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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Seeking Descendants of HMS Otranto Disaster Victims and Survivors

THE OTRANTO DISASTER 1918

The Tragic Story of a WWI Sea Disaster –
And the Dare Devil Rescue that Saved 600 Lives

Scottish TV Company CALEDONIA TV is making a film for the BBC and US TV to mark the 100th anniversary of the Otranto Disaster. CALEDONIA TV is seeking descendants and families of the men who died and the survivors to tell their stories on screen.

If you are a descendant or know of someone please contact Donald Campbell at Caledonia TV:

dcampbell@caledonia.tv
0044 141 564 9100
http://www.caledonia.tv

HMS Otranto

HMS Otranto during WWI

HMS Otranto during WWI

HMS Otranto Disaster

A troopship, crammed with more than a thousand men, suffered a catastrophic collision off the storm-lashed coast of the Scottish Hebrides. This is the story of the tragic Otranto, the 470 American soldiers and British sailors who were lost on her, and of how hundreds of others were snatched from the jaws of death.

The end of the Great War was just weeks away when former P&O luxury liner, the Otranto, crossed the Atlantic, laden with young American soldiers. Just a few months before, she had made the same trip with Private Buster Keaton on board. To defy German submarines, the Otranto sailed in a convoy, protected by a ring of British warships.

But, appalling weather prevented accurate navigation and the convoy was forced to rely on dead reckoning. When dawn broke, on the 6th of October 1918, a treacherous rocky coast was sighted. Most ships correctly identified it as Scotland, but not the Otranto. Her officers thought they were off Ireland. The Otranto turned north – and another troopship, the Kashmir, sliced into her, breaking her back.

An extraordinary rescue mission ensued. British destroyer HMS Mounsey saved 596 men but 489 were left behind. Only 21 men – 17 of them Americans – managed to swim to the coast of the island of Islay, where they were dragged from the sea by islanders – mostly boys and old men not called-up to the army.

But it was mostly bodies that the Islay people dragged ashore. The following morning the coast was strewn with scores of them. In a remarkable display of public sympathy, local people scoured beaches, and men roped themselves together to climb down cliffs to retrieve bodies.

Kilchoman Church became a morgue. 100 bodies were stretched out on the pews. When the church got full, they laid another 100 of the dead outside among the gravestones. The islanders buried these dead strangers in a moving and dignified ceremony.

In America, the sense of shock was palpable. The New York Times, broke the story in page after page of horrific detail. Nowhere was the shock more profoundly felt than Berrien County, Georgia. A disproportionate number of men came from the area, and of the 60 names carved on Nashville, GA’s war memorial, 28 are those of Otranto victims.

Otranto Stories in Ray City History

ROLL CALL OF THE OTRANTO DEAD FROM BERRIEN COUNTY, GEORGIA

Kilchoman Cemetery on Islay is a haunting place, perched on a promontory overlooking the sea. Although the identified American dead were later reinterred in US cemeteries, there are still seventy graves at Kilchoman – the Otranto’s Captain and crew, and 43 un-identified Americans.

 

Kilchoman Cemetery. Some rights reserved by Calypso Orchid

Kilchoman Cemetery. Some rights reserved by Calypso Orchid

 

A century on, they lie close to the sea which proved to be more deadly than the foe they were sent to fight. Their loss is not forgotten. Half a mile out at sea, and 40 feet below the waves, lies the storm battered hulk of the Otranto.

 

Let Us Unveil

Following the WWI sinking of HMS Otranto , October 6, 1918, Berrien County sought to establish a permanent memorial to the soldiers who perished in the disaster. Of the 25 Berrien men killed in the Otranto disaster, two from Ray City, GA were  Ralph Knight and Shellie Loyed Webb.

 

berrien-doughboy

Enter a caption

While the country celebrated victory over Germany and the Central Powers, Berrien County struggled for funds to pay for a monument to its dead.  It stands today as an enduring reminder of those young men from Berrien who gave their lives in WWI. Located at the Courthouse Square, West Marion Avenue at North Davis Street, Nashville, GA.

