Nashville, GA Electric and Water Plants Built in 1907

In the south end of Berrien County it wasn’t until 1923 that Ray City  got electric lights and running water, although some residents installed their own carbide electric systems before that.

Here’s an old newspaper clipping about the power and water plants built in Nashville, GA in 1907. The contractor for the construction of the plant was W.P. Tittle.  Tittle later owned a Maxwell car dealership in Nashville.

Nashville Herald article on town's first power and water

Nashville Herald article on town’s first power and water.

Nashville Herald
February 16, 1956

Electric and Water Plants Built in 1907

      Nashville citizens reached the decision in 1907 that something should be done about improving the water supply and furnishing electric lights for the town.
      After employing engineers to draft plans for a combined water and light plant a contract was let to W. P. Tittle, who built the plant and installed the water mains and electric distributing system.
      After much grief in attempting to operate the light plant a deal was finally completed in 1928 when the Southeast Georgia Power Co., purchased the electric light plant for $50,000. The Southeast Georgia Power Co., in turn sold the plant to the Georgia Power Co., who operate the electric distribution for Nashville today.
       The water plant, which the city retained, has been improved from time to time and additions made until today it is one of the most complete in the state. The water department of the City of Nashville is today serving 1,065 customers through the water meters, quite an increase from the less that 100 customers who began using city water when the plant was first installed.

Additional Notes:

Southeast Georgia Power Co., located at Douglas, GA, served several communities in south Georgia with electricity…

The Georgia Power Company on January 28, 1930, purchased from the Southeast Georgia Power Company the complete electric distribution systems in the towns of Alma, Nichols, Nashville, Willacoochee and Broxton, together with the respective franchises under which these distribution systems were operated. It also acquired certain transmission lines in Baker, Coffee, Atkinson and Berrien counties, between Alma and Douglas, Douglas and Broxton, Broxton and Ambrose, Douglas and Willacoochee, and Willacoochee and Nashville.

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Berrien’s Black Doughboys: Camp Gordon Men

Camp Gordon Men from Berrien County, GA

During WWI, Berrien County sent its contingent of black soldiers to join the United States Army. While the Jim Crow Army would relegate many black soldiers to support roles, a few Berrien County men would fight in all-black combat units like the 370th Infantry “Black Devils” and the 367th Infantry “Buffalo Infantry.

Nationwide, more than 2.2 million black men were registered over the course of four draft registration calls, of which nearly 370,000 were drafted for induction into the Army. The draft was a lottery in which numbers written on pieces of paper (in red ink) were pulled from a bowl by the U.S. Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker. Every number represented one registrant from each local board who would be called in for examination and if accepted, would be inducted into service.

In March of 1918, 86 black men in Berrien County received their orders of induction.  The orders instructed the men to report to the local draft board in Nashville, GA on April 2, 1918 for examination.

WWI Order of Induction P. M. G. O. Form 1028

WWI Order of Induction P. M. G. O. Form 1028

Along with the Order of Induction the men received written instructions on what to wear and what to pack. They were informed of the consequences of failing to report – a court-martial and possibly the death penalty.  Dire warnings notwithstanding, some twenty of the Berrien County men failed to report on April 2, 1918 as ordered.  According to WWI Historian Jennifer D. Keene, illiteracy prevented some men from complying with written induction orders.  “In many rural southern regions, the control that white landowners maintained over their black workforce influenced the workings of local draft boards. Some land owners withheld draft notices that arrived in the mail or refused to read them to their workers. When these workers failed to report, the government listed them as deserters. White planters subsequently gained both the advantage of their continued labor and the chance to collect a $50 reward from the government whenever they felt inclined to turn in these so-called deserters.”   A scandal over the reward for capture of deserters led to the dismissal of one Berrien County draft board member.

Form 1028A Instructions to Selected Men

Form 1028A Instructions to Selected Men

Important Notice to all Men Selected for Military Service and Ordered to
Report to a Local Board for Military Duty.

The day and hour specified on the Classification List of this Local Board, and on the order and notice of induction into military service which accompanies this notice for you to report to this Local Board for military duty, is the time that marks your actual obligation as a soldier of the United States.

Failure to report promptly at the hour and on the day named is a grave military offense, for which you may be court-martialed. Willful failure to report, with an intent to evade military service, constitutes desertion from the Army “of the United States, which in time of war is a capital offense.

Upon reporting to your Local Board, you will not need, and you should not bring with you, anything except hand baggage. You will not be permitted to take trunks or boxes with you on the train. You should take only the following articles: A pair of strong, comfortable shoes to relieve your feet from your new regulation marching shoes; not to exceed four extra suits of underclothing; not to exceed six extra pairs of socks; four face and two bath towels; a comb, a brush, a toothbrush, soap, tooth powder, razor, and shaving soap. It will add to your comfort to bring one woolen blanket, preferably of dark or neutral color. This blanket should be tightly rolled, the ends of the roll should be securely bound together, and the loop of the blanket thus formed slung from your left shoulder to your right hip.

You should wear rough, strong clothing and a flannel shirt, preferably an olive-drab shirt of the kind issued to soldiers.

Note.—Local Boards may have prepared, in the form of a rubber stamp, and stamp in below or on the back hereof any special instructions, such as a direction to request permission to eat and spend the last night at home, as it may desire to give.

On April 2, 1918 sixty-six African-American men from Berrien County, GA  reported to the draft board as ordered.  After passing examination, it appears the men were given permission to spend their last night at home.  On April 3, at Nashville, GA they boarded the Georgia & Florida train bound for Camp Gordon, near Atlanta.  The local draft board at Nashville, GA used Form 1029 PMGO, issued  by the Provost Marshall General’s Office, to document the entrainment of newly enlisted soldiers (images below). The forms include the draftee’s name, serial number, order number, date ordered to report, draft board, name of the mobilization camp, and the draftee’s occupation.

