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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J.M. DeLoach Jumped from the HMS OTRANTO

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

James Marvin Deloach. Image source: Francine Coppage

James Marvin Deloach. Image source: Francine Coppage

 

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

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

W.L. DeLOACH RETURNS.

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

Tifton Gazette, Aug. 22, 1919 — page 8

WWI Registration for Selective Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Voyage of the Otranto

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

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

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

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

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

Tifton Gazette
June 20, 1919

JUMPED FROM OTRANTO

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

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

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

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

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The Long Trip Home

Shellie Loyd Webb was among the Berrien County men who were drafted in the summer of 1918 as replacement troops for the war in France.

Private Webb entered service in July 16, 1918. Was attached to First Company, Coast Artillery Corps, Over-seas Replacement Draft, Ft. Screven, Ga. Embarked for over-seas service in September, 1918, sailing on the ill-fated transport "Otranto," which was sunk off the Scottish Coast in a collision October 6, 1918. Private Webb was one of the soldiers drowned.

Private Webb entered service in July 16, 1918. Was attached to First Company, Coast Artillery Corps, Over-seas Replacement Draft, Ft. Screven, Ga. Embarked for over-seas service in September, 1918, sailing on the ill-fated transport “Otranto,” which was sunk off the Scottish Coast in a collision October 6, 1918. Private Webb was one of the soldiers drowned.

He was born near Ray City,GA (fka Ray’s Mill) on  August 25, 1894, one of eleven sons born to John Thomas Webb and Mary Webb.  He grew up on his father’s farm in the 1329 Georgia Militia District, where he worked as a farm laborer.

Shellie Webb registered for the draft in Berrien County on June 5, 1917.  He was a tall, dark and handsome young man, nearly six and a half feet, with medium build, blue eyes and dark hair.  Still single at age 23, he worked on his own account and for his father as a farmer.

Inducted into the army at Nashville, GA on July 15 as a part of the Over-seas Replacement Draft, he was immediately sent along with other men of Berrien county to Ft. Screven, GA. There,   Private Webb  entered service in July 16, 1918.  He was attached to First Company, Coast Artillery Corps, Ft. Screven, Ga.  Many of the Berrien men were placed into other companies of the Coast Artillery Corps including Bennie Griner, Ralph Knight, John F. Moore, Thomas J. Sirmons, George Hutto, James M. Deloach, and Benjamin F. McCranie among others.

WWI soldiers drilling on the beach, Ft. Screven, GA.

WWI soldiers drilling on the beach, Ft. Screven, GA.

Shellie Webb trained on artillery through the late summer. On September 25, 1918 he and other Berrien men embarked for over-seas service, sailing on the armed  transport  HMS Otranto.  The Otranto joined Convoy HX50, a convoy of troop ships and escorts crossing the North Atlantic, and about 10 days into the voyage was off the coast of Scotland.

On October 10, 1918 the British Admiralty issued a statement that another transport, the Kashmir, had collided with the Otranto.  The collision occurred on Sunday, October 6, 1918.

ADMIRALTY STATEMENT

     “At 11 o’clock on Sunday the armed merchantile cruiser Otranto,  Acting Captain Ernest Davidson in command, was in collision with the steamship Kashmir. Both vessels were carrying United States troops. The weather was very bad and the ships drifted apart and soon lost sight of each other.  The torpedo boat destroyer Mounsey, was called by wireless and by skillful handling succeeded in taking off 24 officers and 239 men of the crew and 300 United States soldiers and 30 French sailors. They were landed at a North Irish port.
     The Otranto drifted ashore on the island of Islay.  She became a total wreck.  Sixteen survivors have been picked up. There are missing and it is feared drowned, 335 United States soldiers, 11 officers, 85 men of the crew, including men with merchantile ratings.
     The Kashmir reached a Scottish port and landed its troops without casualties.

For days, newspapers around the world carried accounts of the the disaster; the heroics of the survivors and tragedy of the dead.  Hundreds of bodies washed up on the shores of Islay, among them the body of Shellie Loyd Webb.  The people of Islay labored to inter the dead soldiers with dignity and respect.

