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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Bivouac of the Dead

The title comes from the epitaph on the monument built to the Otranto dead on Islay Island.

On Fame’s eternal camping ground
Their silent tents are spread
While Glory keeps, with solemn round,
The bivouac of the dead.

This famous poem by Theodore O’Hara has been used to eulogize fallen soldiers since the Mexican-American War.   Among other monuments it graces the Confederate Monument in Cynthiana, Kentucky, and the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery, where Otranto victims John Franklin Moore and William C. Zeigler, of Berrien County, GA are interred.

When HMS Otranto went down in WWI no county lost more sons than Berrien County, GA.  Two soldiers lost from Ray City,GA were Pvt. Ralph Knight and Pvt. Shellie Loyed Webb.  The October 13, 1918 edition of the Atlanta Constitution reported the burial of the Otranto dead.

Buried in Wide Grave

Island of Islay, Scotland, Thursday October 10.  – American dead from the transport ship Otranto will be buried in the little churchyard at Kilchoman in wide graves accommodating twenty bodies each. The church was too small to hold more than a hundred bodies, and scores were placed under improvised shelters in the churchyard.
As rapidly as the bodies can be assembled from now on they will be buried in groups of twenty in an open field on the edge of a cliff commanding a wide view of the sea and directly overlooking the scene of the wreck.
A memorial service will be held tomorrow at the church. It will be conducted by the Rev. Donald Grant, who, with Mrs. Grant, were leaders in rescue work.  American and British officers, the Islay authorities and islanders will attend. After the simple service has been read a military salute will be fired over the graves.
Owing to the heavy surf and the extreme difficulty of combing the long stretches of rock-bound, high-cliffed coast of the island, the progress of the searching parties is slow, and it may be many days before the bodies of all the victims are recovered.
The task of conveying the dead over the rough ground from distant points to Kilchoman is proving a difficult problem. No four-wheeled vehicles can be used, and the bodies are being transported in carts.

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