreign lands.

William’s father elected to have his son’s final interment at Arlington National Cemetery.  The body was accompanied by a guard of honor on the final journey.

World War I service record of William C. Zeigler.

World War I service record of William C. Zeigler.

The re-internment of William C. Zeigler occurred August 20, 1920 at Arlington National Cemetery.  In 1934, a headstone of marble from Tate, GA was ordered for his grave.

Arlington Cemetery internment record, William C. Zeigler

Arlington Cemetery internment record, William C. Zeigler

Grave of William C. Zeigler, Arlington National Cemetery. (The middle initial is incorrectly engraved as

Grave of William C. Zeigler, Arlington National Cemetery. (The middle initial is incorrectly engraved as “O”) Image source: Paul Hays.

†††

After William C. Zeigler died, his father finally filed for divorce from his mentally ill mother. By this time she had been institutionalized for nearly 20 years.  It was an unusual case; as a mental patient, Lula Zeigler was  deemed not responsible for her actions.  Therefore, any cause brought for divorce  could only be valid if it occurred prior to the time her mental capacity was diminished.

The divorce case was reported in the Valdosta Times:

April 4, 1919 Tifton Gazette: Jesse Zeigler files for divorce

April 4, 1919 Tifton Gazette: Jesse Zeigler files for divorce

Tifton Gazette
April 4, 1919

Unusual Divorce In Berrien.

Husband Asks Separation From Wife Who is Inmate of the State Sanitarium

        Most unusual grounds are given as a reason for securing a divorce in a suit which has been filed in Berrien county.  It is believed that no similar case has ever been filed in the state says the Valdosta Times.
        Mr. Jake Zeigler has filed papers asking for a total divorce from his wife,  Mrs. Lula Zeigler, charging that she treated him in a cruel manner some years ago.  The unusual part of it is that Mrs. Zeigler is now an inmate of the state sanitarium at Milledgeville and has been there for several years, with the prospect that she is a permanent inmate.  It is charged in the petition for divorce  that the cruel treatment occurred before she became an inmate of the sanitarium.
         When the case came before Judge Thomas last week, it being so unusual he passed it until this week.  Judge Thomas designated Solicitor C E Hay to act as attorney for the defendant in the case and also named Rev. L L Barr, pastor of the Nashville Methodist church, and Rev. Jackson H Harris, pastor of the Nashville Baptist church, to act as representatives of Mrs. Zeigler, who could not appear for herself in the hearing.  The designation of these representatives by the court is for the purpose of seeing that the defendant, unable to help herself, may have a fair and impartial consideration of the case from every standpoint.
        Later:  The demurrer prepared by Solicitor Hay in the divorce case of Zeigler vs. Zeigler was sustained, and the case will go to the Supreme Court, says the Nashville Herald.

The case of Zeigler v. Zeigler et al was referred to the Georgia Supreme Court:

Zeigler v. Zeigler et al. (No. 1384.)
(Supreme Court of Georgia. Nov. 14, 1919.)

(Syllabus by the Court.)

Divorce  27(18), 37(5) – Pleading; Cruel Treatment; Desertion.

In the petition for divorce it is alleged: Petitioner and defendant were married in 1889.  Defendant was adjudged to be insane, and was committed to the Georgia State Sanitarium for insane persons in 1898, where she has since been confined as an insane person. In September 1899, defendant struck petitioner, thereby inflicting a serious wound upon his person.  “From October 1, 1897, until May 1, 1898 defendant continued in a constant state of quarreling and cruelly treating petitioner until such conduct became unbearable; and defendant, without cause on the part of the petitioner, left him and remained away until she became insane.”  Petitioner was without fault during the time he and his wife lived together. “Petitioner did not directly or indirectly condone the treatment of his wife, nor did the relation of husband and wife ever exist after she became in the rage and left him without cause.”  Held, that no cause for a divorce was set forth in the petition, either on the grounds of cruel treatment (Ring v. Ring, 18 Ga. 183, 44 S. E. 861, 62 L.R.A. 878; Stoner v. Stoner, 134 Ga. 368, 67 S. E. 1030; Black v. Black, 101 S. E. 182, this day decided), or on the ground of desertion (Civil Code 1910, 2945), as it appears from the petition that defendant was adjudged to be insane within less time after the desertion than three years, and has since remained insane, and therefore not responsible for her acts during that time.  Accordingly, the court did not err in dismissing the petition on general demurrer.

Error from Superior Court, Berrien County; W. E. Thomas, Judge.

Suit for divorce by J. W. Zeigler against L. M. Zeigler. Petition dismissed on general demurrer, and plaintiff brings error. Affirmed.

J. D. Lovett and Story & Story, all of Nashville, of plaintiff in error.
Clifford E. Hay, Sol. Gen, of Thomasville, for defendant in error.

FISH, C.J. Judgement Affirmed, All the Justices concur, except ATKINSON, J., absent.

Jesse William Zeigler, father of William C. Zeigler, died June 6, 1924. He was buried at Long Bridge Cemetery, Berrien County, GA.

Grave of Jesse W. Zeigler, Long Bridge Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Grave of Jesse W. Zeigler, Long Bridge Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Lula Tyson Zeigler, mother of William C. Zeigler, died August 22, 1958 at Central State Hospital (Formerly Georgia State Sanitarium) at Milledgeville, GA.   During her time at Central State Hospital, the institution became known as the “world’s largest insane asylum,” housing some 13,000 patients with mental illness. According to an article in Atlanta Magazine, “Doctors wielded the psychiatric tools of the times—lobotomies, insulin shock, and early electroshock therapy—along with far less sophisticated techniques: Children were confined to metal cages; adults were forced to take steam baths and cold showers, confined in straitjackets, and treated with douches or ‘nauseants.‘ …The thousands of patients were served by only 48 doctors, none a psychiatrist. Indeed, some of the “doctors” had been hired off the mental wards.

Some 2,000 cast-iron markers at Cedar Lane Cemetery commemorate the 25,000 patients buried on the hospital grounds, including patient Lula Tyson Zeigler. The markers, with numbers instead of names, once identified individual graves but were pulled up and tossed into the woods by unknowing prison inmates working as groundskeepers to make mowing easier.