Statements from the Local Draft Board, Nashville, Berrien County, GA document African-American soldiers selected for the draft and entrained on April 3, 1918.

1918-4-2-berrien county-ga-wwi-inductions-1

1918-4-2-berrien county-ga-wwi-inductions-2

1918-4-2-berrien county-ga-wwi-inductions-3

1918-4-2-berrien county-ga-wwi-inductions-4

  1. Homer Lee Fordham, Alapaha, GA
  2. Dock Moore, Milltown, GA
  3. Wesley Myers, Bannockburn, GA
  4. John W. Faison, Ray City, GA
  5. Alexander Werkerson, Alapaha, GA
  6. Titus Griffin, Milltown, GA
  7. Willie Mullins, Alapaha, GA
  8. Joe Roberson, Ray City, GA
  9. Ben Cooper, Nashville, GA
  10. Collie Simons [Charlie Simmons?], Tifton, GA
  11. King Cooper, Nashville, GA
  12. Henry Mitchell Vaughn, Nashville, GA
  13. John Cleveland, Adel, GA
  14. Frank Mills, Milltown, GA
  15. Major Wilson, Adel, GA
  16. Charles J. Boggs, Ray City, GA
  17. Mack Leroy Cusack, Nashville, GA
  18. William Clarence, Sparks, GA
  19. Leroy McKinney, Milltow, GA
  20. Hilliard Brock, Nashville, GA
  21. Sam Gaines, Milltown, GA
  22. Marvin McArdle, Milltown, GA
  23. Tarba Bennett, Milltown, GA
  24. Elihu Hooker, Milltown, GA
  25. Joseph Williams, Adel, GA
  26. Garfield Baker, Ray City, GA
  27. Rommie Adams, Alapaha, GA
  28. Will Bell, Alapaha, GA
  29. Tom Sanders, Nashville, GA
  30. Thomas Howard, Ray City, GA
  31. Noah Schofield, Adel, GA
  32. Phane Jackson, Milltown, GA
  33. Elijah Walker, Hahira, GA
  34. Sam Bob, Alapaha, GA
  35. David Genrette, Ray City, GA
  36. Caleb Cooper, Nashville, GA
  37. Ethie Melvin, Milltown, GA
  38. Robert Jones, Ray City, GA
  39. Benjamin Greer, Lenox, GA
  40. Jerry Sheppard, Adel, GA
  41. Beamon Seymore, Adel, GA
  42. Dock Gunn, Nashville, GA
  43. Cleveland Sutton, Enigma, GA
  44. Willie Hutchinson, Adel, GA
  45. James Fullard, Alapaha, GA
  46. Arthur Bradshaw, Milltown, GA
  47. Charles Richerson, Cecil, GA
  48. Frank Jones, Bannockburn, GA
  49. Mose Flournoy, Adel, GA
  50. William Eddie Scruggs, Adel, GA
  51. Charley Stanford, Alapaha, GA
  52. Yancey Cowart, Enigma, GA
  53. Lazarus Burgess, Nashville, GA
  54. John Henry Williams, Alapaha, GA
  55. Grover Cleveland, Cecil, GA
  56. John Morris, Cecil, GA
  57. Isaac Flemming, Alapaha, GA
  58. David Pigford, Adel, GA
  59. Elzie Cooper, Nashville, GA
  60. Ezekiel Lavind, Adel, GA
  61. Snow Williams, Nashville, GA
  62. Peter Jones, Alapaha, GA
  63. Sidney Todd, Milltown, GA
  64. Ed Dupree, Milltown, GA
  65. James Givens, Alapaha, GA
  66. Nathaniel McClinton, Alapaha, GA

 

Camp Gordon historic marker, Dekalb County, GA

Camp Gordon historic marker, Dekalb County, GA

 

African-American troops at Camp Gordon, GA

African-American troops at Camp Gordon, GA

Camp Gordon was named in honor of Confederate General John Brown Gordon. After the war, he was a strong opponent of Reconstruction during the late 1860s. He served as a U.S. Senator from Georgia from 1873 to 1880, and again from 1891 to 1897. He also served as the 53rd Governor of Georgia from 1886 to 1890.  Gordon is cited as a prominent member of the Georgia Ku Klux Klan.

Like all southern military camps, those in Georgia operated under the segregation laws of Jim Crow. Federal prohibitions on black troops in combat meant that African American recruits trained and served in engineer service or labor battalions under white officers. -New Georgia Encyclopedia

Of the African American men who were drafted, 89 percent served in labor battalions or as dockworkers. The 42,000 men who did serve in combat were limited to the only two all-black combat regiments, the Ninety-Second and Ninety-Third Divisions. The camps were also segregated, as were most of the YMCA “Y-huts,” which served as places for leisure activities and often had camp libraries, stocked with the help of the ALA’s Library War Service  – American Library Association

Company_14_4th_Training_Battalion_Camp_Gordon_Georgia_September_18_1918_AfricanAmerican_troops

African-American training battalion with white officers at Camp Gordon, September 18, 1918

Camp Gordon, near Atlanta, was one of the largest training centers for Negro troops in the South, housing over 9,000 Georgia blacks by late 1917…Black troops there suffered the indignities common elsewhere, and the absence of any black commissioned officers increased their problems. Most black recruits were assigned to engineer or labor service battalions, where they were to perform tedious, often back-breaking tasks, loading and unloading cargo on both sides of the Atlantic. Since these battalions would have no black officer above the rank of corporal, Camp Gordon officials recruited a number of white sergeants, “specially and carefully selected as having had actual experience in charge of gangs of colored laborers.”  -John Dittmer, Historian

African-American Recruits receiving instruction from a white officer. Camp Gordon, Georgia., 03/04/1918, Image source: National Archives

African-American Recruits receiving instruction from a white officer. Camp Gordon, Georgia., 03/04/1918, Image source: National Archives

Segregation at the camp extended to recreational facilities, YMCA, library, hostess houses, and the soldiers clubs.  The War Camp Community Service Colored Soldiers’ Club of Atlanta, GA worked to bring books to African-American soldiers. The organization’s Secretary, Mr. Edward K. Nichols, writing to the American Library Association observed, “You are doubtless aware that throughout the South the public libraries are closed to the colored people. Hence every organization having in its power to extend library facilities to the colored people at large or any group of them has the opportunity of rendering a very needed and much appreciated service.” 

