John C. Sirmons, Big Man On Campus

JOHN CHESTER SIRMONS (1883-1953)

John C. Sirmons, a native of Berrien County, GA, served as a school teacher, principal, county superintendent, college professor, dean, and president.  He culminated his career with two decades of tenure at North Georgia College, Dahlonega, GA.

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john-c-sirmons-1952

John C. Sirmons was born November 30, 1883 in Berrien County, GA.  He was a son of Moses G & Nancy E Knight, grand son of George W & Rhoda Futch Knight, great grandson of  Aaron & Nancy Ann Sloan Knight, and great great grandson of William A & Sarah Cone Knight.  d. 13 Aug 1953). He was a nephew of Perry Thomas Knight, and a brother of Thomas Jefferson Sirmons who would perish in the sinking of the H.M.S. Otranto in World War One.

Image detail believed to be John C. Sirmons, about 13 years old, circa 1897.

Image detail believed to be John C. Sirmons, about 13 years old, circa 1897.

The M.G. Sirmons place was about eight miles east of Nashville, GA. His father owned a farm of 260 acres on Land Lots 241 and 242 in the 10th Land District of Berrien County.

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In 1900, sixteen-year-old John C. Sirmans was enumerated in his parent’s household in the 1148 Georgia Militia District of Berrien County.

After high school John C. Sirmons attended Sparks Collegiate Institute at Sparks, GA, about 12 miles west of Ray City. He took up teaching as his occupation and was also ordained as a minister.

In 1906 John Sirmons attended the combined Teacher’s Institute held in Tifton, GA for the public school teachers of Tift and Berrien counties. Other teachers attending from Berrien included J. S. Kirton, A. B. Conger, Miss Bertha McKinney, Miss Mary Ellington, John Smith, M. L. Webb, W.M. Tyson, Miss Mamie Shaw, Miss Della Shaw, Aaron Sirmons, Wm. Rhodes, T. W. Price, J. S. Parr, N. E. Patterson, E. C. Patterson, J. D. Overstreet, Mrs. J. D. Overstreet, Dan McPhaul, Miss Carrie McCranie, Mark McCranie and Miss Fannie Norris.

By 1908 Reverend John Chester Sirmons returned to his alma mater in Sparks where he  joined the faculty of Sparks Collegiate Institute. There he taught in the Grammar School Department.

After a short stint at the Sparks Institute, John decided he needed more education if he was going to pursue a career in higher education. In 1909 he enrolled in Emory College to pursue a bachelors degree. There, he was accompanied by fellow Nashville, GA resident John Dixon Smith.  Smith was born near Ray City, a son of Mary Jane Whitehurst and John Woodard Smith.

At the end of the freshman year John C. Sirmons returned to Berrien County for the summer;  John Sirmans, age 26, was there on April 25,1910 on his father’s farm when enumerated for the 1910 census. He gave his occupation as School Teacher.

John continued his studies at Emory and in 1912 he was awarded the Bachelor of Philosophy degree with a major in English.

 

John C. Sirmans senior photo, Emory University, Class of 1912.

John C. Sirmans senior photo, Emory University, Class of 1912.

Emory University, 1912

John C. Sirmons, Jr., PH.B.
Nashville, GA.

Entered College Fall 1909

Member of Few Literary Society; Ministerial Association; President of Emory Student Volunteer Band; Special Gym, ’10, ’11; Memorial Day Orator for Few, ’11; Fall-Term Debater, ’09; Impromptu Debater, ’11; Second Vice President of Y.M.C.A.; Speaker Senior Banquet; Track Team, ’11, All-Emory Track Team, ’11.

    It is hard to explain “Cy” Sirmons’ popularity on any other ground except “all the world loves a lover.” Soon after “Cy” entered in ’09 the boys found out that his heart was in the keeping of a damsel fair.  For if asked, and if not asked, he would tell all about her and how she looked when he asked her.  When Dr. Walker Lewis took up a collection for LaGrange “Cy” made the largest contribution of any student declaring that he expected to get the best returns on that investment of any that he had ever made.

For John C. Sirmons, the 1912 Emory University yearbook noted “Coming events cast their shadow before them.  The expected announcement came July 21, 1912.

The July 21, 1912 Atlanta Constitution announced the engagement of Sarah Estella Moore to John C. Sirmons, of Nashville, GA.

The July 21, 1912 Atlanta Constitution announced the engagement of Sarah Estella Moore to John C. Sirmons, of Nashville, GA.

