The American Monument at the Mull of Oa

On October 12, 1918, American newspapers revealed the terrible loss of lives in the sinking of the H. M. S. Otranto just weeks before the end of WWI. Berrien County, GA paid a terrible toll.  Twenty-three of her young men perished in the sinking.

The Otranto sank October 6, 1918 off the coast of Islay, Scotland after collision with HMS Kashmir, another troopship traveling in the same convoy.  Eight months earlier, on February 5, 1918, Tuscania was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat 77 off the coast of Islay .

In December 1918, the American Red Cross began the erection of a 60-foot stone monument on the the rocky promontory called Mull of Oa, Isle of Islay, Scotland in memory of the Americans who lost their lives on the Tuscania and Otranto. The Oa is the most southern part of the Isle of Islay. The memorial faced the scenes of both disasters and was projected to cost between $60,000 and $70,000. It also looked down upon seven graveyards in which the victims from the two ships were buried.

Architectural rendering of the proposed Mull of Oa, by architect Robert Walker, of Glasgow

1918 Architectural rendering of the proposed Mull of Oa, by architect Robert Walker, of Glasgow

The architect, Robert James Walker, proposed that the monument bear the inscription “Pro Libertate” – For Freedom.

The monument is over 20m tall. It is visible on the headland of the Mull of Oa from miles away across Loch Indaal. It is a stone built tower that is supposed to represent a lighthouse. It has a curved or conical top and there are two rows of small inset squares near the top, presumably as a representation of lights. There are several stone steps that lead to the brass inscription plaque mounted at the base of the tower, on the side away from the cliffs. There is no door or way into the tower. The plaque is almost the height and shape of a door. The plaque is over 2m tall and above the plaque is a bronze American eagle clutching a wreath in both talons. The wreath partly overlaps the main memorial inscription. Two thirds of the way up the tower, above the plaque, is a round flat blonde stone with 1918 inscribed upon it. The tower is situated close to high cliffs on the Mull of Oa which is on the South East aspect of the island of Islay. There is a well marked path through muddy fields to it from a carpark at Upper Killeyan Farm. It is just over 1 km from the carpark to the monument.

Inscription
Upper Plaque on the American Monument at the Mull of Oa, Islay, Scotland

Upper Plaque on the American Monument at the Mull of Oa, Islay, Scotland

Upper Plaque:  SACRED TO THE IMMORTAL MEMORY OF THOSE AMERICAN SOLDIERS AND SAILORS WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES FOR THEIR COUNTRY IN THE WRECKS OF THE TRANSPORTS TUSCANIA AND OTRANTO FEBRUARY 5TH, 1918 OCTOBER 6TH, 1918. THE MEMORIAL WAS ERECTED BY THE AMERICAN NATIONAL RED CROSS NEAR THE SPOT WHERE SO MANY OF THE DISASTER SLEEP IN EVERLASTING PEACE

“On Fames Eternal Camping Ground,
Their silent tents are spread,
While glory keeps with solemn round,
The bivouac of the dead.

Memorial plaque from Woodrow Wilson placed at the American Monument on the Mull of Oa, Islay, Scotland

Memorial plaque from Woodrow Wilson placed at the American Monument on the Mull of Oa, Islay, Scotland

Lower Plaque: A TRIBUTE FROM WOODROW WILSON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, TO THE MEMORY OF HIS FELLOW CITIZENS WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES FOR THEIR COUNTRY IN NEARBY WATERS, 1918

ROLL CALL OF THE OTRANTO DEAD FROM BERRIEN COUNTY, GEORGIA

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An Otranto Funeral in Belfast

An Otranto Funeral in Belfast

Perhaps no county paid a greater toll in WWI than Berrien County, Georgia. Twenty-three of her young men perished in the sinking of the H.M. S. Otranto just weeks before the war ended.

When survivors of the Otranto 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 GA, connections, and James Grady Wright of Adel, GA, Henry Elmo DeLaney of Nashville, GA and Ange Wetherington  were among nearly 450 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.

A hundred and fifty of the survivors  had been badly injured in the jump, the injuries ranging from split skulls to broken ribs, broken legs and the like.  On the decks of the dangerously overloaded Mounsey, the men clung for their lives to whatever handholds they could grab.  Many suffered from exposure on the trip to Belfast, some perished. Others contracted pneumonia and died after reaching Belfast.

