It is quite rare for a person to have two graves, but Capt.E.G.W.Davidson was such a man, with a memorial in Thurlestone Churchyard in Devon, and his actual grave in Islay.
I am extremely gratefull to Nick Hide, Captain Davidson’s Grandson, for the information and most of the photos below. Ernest George William Davidson was born in 1874 at Rangoon, British Burma. His father was a senior Colonial Police Officer who had served for a brief period in the Rifle Brigade on a purchased commission in the 1860s The Family were descendants of one of the junior lines of the extensive Davidson of Tulloch family, the chiefly family of the Clan Davidson. This Davidson family can be traced back to Cromarty, on the coast of Eastern Scotland in the 1650s. Later they became v. successful London West India Merchants., & purchased Tulloch Castle, Dingwall in 1760.
By the time EGWD is born, this mercantile heritage & wealth had virtually all gone but the family still had an extraordinary status. EGWD’s uncle was Sir Arthur Davidson, a Royal Equerry from 1891-1922. Ironically, EGWD never wanted to join the RN but had no choice, joining in 1889 as cadet as 14 year old.
The wrecking of the Otranto The Otranto was an unlucky ship from the day she launched, or rather wasn’t. It took two goes to get her down the slipway at Belfast’s Workman Clark shipyard, once on the 23 March 1909 and then successfully on 27 March, being finally delivered to her owners, the Orient Steam navigation Company, in June of that year. Although she was intended for the London – Australia run as a passenger and mail carrier, she spent the summer of 1909 cruising in Northern European waters and finally left London on her maiden voyage to Australia on 1 October 1909. Here she had some success and was back in England in time to take part in the King George V’s Coronation Naval Review on 26 June 1911.
One week after Great Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914 the Otranto was requisitioned by the Admiralty for conversion to an auxiliary cruiser, having six 4.6 in (120 mm) guns fitted. She was sent to the South Atlantic to join Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock’s West Indies squadron. It was this squadron that was subsequently diverted to the South-East Pacific to intercept the German Far East squadron under Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee, which was attempting to make for Germany after the loss of its base in Tsingtao, China, to a joint Japanese-British force. It was Otranto which spotted the German squadron on 1 November 1914 off the Chilean coast. The subsequent battle, known as the Battle of Coronel, was a victory for the German squadron, but Otranto managed to escape along with the light cruiser Glasgow. Following the battle, Otranto was ordered to the Falkland Islands to act as a guard ship, but returned to the England in March 1915 after her ex-Merchant Navy crew threatened to mutiny. By May 1915, Otranto was in the Pacific patrolling the West Coast of America Otranto. She continued this task until recalled back to Britain, where in June 1918, she became an armed troopship employed in ferrying American soldiers to the Western Front in Europe.
Only six weeks before the Armistice and the end of the Great War, the Otranto was part of convoy HX50, bound for Glasgow and Liverpool, bringing with it 20,000 U.S servicemen and commanded by Captain Ernest George William Davidson. One of the soldiers wrote “Our trip was uneventful until the night of the 1st October when we collided with a French fishing schooner. We did not suffer any damages, but the schooner was sent to the bottom. There was no loss of life, as we picked up all of the crew, of thirty-six French sailors. We were delayed four or five hours.” On 5 October the American escort ships handed over to two British warships (HMS Mounsey and HMS Minos) off the west coast of Ireland and the convoy began the final leg between the North East coast of Ireland and the Western Isles of Scotland. By now the weather had turned nasty with the wind whipping up huge seas and the convoy having to make their own way in the deteriorating visibility.
It was then that disaster struck. On 6 October 1918 the Otranto collided with HMS Kashmir, another liner turned troopship. The subsequent court of enquiry, found that land was sighted so close to the ships that they needed to take immediate action, but because of the very high wave height and flying spray they were unable to visually signal their intentions. Otranto thought it had seen Ireland and turned sharply to port, while Kashmir correctly thought the land was Islay and turned sharply to Starboard – with the result that they collided! Kashmir was virtually undamaged and made it safely back to port, but the Otranto was badly holed on the port side forward, and in the heavy swell, began to list. Captain Davidson, nursed the ship towards Islay, but the water soon swamped the engine room, and so with the rugged cliffs of Islay so near, there was nothing for it but to anchor and hope for the best.
Help came in the form of the destroyer HMS Mounsey, commanded by Lt Craven. He circled the stricken liner while Captain Davidson ordered many of the men to strip off their heavy clothes and be ready to jump as the Mounsey crept in towards them. The American soldiers lined the boat deck waiting patiently for rescue, and as the destroyer came near enough, they jumped for their lives. With huge wave sweeping over the foundering ship, many fell between the two ships and were washed away, but many more made it to safety. Four times the Mounsey came in, and altogether rescued almost six hundred men. By then the Otranto had dragged her anchors and was starting to drift towards the rocks. HMS. Mounsey, in danger of swamping herself with her huge cargo of troops, left for Belfast. There was nothing more she could do. When the Mounsey arrived in Belfast, many of the survivors were hospitalised there, until eventual transfer to England. Probably none of the survivors saw action in the Great War, as it ended soon afterwards on 11 November 1918.
The Otranto was now in a very bad way. She had grounded on the shore near Machir Bay, and with the heavy seas pounding her continually against the rocks, the ship eventually started to break up, and soon sank with the loss of 431 lives (351 American troops and 80 British crew members). Captain Davidson perished with his ship, and was last seen on deck,still valiantly trying to organize some sort of evacuation for the soldiers and crew left on board. During the followwing days, bodies were washed up all over Machir Bay, including that of Capt. E.G.W. Davidson.