Atlanta Constitution
July 21, 1912
MOORE-SIRMONS
Mr. and Mrs. George W. Moore, of Sparks, Ga., announce the engagement of their daughter, Sarah Estella, to Mr. John C. Sirmons, of Nashville, Ga., the wedding to take place August 20.

John C. Sirmons married Sarah Estelle Moore in Berrien County, GA on August 20, 1912.  She was a graduate of Lagrange College, Class of 1911, with a Bachelors degree in Expression.

Marriage certificate of John C. Sirmans and Sarah Estelle Moore, August 12, 1912, Berrien County, GA

Marriage certificate of John C. Sirmans and Sarah Estelle Moore, August 12, 1912, Berrien County, GA

In the latter part of 1912, John C. Sirmans was involved in the production of the south Georgia Methodist conference at Waycross, GA.

Around early 1913, John and Estella moved from Georgia to Cherokee, San Saba County, Texas.  John took a position as principal of the preparatory program at Cherokee Junior College.  Their first child, Mary Helen Sirmons was born in San Saba County on July 1, 1913.

Cherokee Junior College, Cherokee, TX. John C. Sirmons served as principal of the preparatory program in 1913 and later was president of the institution.

Cherokee Junior College, Cherokee, TX. John C. Sirmons served as principal of the preparatory program in 1913 and later was president of the institution. Image source: Texas GenWeb

CHEROKEE JUNIOR COLLEGE. Cherokee Junior College, in Cherokee, San Saba County, was operated by the Llano, and later by the Lampasas District conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The college was housed in a building that had originally belonged to West Texas Normal and Business College. The Llano District conference bought the building from Francis Marion Behrns on April 4, 1911, for $20,000. C. A. Lehmberg served as the first president of Cherokee Junior College.

After only a year or two at Cherokee Junior College, John accepted the position of President of Pierce Collegiate Institute, Blackshear, Georgia. According to the text Pierce County, GA, Pierce Collegiate Institute was a military academy,  formerly known as the Presbyterial Institute,  which was acquired by the Waycross District Methodist Conference about 1913.    The institute’s male students who participated in the program of military instruction were known as the Georgia Cadets, but the institution was also co-educational.  The campus consisted of the main building, Williams Hall and Gordon Hall. There was a dining hall and a girl’s dormitory.

Pierce Collegiate Institute, Main building and girls dormitory (formerly the Presbyterial Institute). Pierce Institute became Blackshear High School in 1917. Image source: Pierce County, GA

Pierce Collegiate Institute, Main building and girls dormitory (formerly the Presbyterial Institute). Pierce Institute became Blackshear High School in 1917. Image source: Pierce County, GA

President Sirmons, of Pierce Collegiate Institute, was invited to address the graduates of Sparks Collegiate Institute during the commencement ceremonies held there on Tuesday, March 23, 1916. An interesting event at the commencement was the wedding of Miss Clifford Hendry to Reverend J. J. Ansley, pastor of the Methodist church at Nashville, GA. The bride was matron of the girls dormitory, which served as the setting for the wedding.

Officially, Sirmons continued to served as president of Pierce Collegiate Institute through December 5, 1916. In September 1916, he relocated to Atlanta and joined the faculty of Tech High School.  This school was on Marietta Street from 1909 to 1924. Tech High offered a college preparatory curriculum that also included training in technical subjects.  His teacher salary that year was $1350.00.

While teaching in Atlanta, John Sirmons suffered the indignity of having his car  stolen. The car was recovered by Atlanta police and in attempting to claim his property, John encountered some difficulty which sparked an investigation into municipal graft.

After the 1916-1917 academic year at Tech High School, John C. Sirmons sought a chance to return to higher education. An opening at his former institution, Cherokee Junior College, provided the opportunity. The  June 21, 1917 edition of The San Saba Star reported his return to Cherokee, TX to discuss a position as president of the institution:

Professor John C. Sirmons visited Cherokee, TX in June, 1917 regarding the presidency of Cherokee Junior College.

Professor John C. Sirmons visited Cherokee, TX in June, 1917 regarding the presidency of Cherokee Junior College, reported The San Saba Star.

The San Saba Star
June 21, 1917

Cherokee Locals.

Prof. J. C. Sirmons came in Wednesday from Georgia to see about accepting a position as president of the college, as Rev. McDonald had resigned.  Prof. Sirmons was formerly a principal of the C.J.C. and has many warm friends here who welcome him back.  While we are glad Prof. Sirmons is with us again, we sincerely regret that Rev. McDonald must leave us,for it is largely by his untiring efforts that the school has become what it is.  He has succeeded in raising the standard of the college, adding on the Freshman course in a University.  But his influence will ever be felt by his students, and the best wishes of a host of friends go with him.