The Art Inventories Catalog of the Smithsonian Institution describes the monument titled “The Spirit of the American Doughboy,”  Viquesney, E. M., 1876-1946, sculptor:

“Figure of a World War I infantryman advancing through the stumps and barbed wire of No Man’s Land. He holds a Springfield rifle in his proper left hand, with peep site in rear, and a grenade in his upraised proper right hand. His uniform consists of an ammo packet, canteen, backpack, bayonet scabbard, gas mask and helmet. The sculpture sits atop granite base with shield shapes on each side and stars and stripes decorations. The granite pedestal sits atop a paved brick footing.”

“Funds for the sculpture were raised by a memorial committee headed by Rev. Perry T. Knight (Ray City, GA). The sculpture was erected between 1920 and 1923 and was dedicated ca. 1921 or 1922. It was left veiled until late 1923, pending completion of fund raising efforts. The sculpture was originally installed in the middle of Marrion Avenue, facing north approximately 50 feet west of where it now stands. It was moved in the early 1950s and rededicated when Marrion Avenue, Georgia Highway 129 was paved. A member of the Parrish family who had a monument carving company in Nashville possibly may have assisted in carving the base.”

 The following paragraphs are extracted from:

1918 Sinking of the Otranto Leads to Purchase of The Doughboy Monument for Berrien

By Skeeter Parker

Fund Drive Begins

As if the flu pandemic in 1918 were not enough, the pall of death hung even heavier over Berrien County at a time when the rest of the country was celebrating the end of hostilities in WWI. However,the local citizenry was determined that the soldiers’ names would never be forgotten, as it says on the Doughboy monument “LEST WE FORGET.” A monument fund was announced on the front page of Nashville Herald on November 29, 1918, and readers were told “Every public spirited man, woman and child in Berrien county should contribute liberally to this glorious cause.”

Because most of the Nashville newspapers from the 1920s were destroyed or missing when microfilming was done, details surrounding the Doughboy statue’s coming to Nashville mostly come from various internet sources. According to one of those sources the statue was ordered in the spring of 1921 and erected in the middle of Marion Avenue in late July or August 1921. Different sources also say that while the monument was installed in 1921 it remained under covers until 1923 when “payment for the sculpture and impressive base was completed.”

This is borne out by a January 18, 1923 article in The Nashville Herald in which the writer said:

“It is an everlasting shame and a matter to cause the people of these three counties to feel badly over that this handsome memorial now stands veiled, because it is not paid for.”

The reader should keep in mind that in October 1918 Cook and Lanier Counties had not been formed yet and were still part of Berrien.

In January of 1923, Reverend Perry Thomas Knight  made a personal appeal to the people of Berrien County to pay off the final balance owed on the statue.  Knight grew up at Rays Mill (now Ray City), GA where he attended the nearby  Green Bay School, and later attended Oaklawn Baptist Academy at Milltown (now Lakeland), GA :

Letter to the Editor
Nashville Herald
January, 1923

Let Us Unveil

   There stands erected at Nashville, Ga., a suitable Memorial to the memory of the World War Veterans, but the veil must be lifted, “Lest We Forget.”

    J. W. E. Powell of Nashville has a complete record of every person who has donated to the Memorial Fund and the amount donated by each.

    If you have subscribed to the Memorial Fund and have not paid your subscription, please do so at once. Our boys did not fail us when they were called to service.

    We are writing the builders of the monument, asking that they give us until Wednesday, Jan. 31, 1923 to finish paying a balance of Two Thousand Dollars.

    Will you contribute $10.00 and by that be one of the Two Hundred to lift this obligation? Just as soon as the amount is sure to be in hand we will announce the day of the unveilling.

    Send your contribution to J. W. E. Powell, Nashville, and tell him what it’s for.  Do that today. We expect to have printed in the Nashville Herald, beginning next week, a list of the donors and amount given, until we reach the $2,000.

    Talk to your neighbor, to the stranger, to the Veteran, to the Everybody until we raise the money. It must be done.

    Send The Nashville Herald a card now saying: “I am one of the Two Hundred and will pay $10.00.”

    P.T. Knight 

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Thomas Jefferson Sirmons Rests at Mount Pleasant Church Cemetery

Thomas Jefferson Sirmons was a son of Nancy Elizabeth Knight (1866-1938) and Moses Greyson Sirmons (1857-1928).  He was a grandson of Rhoda Futch and George Washington Knight, and a nephew of Perry Thomas Knight.

PRIVATE THOMAS JEFFERSON SIRMONS

PRIVATE THOMAS JEFFERSON SIRMONS
Nashville, Ga.