Colored Soldiers Club, Atlanta, GA

 

Camp Gordon, GA photo by E. Thompson. His title was "Negro soldier reading to boys who can't read. Camp Gordon, Ga. 1917-18" Library of Congress.

Camp Gordon, GA photo by E. Thompson. His title was “Negro soldier reading to boys who can’t read. Camp Gordon, Ga. 1917-18” Library of Congress.

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Carlos J. Boggs and the Buffalo Infantry of WWI

Charlie Parker was a Splendid Soldier

 

 

Aubrey Sizemore

During WWII, Aubrey Sizemore served in the US Navy. Before the War he worked for Harveys Supermarket in Nashville, GA driving a “rolling store” on a route that served rural customers of Berrien County, GA.

Grave marker of Aubrey Sizemore, Mount Paron Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Alapaha, GA

Grave marker of Aubrey Sizemore, Mount Paron Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Alapaha, GA

Aubrey Sizemore and Maude Griner

Aubrey Sizemore and Maude Griner

Aubrey Sizemore in Navy Uniform

Aubrey Sizemore in Navy Uniform

Aubrey Sizemore - USNR

Aubrey Sizemore – USNR

John Guthrie Tells Story of Berrien Tiger

John Guthrie, folk musician and merchant of Ray City, GA relates the story of the Berrien Tiger.

John Elwood Guthrie (1911-1985) , folk musician and merchant of Ray City, GA. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

John Elwood Guthrie (1911-1985) , folk musician and merchant of Ray City, GA. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

The legendary Berrien Tiger was a large panther that attacked two Wiregrass victims in 1849, before the creation of Berrien county, GA.  Guthrie was a nephew of Hamp Guthrie, who was mauled by the big cat, and grandson of Martha Newbern Guthrie, who was an eyewitness.

John Elwood Guthrie was a son of Arren H. Guthrie and Elizabeth Lucinda “Lucy” Newbern Guthrie.  He moved with his family to Ray City in 1922 and attended the Ray City School. He and his parents and siblings resided on the the farm of his sister, Effie Guthrie Knight on Park Street.  As a boy he attended the Primitive Baptist Church but later attended the Ray City Methodist Church.  He married Madge Sellers and they made their home on North Street in Ray City.

John Elwood Guthrie (1911-1985)
Ray City, Georgia,
August 20, 1977

I was borned out on the Alapaha River.

You want me to tell you a little story about the Alapaha River?

OK. Now, believe it or not, now…if you want do a little research you can go back and find this story.

Now my grandmother…she was about ninety year old when she first began to come to our house. She’d sit in a rockin’ chair and all of us kids would gather up around her, and she would begin to tell us stories about the Civil War and things that happened back during that time.

Here’s a story…now you can believe it or not. Now, it did appear in the Valdosta paper, the Valdosta Times, and also in the Berrien Press. If you want to do a little research you can look it up. But, it happened.

A young boy back in those days, he went down on the Alapaha River a lookin’ for some hogs down there at was lost. And whiles he was down there they was some animal. Now, they said it was a tiger – now you can believe it or not – they said it was a tiger. But it appeared, now, in both these papers. They said it was a tiger.

He jumped on this boy’s back, and he clawed him up, and bit ‘im, and he thought he had killed ‘im. And he tried to drag ‘im back in the river swamps down there. But he’s too heavy. He couldn’t carry ‘im. Instead, he covered ‘im up with leaves. Covered ‘im up with leaves.

So this boy, when he came concious again, he was almost dead, but he got back ta house an he told his brothers and sisters and his parents an’ everything about it. Well, they formed a search party and they went down there lookin’ for this animal. They had their dogs, and their guns, and everything. That’s on Alapaha River, now, right over here.

When they got down to the swamp, the dogs, the first thing, they began to bark, you know, and run all down the river swamps. Well, it wasn’t very long before all them dogs came back, and their hair was standin’ right straight up on their backs, up there, and they just whimperin’, the dogs.

So, the men decided they’d go down there an’ see what had happened. Well, they went down there, and an ol’ uncle o’ mine, his name was Hamp -now, this is history, now if you don’t believe it you can go back and search. His name was Hamp.  And, he was a little bit behind all the rest. Well, this animal, whatever it was, jumped on his back. Jumped on his back and he began to claw ‘im an’ bite ‘im, an’ almost killed ‘im.

Some of the rest of the fellas in the search party looked around back there, and they saw what was happenin’ and they had a gun and they just shot whatever it was, if it was a tiger or whatever it was. They shot ‘im and killed ‘im. And when they killed ‘im, they had to pull his claws out of Uncle Hamp’s back, back there.

Now, this is history, now if you won’t believe it, all right. If you don’t, you can go back an’ search the records, and that’s part of the history.

Adler, T. A. & Guthrie, J. (1977) John Guthrie tells stories and plays guitar, Ray City, Georgia. Ray City, Georgia. [Audio] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/afc1982010_afs20900/ .

