Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Georgia, U.S.A. in the Great War: Part II

The Otranto Disaster

On the morning of 25 September 1918, about 690 Doughboys (infantrymen), mostly Georgians from Fort Screven, boarded the old British troopship HMS Otranto, which set sail with a large Allied convoy bound for England. The Otranto was a medium-sized, prewar passenger liner that, like so many others, had been pressed into military service by the British Royal Navy. 

The tragic 1918 sinking of the British Otranto upset many Georgia communities. Nearly every county in the state lost at least one man when the ship went down off the coast of Scotland.

As the convoy entered the Irish Sea on 6 October still a day from port, the weather became worse, with gale-force winds. A tremendous wave struck the Kashmir, a converted troopship within the convoy, causing it to break ranks and veer hard. It rammed at full steam into the unsuspecting Otranto and caused severe damage to the liner. With a gaping hole in her side and a loss of power, the Otranto was helpless against the strong, storm-driven current, and she began to drift toward the nearby Scottish island of Islay and its rocky coast. The Otranto began to sink slowly before a huge wave pushed the ship onto Islay's rocks. The ship broke apart and quickly sank. Approximately 370 men were killed, an estimated 130 of whom were Georgians.


In late September 1918, new draftee replacements for the Fort Screven Coast Artillery units began reporting to the infirmary seriously ill. Within a few days, it became clear that the men had contracted the dreaded Spanish flu. On 1 October the number of ill at Augusta's Camp Hancock jumped from two to 716 in just a few hours. The next day, Camp Gordon near Atlanta reported that 138 soldiers had contracted the virus. On 5 October Camp Hancock was quarantined with 3,000 cases of flu, but the quarantine came too late, as 47 cases had already reached the nearby city; by evening, more than 50 soldiers were dead, while many more had contracted pneumonia. Though seriously affected by the Spanish flu epidemic, Georgia escaped the massive numbers of sick and dying counted in other states along the East Coast.

Remembering the War

World War I officially ended on 11 November 1918, known as Armistice Day. Most Americans wanted to remember the war and the sacrifice of the men who had fought in it. This spirit of remembrance led to Armistice Day being recognized as a new national holiday. The tragic sinking of the HMS Otranto had stunned many Georgia communities, perhaps none more than the small town of Nashville. The seat of a sparsely populated and agricultural Berrien County, Nashville lost 20 residents in the Otranto sinking and another 27 young men to combat or disease. At the war's end, the citizens of Nashville decided to erect a monument honoring the community's fallen heroes.

Spirit of the American Doughboy

Sculptor Ernest M. Viquesney, an Indiana native living in nearby Americus, Georgia, designed a statue of a Doughboy in combat. The seven-foot-tall bronze soldier stands in bronze mud amid broken stumps and tangles of barbed wire. The town of Nashville paid $5,000 for the public sculpture, which was first unveiled  in November 1921.

A 1920s postcard depicts Ernest M. Viquesney's sculpture, Spirit of the American Doughboy,
 which stands in downtown Waycross, GA. Viquesney produced more than 
150 of these statues for towns across Georgia between 1921 and 1943.

As word of Viquesney's statue spread, representatives from other towns visited Americus to see the monument. New orders poured in, and Viquesney went into business, making the statues he now called the Spirit of the American Doughboy. The sculptor would go on to produce more than 150 statues between 1921 and 1943 and deliver them to towns all across the nation.

In 1922 two of America's war dead received special recognition and a large memorial site in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. These fallen young men represented America's Unknown and Known Soldiers, comprising the nation's unknown or missing dead and all of the known troops killed during World War I. Congress chose Charles Graves of Rome, Georgia, who had been killed in combat at the age of 18 and buried with full military honors in France, to be America's Known Soldier, and plans were made to create a monument and coordinate his reburial in Arlington. Graves's mother, however, wanted him buried at the family cemetery near Rome. Congress honored the mother's wishes and sent the body to Georgia. The following year, Graves was buried once again, this time in a more prominent memorial at Rome's Myrtle Hill Cemetery. Later, three World War I machine guns were placed around the site to "guard" Charles Graves for eternity. The city planted 34 magnolia trees around the cemetery to honor each of Floyd County's lost lives.

Source:  The New Georgia Encyclopedia, (Link)

1 comment:

  1. The S.S Tuscania carrying US soldiers was sunk off the coast of Scotland with the lost of approximately 210 lives. The US soldiers who died were removed at a later date. All the information and photographs are available on the web and makes interesting reading.