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

Accidental Death of William Crawford Webb

William Crawford Webb.  Image courtesy of Jimmie Webb.

William Crawford Webb. Image courtesy of Jimmie Webb.

William Crawford Webb, born July 30 1907, was the twelfth of thirteen children born  Mary Jane “Mollie” Patten and John Thomas Webb.  He was born near Ray City,GA (fka Ray’s Mill) and grew up on his father’s  farm in the 1329 Georgia Militia District where, along with his ten brothers, he helped with the farm labor.

Several of his brothers served in the military. One brother,  Shellie Loyd Webb, was killed in the sinking of the Otranto during World War I.  It was not until 1928, when William was 21 years old, that his brother’s body was brought home from Islay, Scotland (see The Long Trip Home.)

During World War II, William C. Webb joined the Army enlisting on April 3, 1943 at Fort McPherson, Atlanta, GA.  He served as a Private, First Class in the Medical Corps of the Army Air Force. By December of 1943 he was at Drew Field, Tampa Florida.

That Christmas the base newspaper, The Drew Field Echo, ran a headline story on the new base hospital.  “It is the U. S. Army Medical Corps which keeps ’em healthy,” the paper said.

Drew Field Echo, 1942 Christmas Edition, Drew Army Air Field, Tampa Florida

Drew Field Echo, 1942 Christmas Edition, Drew Army Air Field, Tampa Florida. Image source: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00076231/00041

The story continued, “In the Station Hospital at Drew Field, the medical staff consists of doctors, dentists, sanitary engineers, veterinary officers, administrative officers, nurses, and highly trained enlisted men of all ranks and grades. The entire staff is bound together by a common ideal — to remove the fetters of disease and injury from the men in training in order to make them more effective combatants on the far-flung battle fields of the global war.”

His corps was honored in the Christmas paper, but Christmas was not to be for William Crawford Webb.  In late December, he had been furloughed and had gone home to Ray City, GA.  Following a tragic accident,  he was classified DNB by the Army –   “Died, Non-Battle.”

His obituary ran in the Nashville Herald:

The Nashville Herald
January 4, 1944

PFC William Crawford Webb Passed Away in Atlanta, Dec 23

PFC William Crawford Webb, 37, died a the Lawson General Hospital in Atlanta Saturday afternoon December 23 at 1 o’clock following injuries received when he fell out of a car enroute from Ray City to Moody Field a fews days earlier in the week.
    PFC Webb had spent his entire life in this county before entering the U.S. Army in April, 1942.  He was the son of the late J. T. Webb and Mrs. J. T. Webb of Ray City. In 1927 he was married to the former Miss Doris Knight, daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. Lester Knight.
    At the time of the accident PFC Webb was at home on furlough and had been stationed at Drew Field, Tampa Fla. in the Medical Corps.  Following his injury he was rushed to the hospital at Moody Field and then carried by plane to the hospital in Atlanta on Tuesday.
    Funeral services were held December 26 at 3:30 o’clock at Pleasant Church in Berrien County.  Rev. Charlie Vickers of Nashville, and Elder John Davis of Pearson, conducting the services.  Burial was in the church cemetery.
    Survivors include beside the wife nine children.  Terrell, Heyward, Louise, Donald, Thomas, Bennie K., Jimmie, Linda, and Dean, all at home, his mother, Mrs. J. T. Webb of Ray City, and nine brothers, Dr. M. L. Webb and L. O. Webb of Tifton, L. H. Webb, H. P. Webb, and M. B. Webb of Ray City; H. W. Webb of Valdosta, U. T. Webb, J. T. Webb of Miami, Fla., and Sgt. Homer Webb of U. S. Army, Ill.

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