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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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.

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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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Islay Remembered Otranto Soldiers at Christmas Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graves of Otranto men at Kilchoman, Islay

Graves of Otranto men at Kilchoman, Islay

Thomasville Times Enterprise
Feb  6, 1919

Scotch Islanders Remembered Soldiers At Christmas Time

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

Thomasville Times Enterprise, Feb 6, 1919

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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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HMS Otranto Sank Ninety-four Years Ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

HELPLESS CROWDS WATCH

Terrific Storm Prevents Any Attempt at Rescue on Steep Coast.

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

“Swim for it” shouted Captain.

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

On Rocks Mile From Shore.

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

Captain Hurled Into Sea.

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

Related Posts:

Hero of Otranto Rescue Shot Dead

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

Lieutenant Francis Worthington Craven, Commander of the HMS Mounsey

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

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

The Otranto after the collision was dashed to pieces on the rocks off the south Scottish coast with a probable loss of 372 American soldiers.
    Three hundred and one men were taken to Belfast by the British destroyer Mounsey, the only vessel which made an attempt at rescue in the terrific gale when the Kashmir, another vessel in the convoy with the Otranto, rammed the Otranto amidships.
Thirty minutes after the crash the British destroyer Mounsey, herself damaged by the heavy seas, appeared out of the haze in answer to the distress calls from the Otranto. When the destroyer maneuvered to get alongside Captain Davidson, of the Otranto, warned Lieutenant Craven, commanding the destroyer, not to make the attempt.
    When it was seen that Craven would make the attempt anyway the men were ordered to remove their shoes and heavy clothing and try to save themselves as best they could.
    The destroyer stood off about 100 feet and the gradually came nearer, against the great odds of high waves and the wind, which threatened momentarily to carry her entirely away from the Otranto or dash her to pieces against the side of the wounded vessel.

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

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

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

An account by an American Edward O’Hara reads:

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

1919 Jul 9. The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1919, takes pleasure in presenting the Army Distinguished Service Medal to Lieutenant Francis W. Craven, British Royal Navy, for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished service in a position of great responsibility to the Government of the United States, during World War I. While Commanding His Majesty’s destroyer MOUNSEY, Lieutenant Craven rescued 7 officers and 313 men of the American forces at sea on 16 October 1918.

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

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

The New York Evening World
Friday, February 4, 1921

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

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

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

The Irish Independent
February 7, 1921

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

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

Related Posts:

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