Some 2,000 cast-iron markers at Cedar Lane Cemetery commemorate the 25,000 patients buried on the Central State Hospital grounds, patient Lula Tyson Zeigler among them. The markers, with numbers instead of names, once identified individual graves but were pulled up and tossed into the woods by unknowing prison inmates working as groundskeepers to make mowing easier.

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Let Us Unveil

Following the WWI sinking of HMS Otranto , October 6, 1918, Berrien County sought to establish a permanent memorial to the soldiers who perished in the disaster. Of the 25 Berrien men killed in the Otranto disaster, two from Ray City, GA were  Ralph Knight and Shellie Loyed Webb.

 berrien-doughboy

While the country celebrated victory over Germany and the Central Powers, Berrien County struggled for funds to pay for a monument to its dead.  It stands today as an enduring reminder of those young men from Berrien who gave their lives in WWI. Located at the Courthouse Square, West Marion Avenue at North Davis Street, Nashville, GA.

The Art Inventories Catalog of the Smithsonian Institution describes the monument titled “The Spirit of the American Doughboy,”  Viquesney, E. M., 1876-1946, sculptor:

“Figure of a World War I infantryman advancing through the stumps and barbed wire of No Man’s Land. He holds a Springfield rifle in his proper left hand, with peep site in rear, and a grenade in his upraised proper right hand. His uniform consists of an ammo packet, canteen, backpack, bayonet scabbard, gas mask and helmet. The sculpture sits atop granite base with shield shapes on each side and stars and stripes decorations. The granite pedestal sits atop a paved brick footing.”

“Funds for the sculpture were raised by a memorial committee headed by Rev. Perry T. Knight (Ray City, GA). The sculpture was erected between 1920 and 1923 and was dedicated ca. 1921 or 1922. It was left veiled until late 1923, pending completion of fund raising efforts. The sculpture was originally installed in the middle of Marrion Avenue, facing north approximately 50 feet west of where it now stands. It was moved in the early 1950s and rededicated when Marrion Avenue, Georgia Highway 129 was paved. A member of the Parrish family who had a monument carving company in Nashville possibly may have assisted in carving the base.”

 The following paragraphs are extracted from:

1918 Sinking of the Otranto Leads to Purchase of The Doughboy Monument for Berrien

By Skeeter Parker

Fund Drive Begins

As if the flu pandemic in 1918 were not enough, the pall of death hung even heavier over Berrien County at a time when the rest of the country was celebrating the end of hostilities in WWI. However,the local citizenry was determined that the soldiers’ names would never be forgotten, as it says on the Doughboy monument “LEST WE FORGET.” A monument fund was announced on the front page of Nashville Herald on November 29, 1918, and readers were told “Every public spirited man, woman and child in Berrien county should contribute liberally to this glorious cause.”

Because most of the Nashville newspapers from the 1920s were destroyed or missing when microfilming was done, details surrounding the Doughboy statue’s coming to Nashville mostly come from various internet sources. According to one of those sources the statue was ordered in the spring of 1921 and erected in the middle of Marion Avenue in late July or August 1921. Different sources also say that while the monument was installed in 1921 it remained under covers until 1923 when “payment for the sculpture and impressive base was completed.”

This is borne out by a January 18, 1923 article in The Nashville Herald in which the writer said:

“It is an everlasting shame and a matter to cause the people of these three counties to feel badly over that this handsome memorial now stands veiled, because it is not paid for.”

The reader should keep in mind that in October 1918 Cook and Lanier Counties had not been formed yet and were still part of Berrien.

In January of 1923, Reverend Perry Thomas Knight  made a personal appeal to the people of Berrien County to pay off the final balance owed on the statue.  Knight grew up at Rays Mill (now Ray City), GA where he attended the nearby  Green Bay School, and later attended Oaklawn Baptist Academy at Milltown (now Lakeland), GA :

Letter to the Editor
Nashville Herald
January, 1923

Let Us Unveil

   There stands erected at Nashville, Ga., a suitable Memorial to the memory of the World War Veterans, but the veil must be lifted, “Lest We Forget.”

    J. W. E. Powell of Nashville has a complete record of every person who has donated to the Memorial Fund and the amount donated by each.

    If you have subscribed to the Memorial Fund and have not paid your subscription, please do so at once. Our boys did not fail us when they were called to service.

    We are writing the builders of the monument, asking that they give us until Wednesday, Jan. 31, 1923 to finish paying a balance of Two Thousand Dollars.

    Will you contribute $10.00 and by that be one of the Two Hundred to lift this obligation? Just as soon as the amount is sure to be in hand we will announce the day of the unveilling.

    Send your contribution to J. W. E. Powell, Nashville, and tell him what it’s for.  Do that today. We expect to have printed in the Nashville Herald, beginning next week, a list of the donors and amount given, until we reach the $2,000.

    Talk to your neighbor, to the stranger, to the Veteran, to the Everybody until we raise the money. It must be done.

    Send The Nashville Herald a card now saying: “I am one of the Two Hundred and will pay $10.00.”

    P.T. Knight 

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Thomas Jefferson Sirmons Rests at Mount Pleasant Church Cemetery

Thomas Jefferson Sirmons was a son of Nancy Elizabeth Knight (1866-1938) and Moses Greyson Sirmons (1857-1928).  He was a grandson of Rhoda Futch and George Washington Knight, and a nephew of Perry Thomas Knight.

PRIVATE THOMAS JEFFERSON SIRMONS

PRIVATE THOMAS JEFFERSON SIRMONS
Nashville, Ga.

PRIVATE THOMAS JEFFERSON SIRMONS Nashville, Ga. Private Sirmons entered service July 16, 1918.  Was attached to Second Unit, Coast Artillery Corps, September Automatic Replacement Draft,  Ft. Screven, Ga. Embarked for over-seas the latter part of September,  sailing on the ill-fated transport “Otranto,” which was sunk off the Scottish Coast in a collision October 6, 1918. Private Sirmons was one of the soldiers drowned.