Most of the hundreds of soldiers who were left behind on the Otranto perished in the sea. A scant 17 managed to survive the swim to the rocky coast of Islay, Scotland, among them Early Stewart of Berrien County, GA. For the hundreds of dead who washed ashore, two funerals were held on Islay.

A Third funeral for American soldiers from the Otranto occurred at Belfast, Ireland on October 11, 1918. Seventeen of the men of the Otranto were interred in the city cemetery in Belfast, victims of the Otranto Disaster and men who had died from Pneumonia after reaching Belfast.   Belfast stopped in respect as the funeral procession passed from the Victoria barracks, through Royal Ave, to the City Cemetery. Everywhere the streets were crowded with people who gathered to pay tribute to the honored dead. The flag-draped coffins were carried on open hearses, two on each conveyance, with a guard of honor composed of British soldiers marching alongside.  There were many floral wreaths, sent by the American Red Cross, the Belfast Care Committee, and other Belfast civic organizations. The band of mourners who marched behind the coffins included the Lord Mayor of Belfast, the American Consul, and representatives of the American and British army and navy,  the Red Cross, and various local civic organizations.

An American military funeral in Belfast, Ireland. On Oct. 11, a public funeral was held in Belfast for twelve American soldiers, victims of the Otranto disaster, and men who died from pneumonia after being landed in Ireland from a troopship. The march through the city, from the Victoria barracks to the City Cemetary. Everywhere the streets were crowded with people who had gathered to pay tribute to the honored dead. The coffins were carried on open hearses, two on each conveyance, with a guard of honor composed of British soldiers, marching beside the coffins, each of which was covered with an American flag http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10185a

An American military funeral in Belfast, Ireland. On Oct. 11, twelve American soldier victims of the Otranto Disaster and men who had died from Pneumonia after being landed from a troopship were buried in the City Cemetery. The photograph shows the funeral procession passing through Royal Ave. The wreaths shown in the picture were chiefly gifts of the Belfast Care Committee of the American Red Cross http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10185a

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An American military funeral in Belfast, Ireland. On Oct. 11, a public funeral was held in Belfast for twelve American soldiers, victims of the Otranto disaster, and men who died from pneumonia after being landed in Ireland from a troopship. The march through the city, from the Victoria barracks to the City Cemetary. Everywhere the streets were crowded with people who had gathered to pay tribute to the honored dead. The coffins were carried on open hearses, two on each conveyance, with a guard of honor composed of British soldiers, marching beside the coffins, each of which was covered with an American flag http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10184a

An American military funeral in Belfast, Ireland. On Oct. 11, a public funeral was held in Belfast for twelve American soldiers, victims of the Otranto disaster, and men who died from pneumonia after being landed in Ireland. The march through the city, from the Victoria barracks to the City Cemetery. Everywhere the streets were crowded with people who had gathered to pay tribute to the honored dead. The coffins were carried on open hearses, two on each conveyance, with a guard of honor composed of British soldiers, marching beside the coffins, each of which was covered with an American flag
http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10184a

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British soldiers escorting American flag draped coffins http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.01511a

British soldiers escorting American flag draped coffins
http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.01511a

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An American military funeral in Belfast, Ireland. On Oct. 11, twelve American soldiers, victims of the Otranto and also several pneumonia cases, were buried in the City Cemetery. The band of mourners who marched behind the coffins included representatives of the American and British army and navy, of the Red Cross, and various local civic organizations. There was also the Lord Mayor, the American Consul and others<br /> http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10186a

An American military funeral in Belfast, Ireland. On Oct. 11, twelve American soldiers, victims of the Otranto and also several pneumonia cases, were buried in the City Cemetery. The band of mourners who marched behind the coffins included representatives of the American and British army and navy, of the Red Cross, and various local civic organizations. There was also the Lord Mayor, the American Consul and others
http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10186a

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An American military funeral in Belfast, Ireland. On Oct. 11, twelve American soldiers, victims of the Otranto and also several pneumonia cases, were buried in the City Cemetery. British soldiers formed the guard of honor for the coffins, as they were carried through the principal streets of Belfast. The photograph shows the procession entering the gates of the cemetery http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10187a

