Victims of sinking washed up on the Small Isles

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We published two weeks ago (The Oban Times, October 26) an account of the sinking of the SS Otranto off Islay during the First World War, which resulted in the deaths of 315 American soldiers.

Martin Briscoe from Fort William wrote to say: ‘I was reading your article on the HMS Otranto. Did you realise that two of the bodies were found on the Small Isles?

‘I came across some details when looking up the deaths of two of the Royal Engineers working on the Caledonian Canal during WWI in the police Register of Accidents, Sudden Deaths and Bodies Found in Lochaber Archive.

‘One was an American soldier found at Cambusmore on the Isle of Muck on November 3, 1918, and was wearing an identification disc which gave his name, PFC Tom L Davies of the 120th Infantry Regiment, 30th Division.  He was buried temporarily on Muck then later repatriated and buried in Savannah, Georgia.

‘The other was found on Castle Island, Eigg on November 11, 1918.  The body was also badly decomposed and described as “apparently an American soldier”. He was also temporarily buried on the island. But the death register names him as Thomas Battersby but again has “supposed to be an American soldier”. It does not say where the name came from, it is signed by the procurator fiscal.

‘I looked up the name and the only person on board with that name was Corporal Thomas Battersby of the Royal Marine Light Infantry.  His name is on the Chatham Naval Memorial, ie, no known grave.’

I passed the information to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).

‘I managed to find a relative of his through Ancestry and contacted her. She thought he had been lost on the ship and was interested to know where he was buried so I suggested she contact the CWGC with the details I supplied. I suspected he might have been buried with the Americans at Brookwood Military Cemetery but I had this reply from his relative last year.

‘ “Thank you for remembering my search! After many emails to the CWGC I was sadly informed that they do not know the exact whereabouts  of Thomas, as no war grave is registered. The only info I gained was the entry of his body and identifying number registered by someone in Islay.

‘ “The good news is, I managed to raise the funds needed, gain council permission and had an unveiling of the new war memorial replacing the lost /damaged original on November 11, 2015, in Thomas’s home town of Salford. It was a very sad but also proud day for me. If you google Greengate War Memorial you should see links to pictures on the Manchester Evening News. We arranged a full ceremony with the last post, prayers and poems.

‘ “I’m hoping to get to Islay in the summer to have a look at the cemetery, and pay my respects.”

‘I bought a copy of Neil Scott’s book, I notice there is one mistake. He quotes Lord Robertson as saying there is the grave of an Unknown Negro from the Otranto in Kilchoman Military Cemetery but I think he mistook for a grave like that in Kilnaughton Military Cemetery but he was from the Tuscania.’