In 1940, Perry Thomas Knight wrote the following notes about Thomas Jefferson Sirmons:

“Thomas J. Sirmons b. May 26, 1892 enlisted as a soldier in the World War and on his trip over seas on October 6, 1918 went down with the ship Otranto.  His body was buried on the coast of Scotland on the Isle of Isly and two years later his body was exhumed and brought back to his home at the expense of the United States of America and he was buried at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery in Berrien County, Georgia.  The compiler of these records attended his funeral. He was buried with military honors.”  – Perry Thomas Knight

Graves of Otranto men at Kilchoman, Islay

Graves of Otranto men at Kilchoman, Islay

Two years after his death in the sinking of HMS Otranto the body of Thomas Jefferson Sirmons was returned to the United States and re-interred at Mount Pleasant Church Cemetery, about 9 miles northeast of Ray City, GA.  Another victim of the Otranto disaster, Shelley Loyd Webb, waited in a grave on Islay Isle for ten years before being brought home to rest.

Grave of Thomas Jefferson Knight, Mount Pleasant Church Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Grave of Thomas Jefferson Knight, Mount Pleasant Church Cemetery, Berrien County, GA. Image source: Charles T. Zeigler (see http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=90451556 )

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Red Cross was at the Ready for HMS Otranto Survivors

It was in mid October when the residents of Ray City, Berrien County, GA and the rest of America learned of  the 1918 sinking of WWI troopship H.M.S. Otranto off the coast of the Isle of Islay, Scotland.

Red Cross in WWI

When survivors of the shipwreck  were ferried by the H.M.S. Mounsey to Belfast, Ireland  the American Red Cross was there waiting for their arrival.  James Marvin DeLoach,  with many Ray City connections, and James Grady Wright of Adel, GA, Henry Elmo DeLaney of Nashville, GA and Ange Wetherington  were among nearly 600 men who had managed to leap from the rails of the Otranto to the deck of the rescue ship Mounsey and were landed in Belfast.  Early Steward of Nashville, GA went into the water and swam a mile and a half to the rocky coast of Islay, Scotland.   Ralph Knight and Shellie Webb, of Ray City, GA were among the Berrien County men who drowned along with hundreds of other soldiers. The Georgia victims and other dead of WWI were honored in the Georgia WWI Memorial Book. (SEE Also Ray City, GA Veterans of World War I).

Not knowing when or where the disaster would come, The American Red Cross had made advanced preparations for receiving the victims of the Otranto Disaster…

1918-american-red-cross

Red Cross canteen workers like these met survivors of the HMS Otranto disaster as they were transported by train from Belfast to rest camps for recuperation.

Otranto Survivors Cared For.   The Red Cross Bulletin, October 21, 1918, Vol II, No. 43, pg 2.

Otranto Survivors Cared For. The Red Cross Bulletin, October 21, 1918, Vol II, No. 43, pg 2.

Otranto Survivors Cared For
The Red Cross Bulletin
October 21, 1918

American soldiers who survived the sinking of the Otranto in the North Channel, between Ireland and Scotland, were taken to an American rest camp in the south of England by American Red Cross workers after a British destroyer landed them in Belfast.  The emergency warehouses established by the American Red Cross at various points along the Irish coast many months ago, with a view to caring for shipwrecked men, enabled the organization to get relief to the Otranto survivors without delay.  These warehouses contain clothing, medicine, food and comforts sufficient to care for 6,000 men at one time.

When news of the Otranto disaster reached shore Red Cross workers were hurried to various points along the Irish and Scotch coasts, and met the survivors when they landed. After being made comfortable the the survivors who reached Belfast were placed on a train bound for the rest camp, this train being met at many points by Red Cross canteen workers who served hot drinks and hot food to the men.  An officer in charge of a detachment of the soldiers had this to say about the relief work:

“The preparations of the American Red Cross before we landed were wonderful.  Many of us owe our lives to this foresight.  But for warm clothing, medicines, and other attention many of us all along the way.  Their efforts in behalf of the men who landed in fairly good condition was only a small part of their work, most of which was centered on fifty men who had to go to the hospitals.”

ROLL CALL OF THE OTRANTO DEAD FROM BERRIEN COUNTY, GEORGIA

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The American Red Cross and the Otranto Rescue

HOW THE RED CROSS MET THE VICTIMS OF THE HMS OTRANTO DISASTER

When the ill-fated WWI troopship H.M.S. Otranto departed New York on September 24, 1918  little could her passengers have imagined how they would be met by the American Red Cross upon their tragic arrival in Europe.  Among the hundreds of soldiers aboard The Otranto was a contingent of Berrien County men, including  Ralph Knight and Shellie Webb, of Ray City, GA; James Marvin DeLoach,  with many Ray City connections; James Grady Wright of Adel, GA; and Early Steward of Nashville, GA. Other Berrien victims were honored in the Georgia WWI Memorial Book.

Shellie Webb and Ralph Knight, along with some two dozen other Berrien men, perished that stormy Sunday morning off the island of Islay, Scotland. Early Steward, of Nashville, GA was one of the very few who went into the sea and made it to the shore of Islay still alive. James M. Deloach and James Grady  Wright were among some 600 who managed to leap from the rails of the Otranto to the deck of the rescue ship Mounsey.

In October,1920, just two years after the sinking of the Otranto, George Buchanan Fife, a writer for Harpers Magazine and, later, biographer of Charles Lindberg, told the story of how the American Red Cross prepared for and answered the challenge of caring for the victims of the Otranto sinking.

otranto-disaster_distributing-supplies

In response to the 1918 sinking of the Otranto off the coast of Islay, Scotland, the “Flyinging Squadron” of the American Red Cross rushed aid and supplies to the Island.

The following exerpts are from Fife’s work, The Passing Legions: How the American Red Cross Met the American Army in
Great Britain, the Gateway to France,
     which is available for free online reading.