PRIVATE THOMAS JEFFERSON SIRMONS Nashville, Ga. Private Sirmons entered service July 16, 1918.  Was attached to Second Unit, Coast Artillery Corps, September Automatic Replacement Draft,  Ft. Screven, Ga. Embarked for over-seas the latter part of September,  sailing on the ill-fated transport “Otranto,” which was sunk off the Scottish Coast in a collision October 6, 1918. Private Sirmons was one of the soldiers drowned.

In 1940, Perry Thomas Knight wrote the following notes about Thomas Jefferson Sirmons:

“Thomas J. Sirmons b. May 26, 1892 enlisted as a soldier in the World War and on his trip over seas on October 6, 1918 went down with the ship Otranto.  His body was buried on the coast of Scotland on the Isle of Isly and two years later his body was exhumed and brought back to his home at the expense of the United States of America and he was buried at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery in Berrien County, Georgia.  The compiler of these records attended his funeral. He was buried with military honors.”  – Perry Thomas Knight

Graves of Otranto men at Kilchoman, Islay

Graves of Otranto men at Kilchoman, Islay

Two years after his death in the sinking of HMS Otranto the body of Thomas Jefferson Sirmons was returned to the United States and re-interred at Mount Pleasant Church Cemetery, about 9 miles northeast of Ray City, GA.  Another victim of the Otranto disaster, Shelley Loyd Webb, waited in a grave on Islay Isle for ten years before being brought home to rest.

Grave of Thomas Jefferson Knight, Mount Pleasant Church Cemetery, Berrien County, GA

Grave of Thomas Jefferson Knight, Mount Pleasant Church Cemetery, Berrien County, GA. Image source: Charles T. Zeigler (see http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=90451556 )

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The American Red Cross and the Otranto Rescue

HOW THE RED CROSS MET THE VICTIMS OF THE HMS OTRANTO DISASTER

When the ill-fated WWI troopship H.M.S. Otranto departed New York on September 24, 1918  little could her passengers have imagined how they would be met by the American Red Cross upon their tragic arrival in Europe.  Among the hundreds of soldiers aboard The Otranto was a contingent of Berrien County men, including  Ralph Knight and Shellie Webb, of Ray City, GA; James Marvin DeLoach,  with many Ray City connections; James Grady Wright of Adel, GA; and Early Steward of Nashville, GA. Other Berrien victims were honored in the Georgia WWI Memorial Book.

Shellie Webb and Ralph Knight, along with some two dozen other Berrien men, perished that stormy Sunday morning off the island of Islay, Scotland. Early Steward, of Nashville, GA was one of the very few who went into the sea and made it to the shore of Islay still alive. James M. Deloach and James Grady  Wright were among some 600 who managed to leap from the rails of the Otranto to the deck of the rescue ship Mounsey.

In October,1920, just two years after the sinking of the Otranto, George Buchanan Fife, a writer for Harpers Magazine and, later, biographer of Charles Lindberg, told the story of how the American Red Cross prepared for and answered the challenge of caring for the victims of the Otranto sinking.

otranto-disaster_distributing-supplies

In response to the 1918 sinking of the Otranto off the coast of Islay, Scotland, the “Flyinging Squadron” of the American Red Cross rushed aid and supplies to the Island.

The following exerpts are from Fife’s work, The Passing Legions: How the American Red Cross Met the American Army in
Great Britain, the Gateway to France,
     which is available for free online reading.

The destruction of the Otranto was not only the heaviest misfortune to befall the American troops in their hazardous voyaging oversea, but was one of the great catastrophes of the war, occurring at a time when American effort was at its utmost in the task of landing an army in France. As the censors in England withheld transmission of the story for five days it had only an ephemeral appearance in the press of America and many of the details in the foregoing narrative are here published for the first time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

The Passing Legions: How the American Red Cross Met the American Army in Great Britain, the Gateway to France

The Passing Legions: How the American Red Cross Met the American Army in Great Britain, the Gateway to France
By George Buchanan Fife. Click image to read full text online.

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Islay Remembered Otranto Soldiers at Christmas Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 probably trained at Camp Gordon, GA.

Recruits' open air instruction, Camp Gordon, Atlanta, GA 1918

Recruits’ open air instruction, Camp Gordon, Atlanta, GA 1918

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.

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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

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