An American military funeral in Belfast, Ireland. On Oct. 11, twelve American soldiers, victims of the Otranto and also several pneumonia cases, were buried in the City Cemetery. British soldiers formed the guard of honor for the coffins, as they were carried through the principal streets of Belfast. The photograph shows the procession entering the gates of the cemetery
http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10187a

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<br /> An American military funeral at Belfast, Ireland. Reading the funeral service for twelve American soldiers in the City Cemetery. The officiating clergymen were the Rev. William Maguire and the Rev. Father O'Kelly, CC. Eight of the soldiers belonged to the Roman Catholic Church, three to the Methodist church, one to the Baptist. American and British army officers and American Red Cross officers were the official chief mourners<br /> http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10188a


An American military funeral at Belfast, Ireland. Reading the funeral service for twelve American soldiers in the City Cemetery. The officiating clergymen were the Rev. William Maguire and the Rev. Father O’Kelly, CC. Eight of the soldiers belonged to the Roman Catholic Church, three to the Methodist church, one to the Baptist. American and British army officers and American Red Cross officers were the official chief mourners
http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10188a

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An American military funeral at Belfast, Ireland. Burying a Coffin. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.01512

An American military funeral at Belfast, Ireland. Burying a Coffin. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.01512

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An American military funeral at Belfast, Ireland. The buglers sound the last salute to the dead. The graves are those of twelve American soldiers, part of them victims of the Otranto disaster, the remainder, men who died of pneumonia, in Belfast hospitals, after being landed from a troop ship http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10189a

An American military funeral at Belfast, Ireland. The buglers sound the last salute to the dead. The graves are those of American soldiers from the sinking troopship HMS Otranto who died of injuries received in the rescue, or of pneumonia in Belfast hospitals, after being landed.
http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10189a

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An American military funeral at Belfast, Ireland. Firing squad from the British army (Northumberland Fusiliers) fires the last salute at the graveside. The funeral was of twenty American soldiers on Oct. 11. Part of the men were victims of the Otranto disaster, others were men who died of pneumonia in Belfast hospitals shortly after arriving in Europe http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10190a

An American military funeral at Belfast, Ireland. Firing squad from the British army (Northumberland Fusiliers) fires the last salute at the graveside. The funeral was of twenty American soldiers on Oct. 11. Part of the men were victims of the Otranto disaster, others were men who died of pneumonia in Belfast hospitals shortly after arriving in Europe http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10190a

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A Third funeral for American soldiers from the Otranto occurred at Belfast, Ireland. The men interred in the city cemetery in Belfast, there were many floral wreaths, sent by the Red Cross and by Belfast civic organizations. On this occasion, one of the finest was inscribed “A token of esteem and sympathy from their comrades of the British army” http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10121a

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Graves in Belfast, Ireland, of American soldiers who died of Pneumonia after being rescued from the ill-fated troopship Otranto. Seventeen of the men of the Otranto are buried in this plot in the City Cemetery, Belfast. The officers are shown in front of the graves are Lieut. Horace O'Higgins of New York and Lieut. R.E. Condon of Kansas City, two of the most indefatigable workers in the task of relief and recovery after the disaster<br /> http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10120a

Graves in Belfast, Ireland, of American soldiers who died of Pneumonia after being rescued from the ill-fated troopship Otranto. Seventeen of the men of the Otranto are buried in this plot in the City Cemetery, Belfast. The officers are shown in front of the graves are Lieut. Horace O’Higgins of New York and Lieut. R.E. Condon of Kansas City, two of the most indefatigable workers in the task of relief and recovery after the disaster
http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10120a

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City Cemetery, Belfast, Ireland; American soldiers graves http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.01521a

City Cemetery, Belfast, Ireland; American soldiers graves
http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.01521a

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General Biddle thanks Belfast for honors paid to victims of the Otranto Disaster

General Biddle thanks Belfast for honors paid to victims of the Otranto Disaster

New York Times
October 29, 1918

BIDDLE THANKS BELFAST.

General Acknowledges the Funeral Honors to Otranto Victims.

Special Cable to the New York Times.