The destruction of the Otranto was not only the heaviest misfortune to befall the American troops in their hazardous voyaging oversea, but was one of the great catastrophes of the war, occurring at a time when American effort was at its utmost in the task of landing an army in France. As the censors in England withheld transmission of the story for five days it had only an ephemeral appearance in the press of America and many of the details in the foregoing narrative are here published for the first time.

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The Otranto, a converted British auxiliary cruiser, doing duty as transport, was the flagship of a convoy bringing American troops to England. On this voyage she carried a detachment of 694 officers and men, most of them from the training camp at Fort Screven, near Savannah, Georgia; a crew of approximately 400 and also thirty sailors picked up from the boats of a French bark she had cut down in mid-ocean.

The destination of the convoy was Liverpool, and to reach it by what was considered the least dangerous path, once the vessels were in English waters, the course lay through the North Channel, a narrow, well patrolled passage between Scotland and Ireland.

But it was fated the Otranto should never make it. When at 9 o’clock on the morning of October 9, the squadron of troopships was almost at the Channel entrance and fairly in sight of the northern Irish Coast, a ninety-mile gale came racing out of the west and overwhelmed it. Under the terrific impact of the wind and the sea, the vessels staggered toward the opening, striving with every ounce of steam to gain it and the calmer waters which lay beyond. And all would have passed through in safety if a great wave had not disabled the steering gear of the Kashmir, one of the convoy.

In an instant she was out of control, and a little later the sea lifted her and flung her, bow on, into the Otranto’s side.

The ponderous blow, delivered directly amidships, cut a wide gash in the cruiser from port rail to waterline, …

Through heroic effort, the British destroyer HMS Mounsey was able to come along side and take aboard some 600 men from the decks of the mortally wounded Otranto. Dangerously overburdened with her human cargo,  Mounsey made quickly for the port at Belfast, Ireland. With her signal equipment damaged in the daring ship-to-ship rescue, no word of the disaster could be sent ahead to the authorities at Belfast.

Thus it was that the Mounsey brought in the first news of the disaster and its token in the wretched men crowded upon her decks. And only a few leagues away to the North, their own great ship, the troop-transport Otranto, with nearly five hundred of their comrades left helpless aboard her, had been beaten to pieces on a reef of the Scottish Coast.

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The survivors, several of them badly injured, and one, a sailor of the Otranto, so hurt that he died a few minutes after rescue, had been dashed upon the rocks beneath Kilchoman, a tiny cliff hamlet on the wildest part of Islay’s western coast. There the neighboring shepherds and the farmer-folk, clustered on the headland to watch the transport’s slow destruction, had gone bravely into the crashing surf and dragged the men to safety.

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It is quite impossible to say too much of the humanity of all these peasant people, of their readiness to accept any hardship in the name of mercy, of the gentle, steadfast nursing they gave the soldiers, virtually bringing them back to life.

The Passing Legions: How the American Red Cross Met the American Army in Great Britain, the Gateway to France

The Passing Legions: How the American Red Cross Met the American Army in Great Britain, the Gateway to France
By George Buchanan Fife. Click image to read full text online.

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Islay Remembered Otranto Soldiers at Christmas Time

Just a few short weeks after the tragic sinking of the HMS Otranto, Christmas of 1918 arrived.

The troopship H.M.S. Otranto had departed New York on September 24, 1918 on what was to be her final, tragic voyage. Among the many Georgia soldiers on board were a contingent of Berrien County men   including Ralph Knight and Shellie Webb, of Ray City, GA; James Marvin  DeLoach who had many Ray City connections; James Grady Wright of Adel, GA; Early Steward of Nashville, GA, and other men of Berrien County.

The Otranto, a converted British auxiliary cruiser, doing duty as transport, was the flagship of a convoy bringing American troops to England. On this voyage she carried a detachment of 694 officers and men, most of them from the training camp at Fort Scriven, near Savannah, Georgia; a crew of approximately 400 and also thirty sailors picked up from the boats of a French bark she had cut down in mid-ocean.

The destination of the convoy was Liverpool, and to reach it by what was considered the least dangerous path, once the vessels were in English waters, the course lay through the North Channel, a narrow, well patrolled passage between Scotland and Ireland.

But it was fated the Otranto should never make it. When at 9 o’clock on the morning of October 9, the squadron of troopships was almost at the Channel entrance and fairly in sight of the northern Irish Coast, a ninety-mile gale came racing out of the west and overwhelmed it. Under the terrific impact of the wind and the sea, the vessels staggered toward the opening, striving with every ounce of steam to gain it and the calmer waters which lay beyond. And all would have passed through in safety if a great wave had not disabled the steering gear of the Kashmir, one of the convoy.

In an instant she was out of control, and a little later the sea lifted her and flung her, bow on, into the Otranto’s side.

The ponderous blow, delivered directly amidships, cut a wide gash in the cruiser from port rail to waterline, …

Through heroic effort, the British destroyer HMS Mounsey was able to come along side and take aboard some 600 men from the decks of the mortally wounded Otranto. Dangerously overburdened with her human cargo, The Mounsey made quickly for the port at Belfast, Ireland. With her signal equipment damaged in the daring ship-to-ship rescue, no word of the disaster could be sent ahead to the authorities at Belfast.

Thus it was that the Mounsey brought in the first news of the disaster and its token in the wretched men crowded upon her decks. And only a few leagues away to the North, their own great ship, the troop-transport Otranto, with nearly five hundred of their comrades left helpless aboard her, had been beaten to pieces on a reef of the Scottish Coast.

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The survivors, several of them badly injured, and one, a sailor of the Otranto, so hurt that he died a few minutes after rescue, had been dashed upon the rocks beneath Kilchoman, a tiny cliff hamlet on the wildest part of Islay’s western coast. There the neighboring shepherds and the farmer-folk, clustered on the headland to watch the transport’s slow destruction, had gone bravely into the crashing surf and dragged the men to safety.

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It is quite impossible to say too much of the humanity of all these peasant people, of their readiness to accept any hardship in the name of mercy, of the gentle, steadfast nursing they gave the soldiers, virtually bringing them back to life.