BURIAL AT KILCHOMAN

     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.

1918 Funeral Service for Victims of the Otranto Disaster, Island of Islay, Scotland

1918 Funeral Service for Victims of the Otranto Disaster, Island of Islay, Scotland

The Atlanta Constitution
Nov 17, 1918 Pg B10

American Anthem Sung at Funeral of Otranto Victims

Britons Broke Time-Hallowed Custom That Called for “God Save the King” and Sang “Star Spangled Banner.”

     Bridgend, Island of Islay, Scotland, October 12. — The time-hallowed custom of singing “God Save the King” at the conclusion of every formal British ceremony was broken at the funeral services last Friday for the American soldiers who lost their lives with the sinking of the transport Otranto in collision off the Scotch coast with the Kashmir.
     As a tribute to the American soldiers buried side by side with the naval officers and men from the wrecked British transport, the British national anthem was followed by the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which included several high naval and military officers and virtually the entire population of the island joined.  Few new the words, but the islanders carried the tune with their soft Gaelic voices, standing with their heads bared to the sharp wind from the sea.
     It was a delicate courtesy that was deeply appreciated by the United States army officers and American Red Cross officials present.
     To attend the funeral the islanders came from the remotest parts of Islay, some driving 30 miles in the springless, jolting “box carts,” familiar to Americans who have toured Ireland and Scotland.
     Up to that time the bodies of 100 victims had been recovered and given temporary burial in an open field near the little church at Kilchoman, which looks out over the cliff to the scene of the wreck.  The procession, which formed in the churchyard, followed the bodies of the Otranto’s captain, G.W. Davidson, and the ship’s chief engineer to the burial ground.  The Laird of Islay’s pipers headed the cortege, playing Scotch dirges as they marched.  Then came a firing party, with arms reversed; next, the three clergymen of the island, the Rev. Donald Grant, of the Scottish Presbyterian church; an Episcopal minister and a Roman Catholic priest.  Then  came the bearers of the British and American flags. the latter being Sergeant C. A. McDonald of Galesburg, Ill., one of the survivors.  United States army and American Red Cross officers marched, as the chief mourners, behind the flags, followed by British naval and military officers, the laird, Hugh Morrison, and other prominent men of Islay.
     A guard of the Argyllshire constabulary, brought from the mainland, had been posted around the graves.
     Simple services, consisting chiefly of the reading of prayers, were conducted by Mr. Grant, assisted by the priest and the Episcopal minister.  A salute of six volleys was then fired, after which the British and American national anthems were sung.
     The graves were wide shallow pits, the bodies being  covered only with sod, while American soldiers were making coffins for the regular internment which was soon to follow.

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

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

Graves of Otranto Men, Kilchoman Cemetery, Island of Islay, Scotland.

Graves of Otranto Men, Kilchoman Cemetery, Island of Islay, Scotland.

It is not definitively known that Shellie L. Webb was included in the processional and burial described above, as bodies continued to wash up on the shores of Islay for weeks after the Otranto was destroyed.  When military authorities were able to make a full accounting of the surviving and the  dead, his father, John Thomas Webb ,  of RFD #1 Ray City, was notified of his death.

After the war a decision was reached to bring home the remains of the soldiers who died in the Otranto disaster.

The Atlanta Constitution
June 26, 1920

DEAD OF THE OTRANTO TO BE BROUGHT HOME.

Paris, June 25.  — The exhumation of the bodies of 489 American soldiers which were washed upon the rocky shores of the Island of Islay, off the Scottish coast, after the sinking of the transports Tuscania and Otranto in 1918 will be started July 1, it was announced here today.
     The Scottish clan which inhabits the lonely spot has taken the most tender care of the graves and the Chief had given a pledge that the clan would look after the graves as if they were its own until the end of time.  The Chief pleaded that the bodies be left on the island, but the relatives in many cases wished them to be returned and it was decided by the Graves Registration Service to remove them all.
     The coast of Islay is so steep and rocky that the coffins will have to be carried down trails cut in the rocks or lowered by ropes and tackles to a waiting barge, which will convey them to a transport off shore.