The same edition of The San Saba Star, June 21, 1917 also reported J. C. Sirmons preaching at the Methodist Episcopal church of Cherokee, TX.

Cherokee Locals - Professor John C. Sirmons preached at the Methodist Episcopal Church, Cherokee, TX, June 21, 1917.

Cherokee Locals – Professor John C. Sirmons preached at the Methodist Episcopal Church, Cherokee, TX, June 21, 1917.

San Saba Star
June 21, 1917

Cherokee Locals.

     Prof. J. C. Sirmons preached Sunday morning at the M. E. church.
     Sunday night was Children’s Day exercises at the M. E. church. The little folks had been ably trained by their teachers, Misses Jessie Mae Ottinger, Stella Gay, and Ada Sims, and each one carried out their part well.

Cherokee Junior College entered it seventh year with President John C. Sirmons, of Berrien County, GA, at the helm, and his wife, Estella Moore Sirmons on the faculty. The September 17, 1918 issue of the San Saba Star entreated everyone to support the institution under its new president.

August 30, 1917, President John C. Sirmons and his wife Estella Moore Sirmans, of Berrien County, GA, led Cherokee Junior College, Cherokee, TX into the new academic year.

August 30, 1917, President John C. Sirmons and his wife Estella Moore Sirmans, of Berrien County, GA, led Cherokee Junior College, Cherokee, TX into the new academic year.

San Saba Star
August 30, 1917

Cherokee Locals.

     Lest you forget that September 4 next Tuesday, is the opening day of the seventh year of the C. J. C. we kindly remind you, Let everyone prepare to help and make this a better year than any. We realize that conditions are unfavorable but let us not forget that now, in the adolesence period, is the time to train the boys and girls’ minds in the right way, and nowhere else can this be done so well as in the denominational schools, where under the supervision of Christian instructors they  will be carefully trained.  The faculty, with Prof. J. C. Sirmons as president, will be a strong one.  One special feature is that Mrs. J. C. Sirmons will be the Expression teacher.  She is most excellent in her line of work. Prof. W. Jeff Wilcox still continues as head of the music department: Let every one do his or her part for a better C. J. C.

President Sirmon’s inaugural year was bookended by a senior celebration for the class of 1918. The San Saba Star May 16, 1918 reported the event:

May 16, 1918 San Saba Star reported that the family of John C. Sirmons was in Cherokee.

May 16, 1918 San Saba Star reported that the family of John C. Sirmons had returned to Cherokee, TX and the Cherokee Junior College.

San Saba Star
May 16, 1818

Cherokee Locals
(By Daffodil.)

     Last Monday April the 6th the Senior Class of the C.J.C. had their Class Day exercises.  About ten-thirty the students assembled in the Auditorium.  The Seniors had charge of the Chapel exercises, and from that they succeeded to the Class Day Program.  The class history, class prophecy, class will were read, then the class Giftorian presented the gifts, and the class musicians played the class song and the class sang it.
     After the program the Seniors went up to Grays Mill pond to spend the afternoon. They were accompanied by Mrs. Sirmons and small son,  Derrel. A happy time was spent on the creek kodaking, and in various other ways. The day will long be remembered in the annals of the C. J. C. by the following Seniors:  Missess Flay Farmsworth, Rosalie Bragg, Sallie May Burke, Melba Wilcox, Marie Barber, Julia Hart, Lydia Keese, Jessie Allison, and Messrs. Tom Nelson Gay, and Ralph Thompson.

But the hope of John C. Sirmons presidency of Cherokee Junior College was not to endure. The institution, which had accepted students since 1911, reported a small enrollment in the fall of 1918. On July 21, 1921, the property would be sold  to the school trustees of San Saba County for $20,000. “The building was used as a public school until it burned on January 30, 1945. In 1978 Cherokee High School stood on the site, the entrance to the old college having been incorporated in the new structure.”

From personal notices in The San Saba Star it appears that by January 1919, John C. Sirmons departed Cherokee Junior College and was working in Fort Worth, although Estella and the children remained in Cherokee, TX.

The January 16, 1919 edition of the San Saba Star, San Saba, TX reported that John C. Sirmans was commuting between Forth Worth and Cherokee, TX where his family was still residing.