Belfast, Oct. 28 – Major Gen Biddle, writing to the Secretary of the Belfast Chamber of Trade, has expressed deep appreciation for the many kindly acts shown by Belfast citizens to American survivors of the Otranto. The letter says:

“Reports reaching us of the splendid funeral honors accorded to our dead soldiers in Belfast indicate that your authorities and citizens have been more than kind. Thanks also are due to those Belfst ladies and others who sent floral tributes and in other ways showed such a generous and sympathetic spirit.”

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Otranto Survivor Describes Disaster

Otranto Survivor Describes Disaster

When the troopship Otranto went down on October 6, 1918 near the end of World War I,  Ray City and Berrien County, GA paid a heavy toll.  Ralph Knight and Shellie Webb, of Ray City, GA were among the Berrien County men who were drowned.

Before she broke up on the rocks many men were taken off the sinking Otranto  in a daring rescue by the H.M.S. Mounsey, Lt. Francis Craven commanding.  James Marvin DeLoach,  with many Ray City connections, James Grady Wright of Adel, GA, Henry Elmo DeLaney of Nashville, GA and Ange Wetherington  were among nearly 600 men who attempted the leap from the rails of the Otranto to the deck of the rescue ship.

Survivors were ferried by the Mounsey 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.

In the U.S., the first news of the Otranto Disaster broke in the New York Times,  in page after page of reporting.  For weeks official news of the disaster trickled in, until finally in early 1919, returning Otranto survivors were able to tell their own stories.

Charles Vogt, a soldier from Allentown, PA  had boarded the steamship Otranto at the Port of Embarkation at Hoboken, NJ with the Berrien County men and other replacement recruits from Fort Screven, Georgia.  The Embarkation Service reported the steamship Otranto had sailed for England from New York, NY on September 25, 1918 at 12:40 PM with 699 military passengers. The Otranto joined Convoy HX50 transporting troops across the Atlantic to the war in Europe. But on the trip over, the HMS Kashmir collided with the Otranto, resulting in the sinking of the latter.  Charles Vogt’s harrowing story was published February 3, 1919 in the Allentown Morning Call:

Allentown Morning Call
February 3, 1919

Allentown Soldier Home After Having Seen Hard Service. Was on the Otranto.