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Ray City, GA ~ Town is Smaller Now

A sign on the tracks of the Georgia & Florida Railroad indicates the town of Ray City, GA to passing trains. The trains no longer stop at Ray City, although the town once had a bustling depot.

ray-city-ga_old-news-clipping

Times Union
1978

Ray City
The town is smaller now, but folks are coming back home

RAY CITY, Ga. – Before the turn of the century there were more than 27 businesses, five doctors, a pharmacy, corn mill, sawmill and several thousand people.

Ray City has changed.

The town now has a population of 725. What remains are a few stores and churches, the remnants of the corn mill – now a restaurant and fish camp – and Victory Soda Shop and General Store, where people meet to exchange news and gossip.

Billy Clements, owner of The Victory and long-time Ray City resident, said the closing of the sawmill and the Depression drove most of the people away, but old residents are “gradually creeping back.”

People come from all over to listen to John Guthrie play his guitar or just talk.
“I could talk all day about music, Guthrie said.

Guthrie teaches music to anyone who wants to learn, and musicians from all over the country meet in Ray City for jam sessions.

Lamar Booth, who runs the fish camp, points out that the Old Mill Pond draws a number of out-of-town fishermen during the summer. The lake is more than a mile wide but only 5 to 7 feet deep.

Booth’s mother, Mrs. Ann Campbell, owns a cafe, which is the main attraction at the pond. People say she serves the best fish dinners in the area.

The original post office and general store were at the lake during the late 1800s, and the corn mill (it opened in 1863) was once the heart of Ray City’s economy.

The town limits form a one-mile circle, located on Highway 37, 15 miles east of Adel between Nashville and Valdosta.

Farming is the main occupation in Ray City now, though many of the town’s people travel to Valdosta, Adel, Lakeland and Nashville for work, according to Mrs. Don Wilson, the town clerk said. Many residents also own or work in local businesses, she said.

Clements said there is not much for people to do after work except hunt or fish and many young people go to other places for entertainment.

He said he likes it there, because “people care for each other and pitch in and help each other when they need it, like a big family.”

Death Lurked in the North Channel

November 11 is Armistice Day commemorating the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. (Armistice Day Memorial to Soldiers from Berrien County, GA Killed During WWI )

Death Lurked in the North Channel

When the HMS Otranto troopship sank  during the closing days of World War I, men of Berrien County, GA were among the victims and survivors.   The Otranto broke apart on the rocks off the coast of Islay, Scotland after being rammed by the HMS Kashmir.  The two vessels were among 13 troopships in Convoy HX50 which departed New York harbor in September 1918.  Hundreds of men perished in the Otranto sinking.  Five Berrien County men survived the ordeal:  James Marvin DeLoach,  James Grady Wright, Henry Elmo DeLaney,  Ange Wetherington and  Early Steward.     The Kashmir was damaged in the collision, but made it to port at the Firth of Clyde.   On the fifth anniversary of the loss of the Otranto, John Hedrick McCarroll, a Davenport, IA soldier who witnessed the collision from the deck of the HMS Kashmir, wrote about his experience. McCarroll was a newspaper reporter for the Davenport Daily Times which published his story, transcribed below.

 

John Hedrick McCarroll, of Davenport, IA was aboard the HMS Kashmir when she collided with the HMS Otranto on October 6, 1918. Image source: villageplanter1

John Hedrick McCarroll, of Davenport, IA was aboard the HMS Kashmir when she collided with the HMS Otranto on October 6, 1918. Image source: villageplanter1

ROLL CALL OF THE OTRANTO DEAD FROM BERRIEN COUNTY, GEORGIA

 

[ Note: The article below reflects the institutionalized prejudice that existed in the U.S. Army during WWI. Despite the fact that units such as the Buffalo Soldiers fought with valor and distinction, African-American soldiers were rarely allowed any opportunity to participate in combat roles. Most of the 350,000 African-American WWI soldiers were assigned to support roles in segregated units.  The commander of the American Expeditionary Force, General John J. Pershing, said privately,We must not eat with them, must not shake hands with them, seek to talk to them or to meet with them outside the requirements of military service. We must not commend too highly these troops, especially in front of white Americans.”   The 600 African-American soldiers aboard the Kashmir were bound  for stevedore duty at the American Army docks, with two white officers “in charge of the negroes.”   While the white soldiers’ response  to the emergency was described as “assembled in platoon formation…inspiring, almost heroic…standing stiffly at attention”, the article characterizes the “negro soldiers in panic…fear crazed,” confused and on the verge of mutiny. ]

An American soldier on board the troopship Kashmir when it collided with and wrecked the troopship Otranto off the coast of Northern Scotland on October 6, 1918, furnished a description of the rescue of troops from the Otranto by the destroyer HMS Mounsey

An American soldier on board the troopship Kashmir when it collided with and wrecked the troopship Otranto off the coast of Northern Scotland on October 6, 1918, furnished a description of the rescue of troops from the Otranto by the destroyer HMS Mounsey

Davenport Daily Times
October 6, 1923

Death Lurked in North Channel for Davenport Men

Troopship Carrying Them To France in Crash Off Rocky Coast of Scotland

        Today is the fifth anniversary of the collision of the troopships Kashmir and Otranto of the British navy, engaged in carrying American troops to France, off the coast of Northern Scotland. To a large number of Davenport men, the memories of five years ago are not entirely agreeable although they still quicken the pulse of the several hundred Davenporters whose lot it was to be passengers on the Kashmir. They were members of the 126th Field Artillery of the 34th division. Some were in Battery B, others in Battery D and a score or more in the supply company. All three units were originally organized in Davenport as part of the First Iowa Field Artillery, which became the 126th Field Artillery upon its mobilization at Camp Cody, New Mexico.
        The following story of the collision and wrecking of the Otranto, as viewed from the Kashmir, was written by a Times reporter who was a member of the 126th Field Artillery.