But with the exhumation of the Scottish graves the authorities were unable to account for the  remains of Shellie Loyd Webb.  While the bodies of other soldiers were returned and re-interred on American soil, the whereabouts of Shellie Webb was an unsolved mystery.  Despite earlier reports, the Webb family did not know if he had been lost at sea, or if his body had been recovered and buried in Scotland.

Finally, ten years after the fact,  Shellie Webb’s mother received word that the grave of her son had been located in Scotland.

The Adel News
Friday October 12, 1928, pg 1

Shellie L. Webb Otranto Victim
Sleeps in his native soil
Funeral Services Held at Morris Cemetery Sunday Morning

     The remains of Mr. Shellie Lloyd Webb, one of the twenty-seven Berrien county young men who perished on the ill-fated Otranto which had a collision with another vessel and went down off the coast of Ireland during the world war, to be exact on the 6th day of October, 1918, was buried at the Morris cemetery in Berrien county Sunday morning at eleven o’clock.  Mr. Webb was a son of Mrs. J.T. Webb of Ray City. He was about twenty-two years of age when he paid the supreme sacrifice for his country, being on his way to France when the ship went down.  His body was recovered and during these years was buried temporarily in Ireland.  He was unaccounted for and during all these years his mother and brothers have waited anxiously to know if he had been buried or had been lost in the ocean.  The authorities had been unable to tell them definitely.  All the while they had the request of the mother on file in Washington for information on her boy.  A short while ago when the Government had determined to move the bodies of the heroes from their temporary resting place in the National cemetery and when they had been exhumed it was found that the young man’s identification card was on his coffin and upon notification Mrs. Webb  requested that his body be sent home, which was done.  Of the thirty young men from Berrien county, which then included Cook and most of Lanier on the Otranto, only three escaped death.  They are all living today and are:  Mr. Earlie Stewart, of Nashville, Mr. Grady Wright, of Jacksonville, and Mr. Ange Wetherington of Colquitt county.  Mr. Wright and Mr. Wetherington jumped to another boat which had come to the rescue and Mr. Wright had his foot and leg badly injured. Mr. Stewart got to land.  The accident occurred in sight of land, it is said.

    The funeral services for Mr. Webb were largely attended and were deeply impressive.  They were conducted by Elder Davis of Alapaha, assisted by Elder Carver.  The pall bearers were Dr. M.L. Webb, Mr. U.T. Webb, Dr. F. W. Austin, Mr. C.R. Tillman, Mr. G.H. Flowers, and Col. H.W. Nelson.  Mr. Webb was a perfect specimen of manhood being nearly six and a half feet high and weighing close to two hundred pounds.  He was a gallant young man and had many friends who were grieved when he died. Indeed, Berrien county and this section felt the pang of anguish in every home almost when so many of her brave young men met death at once time while on their way across the mighty deep to meet a foreign foe.  Mr. Webb is survived by his devoted mother and ten brothers.  Dr. M.L., L.H., T.J., L.O., M.B., U.T., H.P., H.W., W.C., and Homer Webb.

      Funeral arrangements were in charge of Undertaker A.D. Wiseman of Adel.

After a journey of ten years and 4000 miles   Shellie Loyd Webb was laid to rest  for the final time at Pleasant Cemetery (formerly Morris Cemetery) about 10 miles west of Ray City, GA.

Grave Marker of Shellie Loyd Webb, Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Grave Marker of Shellie Loyd Webb,  Pleasant Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

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

OTRANTO SUNK IN COLLISION

October 12, 1918 details of the sinking of the troopship Otranto began reaching the U.S.  Out of 699 soldiers on board, 372 were lost. Berrien County and Ray City, Georgia would pay a heavy toll in the disaster.