Lt. James Jeffres of the Red Cross, who was active in the rescue work on Islay after both the Tuscania and Otranto disasters, returned to Kilchoman on Christmas Day, 1918 to honor the American dead and to thank the people of Islay.  In the sinking of the Otranto, no county suffered a greater loss of young men than Berrien county, GA.  (see HMS Otranto Sank Ninety-four Years Ago).

Lieutenant Jeffres, of the Red Cross, with McIntyre and McPhee.

Lieutenant Jeffres, of the Red Cross, with McIntyre and McPhee.

At Christmas, the Red Cross and  Islay islanders took time to place flags and flowers on the graves of the American soldiers who lost their lives off the coast of the Scottish isle.

Graves of Otranto men at Kilchoman, Islay

Graves of Otranto men at Kilchoman, Islay

Thomasville Times Enterprise
Feb  6, 1919

Scotch Islanders Remembered Soldiers At Christmas Time

      Kilchoman, Island of Islay, Dec. 25.  -(By Mail).- This lonely little wind-swept island off the west coast of Scotland, scarcely more than  a dot in the North Atlantic, today observed Christmas for the first time since its young men went off to war more than four years ago.  And in the observance, it did not forget to place flags and flowers on the graves of the American soldiers who lost their lives when the transport Tuscania was torpedoed early in 1917 and the transport Otranto went down after a collision last October.
       The island people did not expect much of a Christmas, but Santa Clause went to them through the “Flying Squadron” of the American Red Cross in London, and his personal representative was Lieutenant James Jeffres, a New York businessman who lives at Summit, N. J.  The Christmas party brought to Islay half a dozen big packing cases.  There were candy and toys for the children, pipes and tobacco for the old men, cigarettes for the soldier ones who were home for the holidays , and comfortable things for the women.  Pajamas, night shirts, underwear and bed linen found their way into the boxes.  Besides, there were bundles of American and British silk flags to decorate the soldier graves and a plentiful supply for Memorial Day next May.  The distribution of gifts was made from the schools on the island.
      Little Maggie McPhee, scarce 16, saw a soldier struggling in the water, and dashing into the surf, pulled him ashore unmindful of the fact that she wore her best Sunday dress and that her heroism reduced it to a shapeless ruin.  Lieutenant Jeffres learned of her plight, and today she was given a wonderful creation of green which had been selected with the utmost care by the women of the Red Cross.
 Two dozen American safety razors with blades enough to last a year or two for each razor were given to the constabulary, who helped the stricken Americans.  The pipes and tobacco, they were for the old men who brought all their knowledge of the sea into the work of rescue.  The candy and toys were for the children who, forming in procession, placed the flowers and flags on the soldiers’ graves, and who, because of their admiration for the Americans, may be trusted, Lieutenant Jeffres felt, to carry out the same mission on next Memorial Day.

Thomasville Times Enterprise, Feb 6, 1919

Related Posts:

J.M. DeLoach Jumped from the HMS OTRANTO

While many soldiers were taken by the sea in the sinking of HMS Otranto, at least three Berrien county men survived the disaster. Among the survivors, James Marvin DeLoach.

James Marvin Deloach. Image source: Francine Coppage

James Marvin Deloach. Image source: Francine Coppage

 

DeLoach was never quite a resident of Ray City, GA but had connections with the town. In 1910, J. M. DeLoach purchased a lot on Jones Street in the newly platted city, but owned the property only a few weeks before selling out to Levi J. Clements.

James Marvin DeLoach, born May 29, 1890, came from a large family of Lowndes pioneers. Among his elder brothers was Edmund Thomas DeLoach, thirty years his senior, who watched many younger relatives march off to war and, thankfully, come marching home again. A Tifton Gazette article from August 22, 1919 tells of the WWI service of the DeLoach family:

W.L. DeLOACH RETURNS.

William Lindsey DeLoach, son of Mr. and Mrs. E. T. DeLoach, who live near Cycloneta, returned home Saturday from overseas service. He was with the Second Division, in the infantry, and took part in the big parade in New York. He received his honorable discharge at Camp Gordon Saturday. He went across in the summer of 1918.
 Mr. DeLoach had two sons, two nephews and a brother [J.M. DeLoach] in foreign service, all escaping without a scratch except his brother who was injured when he jumped from the sinking Otranto.
 Mr. DeLoach will give a homecoming picnic to the boys and their friends at his home Saturday.

Tifton Gazette, Aug. 22, 1919 — page 8

WWI Registration for Selective Service

James M. DeLoach, at age 27, registered for the draft in the 1144th Georgia Militia District, the Ray’s Mill District, on June 15, 1917. Following President Woodrow Wilson’s declaration of war on Germany, the Selective Service Act had been passed authorizing the registration and drafting of men into the U.S. armed forces. The first registration began on June 5, 1917, and included all men between the ages of 21 and 31.

Thomasville Times Enterprise announces declaration of war, April 6, 1917.

Thomasville Times Enterprise headlines declaration of war, April 6, 1917.

Military records show that Deloach was fair-haired with blue eyes, tall at six feet – one inches, with a medium build, and single. His draft card was processed by Charles Oscar Terry, who served as Registrar in addition to his regular pursuits as druggist and merchant of Ray City, GA.

At the time of registration, Deloach was working a farm at Milltown, GA (now Lakeland) under the employment of Ray City businessman Hod. P. Clements. James M. DeLoach continued to work for another year as the war dragged on, but the following summer he volunteered for service and enlisted as a private about July 16, 1918 at Nashville, GA. He was assigned to the Coast Artillery and probably trained at Camp Gordon, GA.

Recruits' open air instruction, Camp Gordon, Atlanta, GA 1918

Recruits’ open air instruction, Camp Gordon, Atlanta, GA 1918

After training DeLoach and hundreds of other Georgia men were sent to New York, where they boarded the troopship H.M.S. Otranto. The ship departed New York on September 24, 1918 on what was to be her final, tragic voyage. Among the contingent of Berrien County men sailing along with DeLoach on Otranto were Ralph Knight and Shellie Webb, of Ray City, GA; James Grady Wright of Adel, GA; and Early Steward of Nashville, GA.

