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

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 )

Related Post:

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.