Berrien County Paid Terrible Toll on the Otranto

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. Among the hundreds of Otranto dead were dozens of soldiers from Berrien.  For weeks news of the disaster trickled into American newspapers. Facts were sketchy at best –  In some cases, soldiers who perished in the sinking were incorrectly reported as survivors. The article below incorrectly reported the Irish coast as the site of the sinking. In actuality, the ship went down off the coast of the Isle of Islay, Scotland.  It would nearly two months before the names of the lost were known to the folks at home…

Atlanta Constitution
November 28, 1918

Berrien County Paid Big Toll On The Otranto

Nashville, Ga., November 27.- (Special.) – Berrien county paid a terrible toll in the loss of her young men when the ill-fated Otranto went down off the Irish coast a few weeks ago [October 6, 1918];  in today’s list seven new names of dead from here were added the to already heavy toll.  The names of the dead in today’s list include:

Joe Wheeler, son of John Wheeler, of this city; Lester Handcock, son of Joe Handcock, of Enigma;
William P. Hays, father unknown [George Robert Hayes, died 1914], of Enigma; James M. McMillen, son of Jake McMillen, of Alapaha; Ben F. McCranie, son of Neil McCranie, of Adel. Mr. McCranie had heretofore lost his son-in-law, Gordon Flowers, killed in action some weeks ago. Shelby [Shellie] L. Webb, son of Thomas Webb, of Ray City; Arthur Harper, son of Peter Harper, of Alapaha.
     Those Berrien county boys reported lost prior to this report include Jim Boyett, son of Jack Boyett, of Milltown; Guy Coppage, son of Guy G. Coppage, of Cecil; Lafayette Gaskins, son of Bart Gaskins, of Ray City; Bennie E. Griner, son of Ben Griner, of this city; Robert J. Hancock, son of J. J. Hancock, of Lenox, George H. Hutto, son of Luke Hutto, of Adel; Mack Easters, son of Benjamin Easters, of Lenox; George B. Faircloth, son of Colon Easters, of Milltown; Thomas H. Holland, son of K. H. Holland, of Adel; Ralph Knight, son of Walt Knight, of Ray City; William McMillen, son of B. [Burrell] McMillen of Enigma; John F. Moor, son of Frank Moor, of Adel; Charley Railey, son of John Railey, of Alapaha; William C. Zeigler, son of J. W. [Jesse] Zeigler, of Sparks; Thomas J. Sirmans, son of Mose Sirmans, of this city; Richard [Rufus] Davis, father unknown [Elisha E. Davis].
     The dead from this accident bring Berrien county’s total to about 45 fatalities from all causes during the war. Based upon population, this county has undoubtedly suffered greater loss in men dead than any other county in this state, because of so many of her boys on board the Otranto.  The people here will take steps to preserve the memory of these boys by appropriate construction on the public square, it is said.

Atlanta Constitution, November 28, 1918 - Berrien County Paid Big Toll on the Otranto

Atlanta Constitution, November 28, 1918 – Berrien County Paid Big Toll on the Otranto

 

Otranto Stories in Ray City History

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.

 

Red Cross was at the Ready for HMS Otranto Survivors

It was in mid October when the residents of Ray City, Berrien County, GA and the rest of America learned of  the 1918 sinking of WWI troopship H.M.S. Otranto off the coast of the Isle of Islay, Scotland.

Red Cross in WWI

When survivors of the shipwreck  were ferried by the H.M.S. Mounsey to Belfast, Ireland  the American Red Cross was there waiting for their arrival.  James Marvin DeLoach,  with many Ray City connections, and James Grady Wright of Adel, GA, Henry Elmo DeLaney of Nashville, GA and Ange Wetherington  were among nearly 600 men who had managed to leap from the rails of the Otranto to the deck of the rescue ship Mounsey and were landed in Belfast.  Early Steward of Nashville, GA went into the water and swam a mile and a half to the rocky coast of Islay, Scotland.   Ralph Knight and Shellie Webb, of Ray City, GA were among the Berrien County men who drowned along with hundreds of other soldiers. The Georgia victims and other dead of WWI were honored in the Georgia WWI Memorial Book. (SEE Also Ray City, GA Veterans of World War I).

Not knowing when or where the disaster would come, The American Red Cross had made advanced preparations for receiving the victims of the Otranto Disaster…

1918-american-red-cross

Red Cross canteen workers like these met survivors of the HMS Otranto disaster as they were transported by train from Belfast to rest camps for recuperation.

Otranto Survivors Cared For.   The Red Cross Bulletin, October 21, 1918, Vol II, No. 43, pg 2.

Otranto Survivors Cared For. The Red Cross Bulletin, October 21, 1918, Vol II, No. 43, pg 2.

Otranto Survivors Cared For
The Red Cross Bulletin
October 21, 1918

American soldiers who survived the sinking of the Otranto in the North Channel, between Ireland and Scotland, were taken to an American rest camp in the south of England by American Red Cross workers after a British destroyer landed them in Belfast.  The emergency warehouses established by the American Red Cross at various points along the Irish coast many months ago, with a view to caring for shipwrecked men, enabled the organization to get relief to the Otranto survivors without delay.  These warehouses contain clothing, medicine, food and comforts sufficient to care for 6,000 men at one time.

When news of the Otranto disaster reached shore Red Cross workers were hurried to various points along the Irish and Scotch coasts, and met the survivors when they landed. After being made comfortable the the survivors who reached Belfast were placed on a train bound for the rest camp, this train being met at many points by Red Cross canteen workers who served hot drinks and hot food to the men.  An officer in charge of a detachment of the soldiers had this to say about the relief work:

“The preparations of the American Red Cross before we landed were wonderful.  Many of us owe our lives to this foresight.  But for warm clothing, medicines, and other attention many of us all along the way.  Their efforts in behalf of the men who landed in fairly good condition was only a small part of their work, most of which was centered on fifty men who had to go to the hospitals.”

ROLL CALL OF THE OTRANTO DEAD FROM BERRIEN COUNTY, GEORGIA

Related Posts:

Armistice Day Memorial to Soldiers from Berrien County, GA Killed During WWI

Berrien County, GA soldiers who died in WWI including many who died in the sinking of the HMS Otranto off the coast of Islay, Scotland on October 6, 1918.   To view larger images, scroll down and click icons below.

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The U.S. President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed an Armistice Day for November 11, 1919. In proclaiming the holiday, he said

“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with lots of pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”

Armistice Day  is on November 11 and commemorates the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.