Final Voyage of the Otranto

On the 6.10.1918, the Auxiliary Cruiser Otranto, bound from New York to Glasgow, with a crew of 360 men and some 660 American Troops, collided with the P. & O. Liner Kashmir off the North Coast of Islay. Both ships had acted as Column Leaders in Convoy HX50 and arrived in the North Channel in the midst of a violent gale and poor visibility. When land was sighted, the Officer of the Watch aboard the Kashmir correctly identified it as Islay, but his counterpart in the Otranto mistook the ground for that of Inishtrahull. As a consequence, both ships were turned in toward each other and at 8.45 a.m. the Kashmir struck the Otranto with a fatal blow amidships on her port side. As the damaged vessels drifted apart, water poured into the huge hole in Otranto’s side and she drifted towards the rocky coast of Islay. First to answer the stricken vessel’s S.O.S. calls was the Torpedo Boat Destroyer H.M.S. Mounsey, commanded by Lieutenant F.W. Craven and crewed by such men as Stoker Petty Officer Shillabeer, shortly to be a D.S.M. The Mounsey reached the stricken Liner at around 10 a.m. and, dwarfed by her rearing and plunging 12,000 ton frame, very gallantly closed her to take off survivors. On no less than four occasions the plucky little Destroyer crashed against the Liner’s side, each time hundreds of American servicemen jumping from the latter’s decks in an effort to reach those of the Destroyer. In what must have been horrific circumstances, many of them met their death between the pitching sides of the two vessels, while many others sustained serious injuries on hitting the Mounsey’s deck. At length, however, with her decks perilously overladen, the Mounsey set sail for Belfast with an astonishing 596 survivors. Tragically at least another 400 souls remained trapped aboard the Otranto, and when she hit the bottom less than half a mile from shore, near Machir Bay, Captain Davidson gave the order to abandon ship – only 16 of these men ever reached land (Argyll Shipwrecks, P. Moir and I. Crawford refers).

– Christie’s Auction House synopsis of the Otranto Disaster written for the auction of a Distinguished Service Medal and other service items that had been awarded to crewman Sidney William Shillabeer of the rescue ship HMS Mounsey. The medal lot sold for £897 ($1,492).

Shellie Webb and Ralph Knight, along with some two dozen other Berrien men were among those who perished that stormy Sunday morning off the island of Isley. Captain Ernest George William Davidson, master of Otranto, also went down with his ship. Early Steward, of Nashville, GA was one of the very few who went into the sea and made it to the shore of Islay still alive.

Lieutenant Francis Worthington Craven, commander of HMS Mounsey, made it to Belfast with his rescue-laden ship, and was later presented with the Distinguished Service Medal by President Woodrow Wilson and the Distinguished Service Order by the United Kingdom. Craven was killed in an Irish Republican Army ambush in 1921.

Deloach and Wright were two of the fortunate American soldiers who were able to jump from the heaving deck of the doomed Otranto to the deck of the destroyer HMS Mounsey. In 1919, DeLoach recounted his experience:

Tifton Gazette
June 20, 1919

JUMPED FROM OTRANTO

Private Deloach, From Berrien, Had a Close Call When Troop Ship Sank

Private J. M. DeLoach, who went into service from Berrien County, but whose home is now in Lowndes, was up a few days ago to visit his brother, Mr. E. T. DeLoach near Tifton.
 Private DeLoach was on the Otranto when that ill-fated ship was rammed by the Kashmir and sank early on Sunday morning in October, 1918. He escaped, as did Sergeant? [James G.] Wright, by jumping to the deck of a destroyer below.
 He was knocked partially unconscious by the landing but he had enough presence of mind to catch another man’s leg to avoid being washed overboard. His –[text obscured]—- and he was unconscious –[text obscured]– before reaching port. –[text obscured]– he was sick and his temperature was 104 before he took the –[text obscured]–debated awhile because he was so ill.
 DeLoach said the toughest part of the rescue was when the destroyer –[text obscured]– for the last time and the men –[text obscured]– were lined up at the –[text obscured]–it was not until then that they —danger. It was heartbreaking to see the men in the water begging to be taken on board, when nothing could be done for them. One man was washed off the destroyer by a big wave and then washed back on again.

DeLoach was discharged from Army service on May 6, 1919 at Camp Gordon, GA. Afterwards, he made his way back to Hahira, GA , the place of his birth, where he returned to farming.

James Marvin Deloach died May 10, 1976. He was buried at Cat Creek Cemetery, Lowndes County, GA.

Related Posts:

HMS Otranto Sank Ninety-four Years Ago

A day to remember Berrien County men and all those who were lost in the sinking of HMS Otranto.

On October 6, 1918, on a stormy North Atlantic Sunday morning, the WWI troopship HMS Otranto went down with the loss of 351 American troops and 80 British crew members. Among the dead were 25 soldiers from Berrien County, GA.

The Otranto was lost after a collision with HMS Kashmir, another liner turned troopship. In poor visibility in the rough seas between the Northeast coast of Ireland and the Western Isles of Scotland, Otranto was rammed by the Kashmir after a steering malfunction. She was holed on the port side forward and, in the heavy swell, began to list. Many men were rescued by the heroic effort of the destroyer Mounsey before the stricken ship hit rocks and became grounded. With the heavy seas pounding her continually against the rocks the ship eventually broke up and sank off the coast of the island of Isley.

News of the disaster was slow in coming to the states. The following story appeared in the New York Sun one week after the sinking. (transcript provided below)

THE NEW YORK SUN,
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 13, 1918.
364 MEN CHURNED TO DEATH IN SEA

Otranto Splits in Half on Rocks and Soldiers Die in Wreckage.

HELPLESS CROWDS WATCH

Terrific Storm Prevents Any Attempt at Rescue on Steep Coast.