The October 12, 1918   Atlanta Constitution carried the story.   Nashville, GA resident Early Steward was listed as one of the Otranto survivors.

372 U.S. Soldiers Lost As Result of Sinking Of Transport Otranto

Fort Screven Men Among the Rescued.
A Scottish Port, October 11. –The following American survivors of the Otranto, all of them privates, have been landed here: Charles E. Smithson, David R. Roberts, George S. Taylor, Earle Garver, Stewart Early [Early Steward], Noah Taylor, William Cooney, Robert F. Schaun, Thomas A. Kelly, Ben Smith, Robert Brown, Joseph S. Richards, William Richards, Emil Peterson, Joseph M. Tollock, Sergeant Charles MacDonald, all from Fort Screven automatic replacement draft, and John E. Wean, casual company, Camp Merritt, N.J.

A British Port, October 11. – A large number of American troops have been lost as the result of the sinking of the transport Otranto in the North channel Sunday night between the Scottish and Irish coasts in a collision with the steamer Kashmir.
The Otranto after the collision was dashed to pieces on the rocks off the south Scottish coast with a probable loss of 372 American soldiers.
Three hundred and one men were taken to Belfast by the British destroyer Mounsey, the only vessel which made an attempt at rescue in the terrific gale when the Kashmir, another vessel in the convoy with the Otranto, rammed the Otranto amidships.
Seventeen men were picked up alive on the Scottish coast.
Of the 699 American soldiers on board the Otranto, 310 were landed. Seventeen were rescued alive at Islay, leaving 372 unaccounted for.

Collision Occurred in Storm.
The Otranto and the other vessels of the convoy were battling with the heavy seas and high winds Sunday morning. The storm was so severe and the visibility so bad that the Kashmir, a former Peninsular and Oriental liner, crashed into the Otranto squarely amidships.
The Kashmir backed away badly damaged, but was able to make port.
As the bows of the Kashmir were pulled from the great hole in the side of the Otranto, the water rushed in, but for a time it did not serve to stop the engines. The Otranto tried to proceed, but made no headway against the gale in her crippled condition.
Within a short time the water put out her fires and the Otranto drifted helplessly toward the rock coast of Islay Island, where most of the Tuscania victims met their deaths.
Thirty minutes after the crash the British destroyer Mounsey, herself damaged by the heavy seas, appeared out of the haze in answer to the distress calls from the Otranto. When the destroyer maneuvered to get alongside Captain Davidson, of the Otranto, warned Lieutenant Craven, commanding the destroyer, not to make the attempt.
When it was seen that Craven would make the attempt anyway the men were ordered to remove their shoes and heavy clothing and try to save themselves as best they could.
The destroyer stood off about 100 feet and the gradually came nearer, against the great odds of high waves and the wind, which threatened momentarily to carry her entirely away from the Otranto or dash her to pieces against the side of the wounded vessel.

Struck Rocks Sunday Night.
The Otranto struck the rocks Sunday night south of Saligo bay, Islay Island, an uninhabited section where the coastline in many places rises straight out of the water to the rocky peaks many feet above.
As the destroyer neared the side of the Otranto the men began to jump from 30 to 40 feet from her decks.  The most experienced sailors of the sailors had better success than the soldiers, many of whom had never seen the sea until this trip.
As the destroyer steered toward the side of the steamer many of the men leaped too quickly and missed their reckoning and dropped between the boats. Some of these disappeared in the water, but others of them were caught and crushed between the boats and the lifeboats which had been lowered to act as buffers. The destroyer was badly shattered.
The captain of the destroyer, each time it was brushed away from the side of the Otranto, again would push near enough for many more men to jump to the deck of his vessel. He described  as a veritable rain the number of men landing on the destroyer.
Many of those who reached the decks of the vessel suffered broken bones or otherwise were hurt. Those who missed the deck of the destroyer went almost to instant death.
Four times the battered destroyer came alongside, and each time the previous scene was repeated. At the end of the fourth trip she had 310 Americans, 236 of the crew, 30 French sailors and one British officer on board. The boat was full and having done all possible, she started for port.
The survivors saw the Otranto drifting helplessly toward the rocks as they pulled away toward the Irish coast.  The destroyer barely had time to send a brief message when her wireless was carried away.  The little overloaded vessel had a rough trip to port.