 

 

BY JOHN H. M’CARROLL

          Five years ago this morning, and the waters of the North Channel running wild.
         A fog, impenetrable and heavy as a blanket, hung about us, while a furious inferno of waves tossed our little ship, the H.M.S. Kashmir, about like a winter gale whipping a falling leaf. Somewhere off to starboard and aft were the other twelve boats in our convoy – we knew that from the sound of their fog horns as they felt their bewildered way through the murk: now heard plainly as one or the other came close and now faintly as they shied away from our own screeching horn.
         Thirteen days out from Hoboken and rumor rampant above and below deck that this was the day we were due in Liverpool, brought all who could move to the upper deck with the coming of the day, keenly awaiting the first sight of anticipated land. Christopher Columbus’ mutinous crew could not have sought more anxiously for sight of land which they did not know nor yet believe lay ahead of them, than did the two thousand or more land-born and land-loving soldiers who made up the cargo of that glorified cattle boat, thirteen long days and nights out of the port of New York.
         Then, suddenly, off to the east, the fog lifted enough to give us who were anxiously watching, a fleeting view of land. Far from inviting, it is true, was that brief sight of the wave-washed and forbidding shore of Northern Scotland, but to men, the vast majority of whom were experiencing their first ocean voyage, it might have been a glimpse of Paradise itself!
         Someone shouted. Quickly the port rail was a crowding, seething mass of khaki. The valiant troopship, regardless of what might and had been said about it by weary and seasick soldiers in the long days and nights of that frightful trip, accomplished something of a miracle by resisting what must have been a mighty impulse to turn over on her side and dump us all into the sea. She likely listed to port with the added weight so quickly rushed to her portside, but it is a certainty that if she did, there was a wave waiting to meet her sufficiently to send her tilting back to a starboard list.

The Fog Descends

          The fog descended to the water again and shut off the sight of land. We stood around on deck for a while, waiting in vain for the curtain to lift, then trooped jubilantly below deck for our breakfast rations.
          At long tables, placed sidewise of the boat, we ate our meals as best we could, juggling food and mess kits on a surface similar in many respects to a roller coaster, as a playful sea bandied the vessel about. Some of us – no, most of us, were strangely destitute of appetite or taste for food. Both had disappeared with the fading skyline of New York and the coming of the rough water of the open sea, our first day out, and had not as yet been recovered. A few hardy souls, though, never knew a day of seasickness on the entire trip and while the rations were aplenty, they generally managed to take advantage of the proferred food of less fortunate and genuinely miserable fellow passengers.
         In the midst of the meal, with the boat rocking from side to side, as it had rocked from the first day, there came a new and mysterious plunge of the ship. It came suddenly – a thrump! – and a jar that shook us from our seats.
         “That was the wrong kind of a wave,” laughingly remarked a sergeant, picking himself up from the floor, while the smile froze on his face as from afar off came the six short whistle blasts – the dreading warning of a submarine attack, a warning in which we had been repeatedly schools since shortly after coming on the boat.
         The guards, stationed at the bulkhead openings took up the alarm with their whistles and it traveled rapidly back to the stern and the sick bay where we were quartered with some 600 or more seasick and flu-stricken soldiers.

Guards Close Doors

          With the blasts came the grinding and crashing of heavy steel doors as the guards, in compliance with orders, made haste to convert the vessel into a series of watertight compartments – their first duty in the event of a submarine alarm.
         We in the sick bay had our instructions also. At the sounding of the alarm we rushed to previously assigned patients and as rapidly as possible hurried them into life-belts.
         The boat was still rocking but there was a weird silence, broken only by the groans and moans of the sick men and the voices of the hospital corps men, urging their patients to assist in getting the life-belts on. No one stopped to analyze the silence – not until sometime later did we realize that the engines had been stopped.
         Their awkward lifebelts strapped on the three or four patients to whom I had been assigned, my curiosity overcame whatever timidity I might have felt, and I ventured up on deck.
         What I saw when I reached there, and gazed forward, gave me something to remember always – and gave me too, an assortment of varied emotions never before or since experienced.
         The fog had lifted slightly. I saw a huge ship, instantly recognized as the Otranto of our own convoy, to all appearances lying directly on top of the bow of our own ship. We had rammed it squarely amidship, in the fog!
         Then a great rushing mountain of a wave struck us and the Otranto was carried away from her right-angled perch on the bow of our boat.
         Another mountain of water came rushing on, struck the floundering ships and the Otranto swung around to our port side, revealing for the first time, the wicked damage of our own knife-like steel bow. As easily as a butcher knife cutting into butter, our bow had pierced the heavy armor of the ship, tearing and shattering its way through the steel and timber of the decks and frame and leaving a great gaping wound from which, at the water line, clouds of steam were rolling up as the chilled waters flooded the boiler and engine rooms of the boat.

Troops Crowd Rails

          Panic-stricken passengers, the kahki of the American soldier and the blue of the British sailor, were crowding the rails or rushing about on the upper decks. The bodies of those unfortunates caught below deck as the knife-like thrust of our bow cut into the heart of the the troopship, were falling through the fissure in its heavy armor and sinking as rapidly as they struck the tempestuous sea. A few bodies, lifebelts on, were held aloft on the crest of the waves and were rapidly washing out to sea.
          As wave after wave struck the stricken liner, listing badly to port and sinking rapidly, it drifted further away from our own boat, in the direction of the rocky shore, now more plainly visible with the lifting of the fog. At a time when it seemed as though the boat must break in two and go down, it was caught on the crest of a tremendous wave and plunged, bow first, onto the ragged ledge of rocks extending out from the coast.
         And as it crashed onto that forbidding shore, from afar off, skipping over the violent seas as lightly and quickly as a gull, came a little destroyer, flying high up on its mast, the Union Jack of the British navy. Never hesitating for a minute, the gallant little warship swung close to the wrecked liner. There was a fleeting glimpse of bodies hurling themselves from the towering rails onto the decks of the speeding destroyer and of still others failing to estimate the jump and dropping like leaden pellets into the sea, struggling for a few tragic seconds and then disappearing below the surface of the raging waters. Like a flash the destroyer swung about and headed back through the waves again for the rapidly sinking troopship. Again it swung close, as close as the turbulent sea would permit, and agin desperate passengers jumped for its decks in a last attempt to stave off the hovering spectre of death.