An Irish Port, Oct. 12. – American soldiers to the number of 364 or 366 perished when the British armed mercantile cruiser Otranto and the transport Kashmir crashed in the North Channel, between Scotland and Ireland, last Sunday.
Three hundred American soldiers and thirty French sailors and 266 members of the crew of the Otranto have been landed at a port in Northern Ireland. Sixteen other survivors have been picked up at Islay. More than 300 bodies had been recovered this morning and many of them have been buried.
The Otranto is a total wreck on the island of Islay. The Kashmir landed its troops at a Scottish port without loss of life.
The troopships came in collision while a heavy storm was raging and the Otranto with a gaping hole in her side drifted helplessly toward the rocky coast.

“Swim for it” shouted Captain.

A number of the troops on board were from the interior of the United States and were without experience at sea. They had preferred to remain on the bigger ship rather than risk jumping to the small destroyer Mounsey and they seemed to be cheered by the sight of land.
The hopes of the men that they would able to make a safe landing-, however, were dispelled by the Otranto’s captain when he shouted from the bridge:
“Well, boys, we will have to swim for It!”
About that time the troopship slid with hardly a jar on to a shelving; rock, which, as a wave receded, bit its teeth into the chip’s timber and held her in a viselike grip. After that the tragedy moved quickly to its climax.
The fury of the storm seemed vented on the pinioned and helpless vessel and in league with the vicious sea which began to rend and tear the ship to pieces. The steel deck house was wrenched bodily from its fastenings by the enormous waves and was hurled into the breakers, sweeping many men away with it.

On Rocks Mile From Shore.

The ship had struck about a mile from shore and on the cliffs, stood groups of Islanders eager to send aid, but which it was impossible even to attempt. Owing to the terrible wind there was no chance of getting a line to the ship, which was now fast breaking up.
Scores of men began to Jump and many immediately were seized by the waves and hurled against the sides of the ship. About noon the Otranto was lifted, on the crest of a high comber and dashed back to the rock so violently that the vessel broke squarely in two. The mast flipped short, killing men as it fell.
One section of the hulk turned side wise, emptying all hands still clinging to the deck into the boiling surf. The other section proved a plaything of the waves and speedily was ground to pieces on the rocks.
The ship’s remaining company were now struggling In the water. The slim chance they might have had of getting ashore, was virtually dissipated by the wreckage from the whip, through which the best swimmers were unable to win their way.
The experience related by William Richards typifies that of the others but perhaps is a bit more sensational. He said:
“The fellows were fine. We knew that when the ship went fast on the rocks so far out we would not have much chance to save our skins. But we all seemed determined to make a good try.

Captain Hurled Into Sea.

‘A wave washed me off and I managed to get clear of the ship. The first man I recognized In the water was the captain, who was thrown overboard when the mast broke away. He was standing straight up, treading water and looking about for something to grasp
“There were three men on a mattress riding in to shore as though they were enjoying life, but while I watched them and wishing I were on it too a big roller swept them all off and banged them against the rocks.
“I saw five or six others hanging on a bench. Some managed to climb on the tin rafts lowered from the ship, but every raft I saw was smashed to pieces against the vessel or on the rocks.
The noise of the wreckage grinding on the rocks was fierce, and any fellow who got into the wreckage was as good as gone. There were dozens of the boys floating around me, all dead, with nothing but their blue faces out of the water.
“A big roller carried me into a kind of a cleft in the rocks and I was thrown upon the side. I must have passed out. When I came to I saw two British soldiers on the other side of the ravine. They threw me a rope, which I made fast and crossed hand over hand.”
Joseph Pollock said he believed many more of the soldiers would have been saved but for the steep banks of the cliffs.” In one little cove twenty-eight bodies were counted.

Related Posts:

Hero of Otranto Rescue Shot Dead

This blog has noted many stories of the sinking of the HMS Otranto, and the Berrien County men who lost their lives in the disaster of October 6, 1918. While many were lost, hundreds were saved.

Lieutenant Francis Worthington Craven, Commander of the HMS Mounsey

Lieutenant Francis Worthington Craven , while in command of  the HMS Mounsey, rescued hundreds of men from the sinking of the troopship HMS Otranto.

Lieutenant Francis Worthington Craven. While in command of the HMS Mounsey, Lieutenant Craven led the rescue of  hundreds of men from the sinking of the troopship HMS Otranto.

The Otranto after the collision was dashed to pieces on the rocks off the south Scottish coast with a probable loss of 372 American soldiers.
    Three hundred and one men were taken to Belfast by the British destroyer Mounsey, the only vessel which made an attempt at rescue in the terrific gale when the Kashmir, another vessel in the convoy with the Otranto, rammed the Otranto amidships.
Thirty minutes after the crash the British destroyer Mounsey, herself damaged by the heavy seas, appeared out of the haze in answer to the distress calls from the Otranto. When the destroyer maneuvered to get alongside Captain Davidson, of the Otranto, warned Lieutenant 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 and try to save themselves as best they could.
    The destroyer stood off about 100 feet and the gradually came nearer, against the great odds of high waves and the wind, which threatened momentarily to carry her entirely away from the Otranto or dash her to pieces against the side of the wounded vessel.

The Mounsey, under command of Lieutenant Craven, was the means of saving 696 people from H.M.S. Otranto. The sea was very rough at the time, and the Mounsey could not lie alongside the Otranto. She had to steam slowly past while the crew of the latter jumped to her deck, which maneuver she repeated several times. The bumping to which the destroyer was exposed during this operation can be easily imagined…

The following is from http://www.cairogang.com/adric-killed/craven/craven.html

DSO gazetted to Lieut. Francis Worthington Craven, R.N. In recognition of his services when H.M.S. ” Otranto ” was wrecked on the 6th October, 1918. H.M.S. ” Otranto” Was damaged in collision with the s.s. ” Kashmir ” whilst carrying a large number of American troops. Lieutenant Craven displayed magnificent courage and seamanship in placing H.M.S. ” Mounsey ” alongside H.M.S..” Otranto ” in spite of the fact that the conditions of wind, weather and sea were exceptionally severe. After going alongside and embarking a certain number of men, it was reported that the ” Mounsey” had sustained considerable damage, and that there was a large quantity of water in the engine room. Lieutenant Craven, therefore, left the ” Otranto,” but on finding the damage was not so serious as had been reported, he again went alongside, though he had previously experienced great difficulty in getting away. His action resulted in the saving of over 600 lives which would otherwise have certainly been lost. His performance was a remarkable one, and in personal courage, coolness and seamanship ranks in the very highest order.