      Now that the boys of the 57th Field Artillery are home little by little some of the experiences they have gone thru are coming to earth. Charles Vogt, son of C. C. Vogt, the jeweler, who returned with the other Allentown boys who were members of the 57th F. A. told a Morning Call reporter of the story of his trip across on the ill-fated Otranto.
      He did not leave this country with the members of the 57th Field Artillery but left this country late in September of 1917 with replacement troops from Fort Screven. On the trip across there were two troop ships, the Otranto and the Casmir [HMS Kashmir], and the convoy [HX50]. The trip across had been without incident of notice until within twelve miles of the coast of Ireland, when they were caught in the worst storm in nineteen years.
     The Casmir which was to the left of the Otranto suddenly turned about at 8:40 a. m. in the heavy sea and bore down upon the Otranto. It was lifted to the crest of a huge roller and then descended on the Otranto, catching it aft of midships on the port side and ripping the Otranto from the B-deck to below the water line, cutting a hole in the Otranto below the water line thru which a large sized touring car could be driven without trouble. The water poured into the Otranto and silenced its engines. At the same time the convoy seemed to have been swallowed in the storm and nothing was heard of it until after the storm had calmed.
      The calmness with which the Americans took things was remarkable. None of the men on board was seized with fear but calmly stood by and waited for orders. Few of the soldiers realized the serious position they were in. All imagined that a large number of boats would set out from shore and come to the rescue immediately.
      Sixteen coast destroyers set out from shore to help the damaged ship. But owing to the heavy sea only one of them was able to get within reach where she could lend assistance. That was the H.M.S.G.I.A. Mouncy [ HMS Mounsey G1A] in command of Lt. Commander Craven. Thru the semaphore system the condition of the Otranto was made known to the commander of the destroyer. He ordered that the lifeboats on the starboard side of the Otranto be lowered so that they might act as fenders and he would draw close to the Otranto. The Otranto’s commander replied that such a course would be foolhardy. The destroyer’s commander said that it was the only chance. And they took it.
The boats were lowered, strung out along the starboard side of the Otranto. The destroyer neared to a distance of one hundred feet and then caught by the tide was thrown hard against the Otranto’s side crashing the life boats. With the striking of the side of the boats the sailors of the Otranto set the example for the soldiers aboard by leaping to the deck of the destroyer. This leap was made from heights ranging from twenty to fifty feet. Many of the men missed the deck of the destroyer and went into the sea.
        The shock lasted but a short space of time when the destroyer was caught by the tide and drawn away from the Otranto’s side. The Otranto was going down rapidly and was in the trough of the waves. This was at 10:30 a. m. It was again caught by the tide and sent against the side of the Otranto and more men leaped, among them Vogt. This bumping against the side of the Otranto happened four times during which six hundred of the eleven hundred aboard the Otranto made the leap of which one hundred and fifty were killed in the leap and one hundred and fifty badly injured, the injuries ranging from split skulls to broken ribs, broken legs and the like.
        During the excitement of the leaping for life Vogt saw many horrifying sight. One man who had missed the deck of the destroyer was holding on to a rope ladder on the side of the Otranto when the destroyer crashed against the side of the boat and crushed him as a fly is crushed by a finger. Another who was holding to the rail of the destroyer had his head caught in a wire and when the destroyer was washed from the side of the Otranto his head was torn from his shoulders. Shortly before his leap, Vogt saw John Geiger, of this city [Allentown, PA], who was lost in the sea. Geiger was formerly employed by the Lehigh Portland Cement Company in its office.
         At eleven a. m. the destroyer was not in condition to stand another trip to the side of the Otranto and pulled away. The men who boarded here from the Otranto were sent below to prevent the destroyer from capsizing. The funnels filled with water and the boat many times rode at an angle of forty-five degrees. The men in the hold sat for ten hours in water three feet deep and when the ship would lunge would almost be submerged. One man was dragged for three hours in the sea hanging to a rope from the destroyer. Many who were afraid of going below lashed themselves to the deck of the destroyer and suffered from exposure, some dying from it. While the destroyer was within sight of the Otranto the latter was washed upon a reef and split in two, the five hundred who had remained aboard being cast into the sea.
        Of the five hundred who remained aboard the Otranto only seventeen reached shore alive and only sixteen survived. One of the men surviving was Sgt. MacDonald who had been chased from deck to deck as the boat gradually listed and who with three others got hold of a piece of wreckage and started on their journey. During the trip the three companions were washed away and he continued alone. He was washed into a cleft in the rocks after four hours of drifting but was carried out again by the tide. He then evidently lost consciousness for when he opened his eyes he was on the top of the rocks looking into the faces of a group of Irish peasants.
         The destroyer docked at Belfast, Ireland at 8:55 p. m. Before the men were allowed to leave the boat the boat was lifted out of the water. So bad was her condition that ten miles more of sea would have finished her. The people of Belfast were well prepared to meet the issue. The men who were a sorry shoeless lot, were put into every kind of vehicle that could be pressed into service and taken to the Victoria barracks. Many of the men were forced to walk the five miles to the barracks as the supply of taxis and the like was inadequate.
        The men were here divided into two sections some sleeping in the chapel, others in the gym. The American Red Cross supplied the men with clean underwear and socks and bedding while the British troops saw that they had plenty to eat, sacrificing bread and eating hard tack in order that the Americans might be fed. The society folk and the Lord Mayor of the city gave them everything and anything that was necessary that was in the city.
        During the night, the storm continued without showing signs of abating. The men were nervous wrecks. The least sound or noise such as the breaking of the limbs of a tree near the barracks would cause them to jump from their beds shouting while many of the men repeated in nightmare the incidents which meant the saving of their lives.
       The commander of the destroyer which managed to make one of the most memorable rescues in the history of the world was loudly praised and cited by the British government for bravery as was his crew. Owing to the fact that it was not done in the face of enemy fire he was not awarded the much coveted cross. After the boat had set off from the Otranto he had to be carried below where for thirty-five minutes his men worked on him to bring him back to his senses, so hard had been the nervous strain during action.
        Howard Strohm, Vogt and Geiger were the only Lehigh county boys aboard. Strohm, hails from Emaus. He and Vogt were saved while Geiger was lost and buried with the first two hundred who were found dead among the wreckage of the ship.

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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.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦«◊»♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

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.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦«◊»♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

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.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦«◊»♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

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.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦«◊»♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

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

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