         Ignoring the peril to itself and crew, the doughty little destroyer made repeated trips to the doomed transport and as our own vessel drifted out of the range of vision, it was still at its heroic task.

          In the meantime, on our own boat, a strange silence prevailed. Forward on the three decks, the troops were assembled in platoon formation at the lifeboat stations. There was something inspiring, almost heroic in the sight of those khaki-clad men, standing stiffly at attention and looking out on a vast expanse of churning water in which all must have realized there was little hope for life should the boat go down.

Soliders in Panic

          Further aft, there was more confusion, on that portion of the deck assigned to some six hundred negro soldiers, going abroad for stevedore duty at the American army docks. The two white officers in charge of the negroes were experiencing difficulty in keeping them in formation and were only partially succeeding in avoiding a panic by freely displaying their automatics.
          One giant of a man, dodging from the ranks, slipped over to the rail of the deck and with a pocket knife was severing the ropes holding a cylindrical life preserver to the rail.
          An officer spied him.
          “Get back, you!” he roared and brandished his automatic in the startled, fear-crazed negro’s face. Dropping the knife, the giant slunk back into line. A few of the poor devil’s were praying, their mutterings and mumblings sounding above the roar of the waves beating against the boat.
           Still further aft, on the poop deck, at the entrance to the stairway leading to the sick bay, a small group had gathered. The regimental chaplain was there, after fighting his way back from the soldiers’ mess where he was breakfasting when the crash came.
            Beside him stood the regimental surgeon in the uniform of a major. There was a haggard, drawn look on the face of both men, the result of constant administering to the sick and dying during the crossing voyage, coupled with this new and graver danger which threatened well men together with sick.
           A few of the crew, a tough, uncouth and hardened lot, hovered about the wheel house, all watching with strained eyes the plight of the doomed transport off to our port side.
           After what seemed like hours of waiting, but which was in reality only half an hour if not less, an orderly came struggling aft, pushing his way through the disordered ranks of negroes and clambering rapidly up the narrow steel stairway leading to the poop deck and entrance to the sick bay.
          He stopped in front of the major, saluted stiffly, and in a few hasty words reported that the boat would stay afloat, then saluted again, turned on his heel and treaded his way back toward the forward decks.

Joy Greets Report

          A hospital orderly, standing near the major, heard the message and let out a joyous shout, which was taken up by others and was soon traveling the length and breadth of the boat. It was a great shout of relief and of suppressed excitement.
          In a few minutes the engines were again grumbling and soon the transport began moving ahead. The other boats of the convoy had disappeared, but in their place were a half dozen or more destroyers, out to meet and escort us into harbor.
           All day long we sailed down the coast of Scotland, past little white lighthouses, glistening in the sunlight from their precarious positions atop protruding rocks, past Ailsa Crag, jutting up in the sea like a sand dune on the desert, and past quaint little villages ad hamlets nestled in the rocky shores. As twilight descended, we dropped anchor in the unruffled waters of the Firth of Clyde. To the wearied, nervous and excited men aboard the ship, the twinkling lights on shore were as the lights of home, on the night of that tumultuous day.
          Early next morning a tugboat steamed out to our anchored boat, fastened its steel cable to the shattered bow and towed us down the Clyde river. At nightfall we tied up at the Glasgow dock where we unloaded and marched to waiting troop trains which carried us speedily to camp in the southern part of England.
          It was a week later when we learned, for the first time, of the fate of those aboard the Otranto. Of the twelve hundred men who had sailed from Hoboken, six hundred or more of whom were British sailors and marines composing the crew of the vessel, an auxiliary cruiser of the British navy, less than half were taken off by the valiant British destroyer, the Mounsey, as the boat pounded itself to pieces off the coast of Scotland. A very few, cast into the seas as the boat finally broke in two and sank, were washed ashore and lived to tell about it, but on the rocky shore near where the catastrophe occurred, tenderhearted natives spent days in recovering and burying the bodies of the victims of the ill-fated crash.
           They were laid away side by side and the plot of ground was for several years known as the Otranto cemetery, until the removal of most of the bodies of Americans to their native land, led to the abandonment of the burying ground.
          American tourists who have visited the spot in Northern Scotland in recent years report only a few scattered graves remaining, those of British sailors and marines, unclaimed by relatives or friends.

Related Posts:

Death of Ben Furlong ~ Was it Suicide?

Ben Furlong (circa 1854-1886), Desperado of Berrien County, GA

As Halloween approaches we revisit the scene of Ben Furlong, who was perhaps  most famous ghost ever to haunt Berrien County.

After the 1886 death of Ben Furlong some said his ghost still haunted the scene of his final, heinous crime. In life, Ben Furlong may have been Berrien County’s  most notorious outlaw.  Furlong, a sawmill man when he wasn’t on the bottle, frequented the communities along the tracks of the Brunswick & Western Railroad – Alapaha, Vanceville and Sniff.   He was a wife beater and a murderer wanted for dozens of criminal charges. His infamous deeds were published around the globe.