The January 16, 1919 edition of the San Saba Star, San Saba, TX reported that John C. Sirmans was commuting between Forth Worth and Cherokee, TX where his family was still residing.

The San Saba Star
January 16, 1919

Cherokee

“Rev. J. C. Sirmons of Fort Worth spent the week with his family.”

The 1920 Census found John C. Sirmons, his wife Sarah Estella Moore Sirmons, daughter Mary Helen and son John Derrell back in San Saba County, TX renting a home near Cherokee. The occupation of both John and Estella was recorded as teaching public school.

It appears that shortly thereafter, John C. Sirmons and his family returned to Berrien County, GA.  He was there in time to join Ray City citizens who fought the creation of Lanier County, GA.

In 1922, John C. Sirmons was himself back in school. He returned to Emory University, Atlanta, GA where he registered in the Graduate School. For his graduate studies he was awarded a Master of Arts in Education.

In 1924, John C. Sirmons was serving as principal of Tifton High School, Tifton, GA.  In the summer of 1924 he attended the UGA summer school for county superintendents and in 1925 he was Superintendent of Tift County schools.

In 1927 he joined the faculty of  what was then the South Georgia Agricultural and Mechanical College at Tifton, GA. The College was formerly the Second District A&M School, a “college preparatory boarding school” for students from 14-21 years of age, which had offered two and four-year programs with a study of agriculture for boys and a study of home economics for girls. In 1927, the  school was transitioning from a high school to college curriculum. Beginning  in the fall of 1928 only college-level classes were offered. In 1929, the name of the institution was changed to the Georgia State College for Men (GSCM), and in 1933 it was renamed Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College.

Second District Agricultural College, Tifton,GA, now known as Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College.

Second District Agricultural College, Tifton,GA, now known as Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College.

John Continued to work at the college through 1931. In 1928 he was president of the Tifton Kiwanis Club and in 1930 he a member of the “Flying Squadron,” a group of four Kiwanian singers (H. D. Webb, J. C. Sirmons, Otis Woodard, and A. F. Darden) in the club.

The 1930 Census shows John, Estella and son Derrell residing in Tifton, Georgia. John’s occupation was “college professor; Estella was working as a public school teacher They were renting a home at 810 Love Avenue. Their next door neighbor was Orion Mitchell, head football coach at the college. In 1931, Mitchell would lead the fledgling GSCM team to a 14-13 victory over the University of Miami.

By 1932 John C. Sirmons accepted a position at North Georgia College, Dahlonega, GA. He served as Registrar and was also a faculty member in Education.

North Georgia College administration building, 1934. John C. Sirmons, native of Berrien County, GA, served as registrar and dean for over twenty years.

North Georgia College administration building, 1934.

John C. Sirmons, native of Berrien County, GA, served as Registrar and Dean of North Georgia College for over twenty years.  A number of young men and women of Berrien County attended North Georgia College during his time of service, including Jimmy Grissett, Jamie Connell, Joe Donald Clements, Wilson Connell, Marie Sirmans, John Franklin Miller, Walter Buddie Dickson, James Donald Rowan, Donald Willis, William Henry Mathis,John David Luke, Eddie Brogdon, George W. Chism, Jack Rutherford, Donald Keefe, William Luke, W.D. Alexander, Bill Roquemore, and Donald Keefe.

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Portrait of John C. Sirmons, 1934, North Georgia College.

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John C. Sirmons, Dean of Men and Professor of Education, 1938, North Georgia College.

John C. Sirmons, Dean of Men and Professor of Education, 1938, North Georgia College.

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John C. Sirmons, 1939, North Georgia College.

John C. Sirmons, 1939, North Georgia College.

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John C. Sirmons, 1940, North Georgia College.

John C. Sirmons, 1940, North Georgia College.

In 1940 John C. Sirmons was admitted to Duke University as a graduate student pursuing an advanced degree. Duke University was some 470 miles from Dahlonega, but Sirmons continued in his position as Dean at NGC; hemust have been enrolled in a correspondence program or low residency program that did not require regular attendance in Durham, NC.

The Census of 1940 shows John and Estella, and their son Derrell were living in Dahlonega, renting a house valued at $6000. Estella was working as a school teacher; Derrell was a student at medical college.  The 1940 enumeration of John C. Sirmons does not indicate he owned a farm or reference a farm schedule, but Sirmons must have acquired or rented an agricultural property by 1940.  In 1939, while he continued to serve as Dean of the college, John C. Sirmons also went into poultry production under contract to Jesse D. Jewell, Inc. Sirmons “began with a small chicken house in 1939 and later in the 1940s built a larger one, growing flocks of 10,000 birds for Jesse Jewell’s expanding poultry empire.”