An account by an American Edward O’Hara reads:

The Otranto made for the Irish coast off Belfast, while the Kashmir put on all steam and continued toward Glasgow. The Captain of the Otranto attempted to beach her, but instead hit one of the rocky precipices that skirt the shores of northern Ireland, and the ship was pounding herself to pieces when the two English destroyers came to her aid. Lieutenant Francis Worthington Craven, commanding the destroyer Mounsey, made a frantic attempt at rescue, but the other destroyer’s captain, evidently believing discretion the better part of valor, refrained from standing by. Otranto’s captain, knowing his ship was doomed, besought Lieutenant Craven not to come over, declaring it meant certain suicide for himself and his crew “Well, it must be suicide then,” was his reply, ” for we ae coming over” Then followed most awful and heartrending scenes. Pinched between sinking Otranto and rocky shores Lieutenant Craven’s ship was torn and wrenched while men flung themselves from the deck of the Otranto to that of the destroyer. Miscalculating, in their frenzy, many fell into the sea, others were crushed to death between tossing ships, while others in jumping to the Otranto’s deck sustained broken legs, arms or ribs or were otherwise injured. Three trips were made by the heroic Craven, landing alternately his injured, dying or dead cargo at Isley near Glasgow or at a point opposite Belfast, Ireland. Each time Otranto’s captain protested it was down-right madness, only to receive from Lieutenant Craven, who himself was badly hurt, the same cool, firm and unvarying reply that so long as his own boat could be kept afloat or the Otranto remained above water, he would keep coming. Just as he was leaving the Belfast pier for a fourth trip. Lieutenant Craven saw the Otranto make one frightful plunge and sink into the sea. And the mighty breakers rolled on in all their anger over the spot where the ill-starred Otranto had madly tossed and struggled a few moments before. It was providential that Lieutenant Craven had proceeded no further in his fourth errand of mercy, as in making for Belfast with all possible speed he was barely able to reach there. Experts declared that had he continued on into open ocean waters, his vessel could never have lived, so badly was she damaged. While Lieutenant Craven’s ship went into dry dock for repair at Belfast, he entered a hospital where his injuries received attention and where, six weeks later, we found him, with many others whom he had rescued, and learned from his own lips this story.

1918 Jul 9. The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Army Distinguished Service Medal to Lieutenant Francis W. Craven, British Royal Navy, for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished service in a position of great responsibility to the Government of the United States, during World War I. While Commanding His Majesty’s destroyer MOUNSEY, Lieutenant Craven rescued 7 officers and 313 men of the American forces at sea on 16 October 1918.

1919 Feb 18 . Hansard records that Viscount Curzon tabled a question in the House of Lords, asking the First Lord of the Admiralty to “indicate what steps have been taken to recognise the bravery and seamanship of the officer in command of His Majesty’s ship “Mounsey”on the occasion of the sinking of His Majesty’s transport “Otranto” in a full gale off the Irish coast, which resulted in the saving of 600 lives, and also the services of the officers and men of His Majesty’s ship “Mounsey” on the same occasion?”. The response was that “My Noble Friend will be glad to know that the King has been pleased to approve of the appointment of Lieutenant Francis W. Craven to be a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order, and that he has received a letter expressing the high appreciation of the Admiralty. He has also been directed to submit the names of any officers and men considered deserving of awards.

After the war, Craven suffered financial difficulties.  Facing bankruptcy, he resigned from the Royal Navy in 1920.  He joined the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary as a District Inspector, but just six weeks later he was killed in an Irish Republican Army ambush.

The New York Evening World
Friday, February 4, 1921

    “District Inspector Francis Worthington Craven was one of those killed in the ambuscade Wednesday at Ballinalee. He served in the navy during the war and received the American Distinguished Service Order.
    While commanding the British destroyer Mounsey he saved 600 American soldiers from the American transport Otranto, when that vessel was lost as a result of the collision with the steamer Kashmir off the Scottish Coast in October 1918.
    Inspector Craven retired from the navy with the rank of Lieut. Commander and only joined the Royal Irish Constabulary a few weeks ago.

Craven was killed on February 3, 1921 at Clonfin Ambush at Ballinalee, Granard, Longford. Francis Craven was initially wounded in the leg,and while he was bandaging it, another bullet struck him in the neck.

He was buried at Dalton-in-Furness St Mary. Lancs.

The Irish Independent
February 7, 1921

The funeral took place at Dalton, Furness, on Saturday of Lieut. Commander F. W. Craven, killed at Ballinalee. The body was brought to Dalton on Saturday morning from Dublin in charge of 2 survivors of the ambush.  The coffin was escorted from the station to the church by representatives of the R.A.F., a chief petty officer and blue jackets of the submarine service and local discharged sailors and soldiers.  An impressive service took place in the church which was crowded, and the streets were lined with people.  The bodies of Cadets Bushe and Houghton were also removed to England on the same boat. The wounded men are progressing favorably in Stevens’ Hospital

Alvin Claude Bozeman and the Sinking of the HMS Otranto

This blog has featured many stories of Berrien County soldiers who died in the 1918 sinking of the HMS Otranto . By special request, a soldier from Ware County:

Alvin Claude Bozeman, 1918, died in the sinking of the Otranto.

Alvin Claude Bozeman, 1918, died in the sinking of the Otranto.

Private Alvin Claude Bozeman

Waycross, Ga.

Private Bozeman entered the service July 15th, 1918.  Was attached to First Company, Coast Artillery Corps, Fort Screven, Georgia.  Embarked over-seas the latter part of September, 1918.  Was drowned when the ill-fated transport “Otranto” was sunk in a collision off the Scottish Coast, October 6th, 1918.

OTRANTO SUNK IN COLLISION

Oct 12, 1918 ~ 372 U.S. Soldiers Lost in Sinking of Otranto

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

Burial of the Otranto Victims

Bivouac of the Dead

The Long Trip Home

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