Soldiers at Attention.
One of the American soldiers on board the Otranto pictured the scene when the vessels collided. Soldiers lined the decks as though on parade, and at the word of command stood at attention like statues. They never wavered, remaining there in military formation, exemplifying during the crisis the noblest traditions of the army for heroism and discipline. The same thing, said the soldier, applied to the seamen.
Numbers of bodies today were being washed up rapidly on the shore. It was reported that 175 had been counted at noon and nearly all of them had been identified.
A seaman on the Otranto described the most tragic moment of the disaster as that when the order came for the men to jump and save themselves. The destroyer looked a very small boat alongside the former Orient liner and many landsmen among the American troops thought themselves safer aboard the larger vessel. This was fatal to many of them.
The victims are to be collected at the most suitable place and buried there.  A boat left Liverpool today with material for coffins, fifty laborers and carpenters and chaplains to conduct the funeral. The grave of every man will be marked and charted.
There were few cases among the dead where identification was delayed. Every man had worn an identification tag on his wrist or neck, but in some instances these were torn off and it was necessary to take finger prints of the men.

Heavy “Y” Man Saved.
An instance of the many rescues by the Mounsey was that of T.L. Campbell, a Memphis lawyer and secretary of the Y.M.C.A. He weighs 220 pounds. He was perched on the Otranto’s rail awaiting a chance to spring upon the destroyer the third time the Mounsey came up. As he leaped the Mounsey lurched away and instead of landing in the middle of the deck, as he had hoped to do, one of his legs caught in the cable on the side of the destroyer. Campbell pulled himself aboard uninjured.

“Just when the destroyer was pulling away the last time,” said Campbell today, “the men lined the rails or stood on the afterdeck waving a farewell. A huge wave struck a crowd of about eighteen privates on the afterdeck and a dozen of them were swept into the sea to sure death, as it was impossible to save persons from waves running sixty to seventy feet high.”

London, October 11. -The news of the collision reached London Monday, but nothing was known of the fate of the Otranto until Thursday morning, when the first reports came from Italy. The storm continued to make further attempts at rescue impossible.  No ships pass close enough to that coast in rough weather to see a stricken vessel ashore.

ROLL CALL OF THE OTRANTO DEAD FROM BERRIEN COUNTY,  GEORGIA

Pvt. Hiram Marcus Bennett, Sparks, GA

Pvt. Jim Melvin Boyett, Milltown, GA

Pvt. John Guy Coppage, Cecil, GA

Pvt. Rufus Davis, Sparks, GA

Pvt. Mack Hilton Easters, Lenox, GA

Pvt. George Bruce Faircloth, Milltown, GA

Pvt. Lafayette Gaskins, Nashville, GA

Pvt. Bennie E. Griner, Nashville, GA

Pvt. Lester A. Hancock, Alapaha, GA

Pvt. Robert J. Hancock, Lenox, GA

Pvt. Arthur Harper, Enigma, GA

Pvt. William P. Hayes, Alapaha, GA

Thomas H. Holland, Adel, GA

Pvt. George H. Hutto, Adel, GA

Pvt. Ralph Knight, Ray City, GA

Pvt. Benjamin F. McCranie, Adel, GA

Pvt. James M. McMillan, Nashville, GA

Pvt. William McMillan, Enigma, GA

Pvt. John Franklin Moore, Adel, GA

Pvt. Charlie S. Railey, Alapaha, GA

Pvt. Tillman W. Robinson, Enigma, GA

Pvt. Thomas J. Sirmons, Nashville, GA

Pvt. Shellie Loyed Webb, Ray City, GA

Pvt. Joel Wheeler, Nashville, GA

Pvt. William C. Zeigler, Sparks, GA