John C. Sirmans, Dean Emeritus, North Georgia College, 1943

John C. Sirmans, Dean Emeritus, North Georgia College, 1943

About 1943 Estella Sirmons joined the NGC faculty. She had been serving as the principal of the school at Suches, GA.

Estella Moore Sirmons, 1943, Associate Professor of English, North Georgia College.

Estella Moore Sirmons, 1943, Associate Professor of English, North Georgia College.

 

John C. Sirmons, 1951, Dean Emeritus, North Georgia College. Sirmons was a native of Berrien County, GA.

John C. Sirmons, 1951, Dean Emeritus, North Georgia College. Sirmons was a native of Berrien County, GA.

John C. Sirmons was ill in 1953 and unable to attend events at the college. He died August 13, 1953.  He was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery, Dahlonega, GA.

Eulogy for John C. Sirmons, October 1, 1953

Eulogy for John C. Sirmons, October 1, 1953

The Cadet Bugler

North Georgia Loses Beloved Dean Emeritus

Read in Assembly
October 1, 1953

    A man has passed away at North Georgia College which leaves a lonely place on our campus.  Dean. J. C. Sirmons has gone to his heavenly inheritance.
    Christianity is a triumphant thing. Sometimes when the heart is lifted on the wings of song we feel it. Under the spell of a great speech or sermon we feel it again.  And the truth sweeps over us in great tides when we look upon a life like that of Cy Sirmons.  Christianity IS a triumphant thing!
    I was on the way to the college when the news came to me of Dean Sirmons’ passing. I am at that stage in my own journey when I cannot afford to lose friends.  Sometimes when we look over our shoulder and see good friends passing away into the shadows beside the road, then we feel a loneliness as we go on under the burden of grief.  Sometimes you think life is hard, even evil.  Then, if you have the sort of faith that made Dean Sirmons’ life shine in the stars, you realize that they have not simply dropped into the shadows, but have passed from the light – through the night – into the light as God promised.  This assurance strengthens you, and girded with this great truth, you lengthen your step, fix your hand a little more firmly in the hand of GOd, and keep working toward your own bend in the road.
     I have seen many alumni and friends of North Georgia College both here and in other parts of the State. Wherever I go, people ask, “Do you know Cy Sirmons? How is Dean Sirmons now?” School teachers have remarked upon his great sense of humor. Some have said, “He helped me with a smile and a good story when I felt awfully blue.” Rich, poor, girl, boy, man, and woman found in him a sympathetic friend.
     Cy Sirmons was a man whose halo was unstained and who well found it easy to exchange the royal robes of earthly servant for whatever spotless garment God provides for those who pass under the shining arch.  The world is a better place because J. C. Sirmons lived on the campus of North Georgia College for a score of years.
          -By Will D. Young, Dean

Grave of John C. Sirmons, Mount Hope Cemetery, Dahlonega, GA.

Grave of John C. Sirmons, Mount Hope Cemetery, Dahlonega, GA.

At North Georgia College an annex to Lewis Hall was added in 1966. The dorm was called Sirmon’s hall after John Sirmons, Registrar and Dean from 1932 until 1949.  This dorm served the campus until 2011.

The Long Trip Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADMIRALTY STATEMENT

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

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

BURIAL AT KILCHOMAN

     ISLAND OF ISLAY (Scotland) Thursday October 10.  – American dead from the transport ship Otranto will be buried in the little churchyard at Kilchoman in wide graves accommodating twenty bodies each. The church was too small to hold more than a hundred bodies, and scores were placed under improvised shelters in the churchyard.
    As rapidly as the bodies can be assembled from now on they will be buried in groups of twenty in an open field on the edge of a cliff commanding a wide view of the sea and directly overlooking the scene of the wreck.
    A memorial service will be held tomorrow at the church. It will be conducted by the Rev. Donald Grant, who, with Mrs. Grant, were leaders in rescue work.  American and British officers, the Islay authorities and islanders will attend. After the simple service has been read a military salute will be fired over the graves.

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

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

The Atlanta Constitution
Nov 17, 1918 Pg B10

American Anthem Sung at Funeral of Otranto Victims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atlanta Constitution
June 26, 1920

DEAD OF THE OTRANTO TO BE BROUGHT HOME.

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

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

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

The Adel News
Friday October 12, 1928, pg 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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