Furlong died on Friday, September 24, 1886 from an overdose of laudanum, also known as tincture of opium. The compound was commonly available in the drug stores of Berrien County and elsewhere for just five cents a bottle.

Laudanum bottle

Laudanum bottle

Certainly by  the time of Furlong’s death, the dangerous potency of opioids was well known. Still, some thought Furlong’s laudanum overdose was accidental.

The prevailing opinion in Alapaha, GA, the community that perhaps knew Furlong best, was that he intended to take his own life, either out of a guilty conscience or to escape the hangman.

The October 2, 1886 edition of the Alapaha Star examined the question:

 

Alapaha Star, October 2, 1886 questions death of Ben Furlong

Alapaha Star, October 2, 1886 questions death of Ben Furlong

Alapaha Star
October 2, 1886

Was it Suicide?

    There is a difference of opinion as to whether B. W. Furlong committed suicide, but the preponderating belief is that he did. The murder of the colored man, the closing of his mill by his creditors and the effects of a severe spell of drinking were amply sufficient to —- —– —-perate step of his life – that of self-destruction.
    It is reported that he drank two bottles of laudanum Thursday night, about twenty hours before he died, and that when he sank into the last sleep, his breathing indicated poisoning. Every effort was made to arouse him. He was walked about, slapped and rubbed vigorously, but the seal of death was upon him, and he breathed his last about four hours after he fell asleep.
    We are satisfied that Furlong while temporarily insane from the causes we have mentioned, took his own life.

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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 Doctor Writes of Ship’s Final Hours

Otranto Doctor Writes of Ship’s Final Hours

In November, 1918, a few weeks after the  Otranto disaster in the closing months of WWI, survivor Dr. Charles A. Dixon, a Captain of the U.S. Medical Corps from Akron, OH, wrote a letter home to his wife describing the voyage of the ill-fated vessel.

Dr. Dixon’s harrowing escape from the doomed Otranto mirrors that of Berrien county men James Marvin DeLoach,  James Grady Wright, Henry Elmo DeLaney,  and Ange Wetherington.  Early Steward of Nashville, GA was among the very few who went into the sea and survived the swim to the rocky coast of Islay.   Almost two dozen Berrien County men  were among the hundreds of soldiers who perished in the sinking, including  Ralph Knight and Shellie Webb, of Ray City, GA.

 

Dr. Charles A. Dixon sailed on the ill-fated Otranto.

Dr. Charles A. Dixon sailed on the ill-fated Otranto.

     

In a daring rescue the H.M.S. Mounsey, pulled alongside the Otranto allowing men to jump from the sinking ship to  the deck of the  destroyer. The Mounsey carried the survivors to Belfast, Ireland where the American Red Cross was  waiting for their arrival.  Some of the rescued succumbed to exposure or mortal injuries and were buried in Belfast, Ireland.

Many, many bodies washed ashore on Islay, Scotland. Among the hundreds of Otranto dead  were Benjamin F. McCranieJim Melvin BoyettJohn Guy CoppageHiram Marcus BennettLafayett Gaskins,  William C. Zeigler and other men.  The lost Georgian soldiers were buried in mass graves  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. and .

Dr. Charles A. Dixon  had boarded the 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:

 

Akron Beacon Journal
November 30, 1918

Dr. C. A. Dixon, Akron Physician Writes
Detailed Story of Sinking of H.M.S. Otranto
Off Irish Coast

         Dr. Charles A. Dixon, Akron captain of the United States Medical Corps, one of the hundreds who passed through the thrills and dangers of the sinking on Oct. 6 of the British naval vessel Otranto as a result of a collision at sea with the Kashmir, another vessel of the same convoy party, has written a long letter to his wife, residing at 143 Lods St., in which he gives some of the intimate details of the disaster from which he escaped so fortunately.
        Opening his letter with an account of the early days of the trip, during which he was very busy with an outbreak on board of the flu, he comes down to the morning of the disaster. He continues:

        “I had breakfast at 8:30 and I guess because it was Sunday, I didn’t go right into C hold as I usually did, but went up on B deck, in the officers smoking room, and was smoking a cigar and talking to the naval paymaster, when one of our army lieutenants ran from port deck into the smoking room door and yelled for us to “look out,” and sprinted away.
        “We ran to the smoking room door, which was open, and through which we could see outside on B deck, and there about a hundred yards away was the Kashmir (next boat on our port side) headed straight toward us, and looked as if it was going to hit right where we stood. The paymaster let out a yell and ran to to the starboard side deck and grabbed a stanchion, me following a close second. The crash came a moment later and did not seem to jar us greatly; in fact, so little that I sort of smiled at the way we ran.
       Then I walked around to the port side and met one of the ship’s crew who told me how badly we were damaged. It had cut us from B deck clear down to the water line, about 30 feet, anywhere from ten to 20 feet wide. Cut right into the after boiler room in such a way that the boilers were out of commission inside of ten minutes. Those who were in the stoke hold were either killed or drowned. One of our soldiers had his right foot mashed clear off at the ankle, and three non-commissioned officers in a state room were all killed. In ten minutes all lights were out, but I had rushed to my stateroom, secured my overseas orders and my life belt and got back to B deck. (My stateroom was down on D deck).
         “I then gave the soldier with the smashed foot a hypodermic and first dressing. (I forgot to say that before the collision we sighted land off starboard bow; we thought it was Tory Island on the northeast coast of Ireland.) By this time the ship had lost steerage and was wallowing in the trough of those mountain high billows. The deck was such a slant that we could not walk, except as we hung on. At the time of the collision our captain signaled the convoy to move on, as per rules of convoys. The Kashmir, with her bow all stove in, had drifted out of sight.
         The weather was so thick that we could not see very far, but it was estimated that we were six miles off shore when in collision and now we were only two miles from shore. (It sure was a rocky one.)
         The sea was so rough that it was impossible for a boat to live in it or to even launch one.  One roll of the the ship and our starboard deck at ‘B would be about ten feet from the sea, and when she rolled the other way, it was at least 50 feet. At 10:20 (the collision was about 9:20) we saw a little torpedo boat destroyer off port side, and the first leftenant came to the smoking room window and called out, “Abandon ship, every man to his boat or raft station.
          “I never hated to do anything so badly in my life as to go to C deck for my boat position (Boat No. 5) for I knew we never could launch them in that awful sea, but I thought we were all bound to swim anyhow, so went. When we got to our stations we were ordered to get out of our overcoats and take off our shoes, which we did. By that time, the crew were lowering boats on A deck and by the time they were down even with B deck they would swing out 15 feet or more when our side rolled down.  Then I saw the torpedo boat coming up on the starboard side, about 150 feet away.
         And then I thought we were to jump into the sea and she would try to throw the line out and haul us on board, but no, that daredevil of a commander had signaled to us to lower life boats to act as a buffer and he came right up to us and yelled for us to jump. Life boats were splintered like egg shells, but saved the torpedo boat’s side as she bumped. Well believe me we jumped as we got the chance. Sometimes way up forward of me then perhaps way back aft, for you must know every time she bumped, the impact with the high seas would throw the two vessels apart, and then he would either reverse his engines or go ahead and steer her back against us.
         “About the fourth time we bumped together it was favorable to our position and I had an easy leap for life. But while I was waiting for my chance I saw many leap too late or too early – either fall into the sea between the two vessels and later be crushed, or dash themselves on a rising deck from such a distance they were killed or maimed. Then again after reaching the deck of the Moundsy [HMS Mounsey], every sea was washing clear over her and many were washed off her decks into the sea and lost that way.
         After reaching the Moundsy deck, I passed aft on Starboard side, hanging on with others to anything stable enough to be safe and was repeatedly submerged by waves that would have washed me overboard had I not hung on like grim death. Our position became so crowded that we were finally shown the way into the inside of the destroyer. Manholes about the size of a sewer opening were raised up and they crowded us down into these holes as thick as we could stand, in our compartment in an engine room that seemed to be some kind of an auxiliary, anyhow, neither the boilers or engine were working, but the seas when they broke overhead would run streams down over us after taking up grease or oil from the pipes until we were sights to behold. “But it was warmer than above decks and we fared infinitely better than those on the decks who were not only wet to the skin like ourselves, but were being submerged regularly and exposed to the cold gale. Of
course, after going below we knew nothing of what went on above, but they told us that she stood by until the poor old Otranto bit the reefs and then staggered away, loaded far past the limits of safety, trying to make three different havens, but on account of the high seas could not do so and finally brought us clear to Belfast, about 140 miles distance. We landed there soon after 8 o’clock in the evening about nine hours after taking us off. The Moundsy was in command of Lieutenant Craven who is a perfect daredevil.
       “The rescue is one of the most thrilling known to the marine world and what makes it more remarkable is the fact
that our commander (Captain Davidson, who went down with his ship), ordered him not to attempt the rescue as he considered it would only mean the foundering of the Moundsy, which, by the way, was badly damaged and had to go into dry docks for repairs. Her plates were only three-eights inch steel and were loosened up so that it took three pumps all the time to keep her from filling up. Three hundred and ten soldiers and officers and about 200 of the crew were rescued, making a loss of life of a little over 600.
        “The storm held with unabating fury until Tuesday, and when boats were able to land on Isley (pronounced Iley) off the coast of Scotland they found the natives had rescued but 20 alive (17 soldiers and three sailors.) They say the Otranto had all broken up and disappeared by Monday morning, and the shore covered with wreckage 20 feet high. About 200 dead bodies were recovered, the rest were carried to sea by the tides which run very swiftly between Scotland and Ireland.
          “I lost everything, even my shoes, but have no regrets as I consider that I am indeed very lucky to be alive to enjoy the damnable weather which prevails here. I had my money belt on and so am able to buy things as I need them, except uniform, I am still wearing that greasy and dirty. When I am relieved, will no doubt be allowed to re-equip in either Liverpool or London. At each place we have quartermaster stores, and then I can draw my pay which I still have coming for September.
          “Everybody is mighty nice to me here and in a way will be sorry to leave Belfast (which by the frequency of the name leads me to suspect, must be the home of my ancestors), but I am anxious to get on to France before our victorious armies have the boches all killed or captured.
             “I did not even take a cold from my exposure, lost all my remedies and my dear little high potency case, so have not taken a dose of any kind of medicine since the collision. Never felt better in my life and now after all I have been through I do not believe I will have any more bad luck.
           “The ‘subs’ got the Irish mail steamer between Dublin and Kingstown a week ago today with a large loss of life, mostly due to high seas though, and I find that the popular idea at home that our convoys have all come through unscathed is all bunk. They have been getting some right along but no serious losses yet. War news makes very good reading these days and maybe we are licking them but I cannot believe the war is anywhere near over.
          “This letter started last night has run over into another day. It is now Saturday morning and I have to be chief mourner for another funeral which I think will be our last one as the rest are doing nicely. This makes 20 burials here (one a captain of artillery from Nebraska) and each one makes a three mile march at slow time to the cemetery.
          “I might say here that the steamer Kashmir, who rammed us, finally made port at Glascow and she was very bad with pneumonia; had signalled us Sunday morning before the collision that she had six dead on board and I hear she buried about 50 in Glascow. We think the accident was due to her having some sort of trouble with her steering gear, but I do not know.
        “But I must close and get this down to the city to the man who says he will carry it across to you.”

 

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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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