David Clifford Hickey was born 10 April 1899 in Cocke County, TN. He went down with the sinking of HMS Otranto after a collision with HMS Kashmir on 6 October 1918: “About three hours after the collision, a large wave dropped Otranto onto Old Women’s Reef”, about three-quarters of a mile (1.2 km) offshore, near the entrance to Machir Bay, missing a sandy beach just north of the reef. The action of the enormous waves quickly broke the ship in half and then ripped her bottom out. Of the roughly 489 men aboard after Mounsey departed, only 21 (17 of these were American) were able to successfully swim ashore, although two of these, including one American, later died of their injuries”. His remains were recovered and were initially buried in Scotland.  Samuel Floyd Bennett also perished in this collision. For further information, see HMS Otranto.

Clifford Hickey Buried in Scotland

Mr. R.L. Hickey, of this city, has just received word that the body of his son, Clifford David, who lost his life in the sinking of the transport Otranto, Oct. 6, 1918, off the Scottish coast, was recovered and buried along with a number of his comrades in Scotland.

Mr. Hickey had been unable to learn anything concerning the body of his son, until a few days ago, when he was informed that it was picked up shortly after the fatal accident.

Young Hickey was the first Sweetwater boy to make the supreme sacrifice, and was only 19 years of age.  The father has not yet decided whether he will bring the body home, but states that he feels that he should rest beside his comrades who died with him.

Clifford Hickey Body Returned

Word has been received by Mr. R.L. Hickey that the body of his son Clifford has arrived in Knoxville, and will be buried in the National Cemetery there today with military honors.

Clifford Hickey will be remembered as the first Sweetwater boy to lose his life in the late war, having been drowned when the transport Otranto was sunk of the coast of Scotland.  His body was recovered together with many other sailor boys, and buried on the coast off which the transport sunk.  The Scotch villagers who had charge of the graves protested against the removal of the bodies, as they declared they wanted to care for them permanently.

Ben. F. Sands Writes of Clifford Hickey’s Death

Toulouse France, Mar. 26, 1919

Dear Mr. Hickey and Family:

Tonight, the same as almost every night, my thoughts turn backward and I think of home, my friends, and everything I left—gave up—in order to do what so many American sons did, to help with the war.

Now that it is over, we feel proud of what we have accomplished.  We want to get home and take up the peaceful pursuits of happiness and contentment.  In so doing there is going to be a little feeling down deep in our hearts we will always try to cover, to hide.  Why?  It is too sacred to speak, or write about.  This is a longing for our comrades who went away—and never returned.

I suppose you think that I have acted very out of the ordinary in not writing you before about Clifford’s death.  I never knew anything about it until about six weeks ago, and it was such a shock I was afraid to write then.

To write and speak of such occurrences is something that we seldom do over here.  Some things you can express as well by mouth as by pen but the memory of a pal who has lost his life in this war is far beyond that.

How shall I continue this letter?  I can’t realize that Clifford will not be there with his smile and word of cheer when I return.  He was so jolly and had some good word every time I met him.

Since the last time I saw him, I have carried a secret that I have divulged to no living being—the last word he said to me.  It was as he was getting on the train at Madisonville and these are his exact words.  “Ben, I am going to pray for you, that you get out of this war alive.”  I believe he did.

God knows, Mr. Hickey, it is hard enough for me to write this letter, so if I make some of my sentences sound queer it is because I can’t find words to express my feelings.

After you carry a heavy pack along a muddy road all night long and see your comrades doing the same thing, almost ready to go to sleep while they walk—and I have spoken to more than one unconscious man on his feet—you begin to have a different feeling about friendship.  You never speak of it—just think, that’s all.

My only regret is that your boy—my friend—did not die while going over the top instead of being caught in a trap, without a fighting chance.

Your golden star will shine in his memory, and its rays will be the light that guides you in on to the source of all comfort.

May God comfort you and bless you in all your days, for the son you gave for your country, is my prayer.

Can’t tell just when I am coming home, but hope to be there sometime in August.

Feeling fine, while attending the University at this place.  Have no work to do at all.

Write when you can.  Do hope you are all well.

Your friend,

Sgt. Ben F. Sands, Toulouse University, Toulouse, France, Co. A, Bar. 1



September 25th saw the Otranto leaving America with a full load of troops on which, would be her last trip across the Atlantic. On 6 Oct. 1918, during a heavy storm while carrying troops from America to Glasgow and Liverpool, HMS Otrantocollided with the P&O liner H.M.S. Kashmir also carring American troops, in Machir Bay off the North coast of Islay, Scotland, drifted ashore and became a total wreck. The loss of life was heavy – 431 drowned, including 351 American soldiers – though there were 367 survivors in all. Although the destroyer H.M.S. Mounsey managed to take off several hundred soldiers and crewman 431 died. The dead were buried with military honors in a cemetery in Kilchoman on Islay.

Just after breakfast on Sunday morning 6 October 1918 there was a great jarring and the ship trembled severely. The men on the Otranto were instructed to remain calm and 15-20 minutes later were again instructed to get on deck as quickly as possible. Once on deck the men were faced with very strong winds. Strong enough that one had to hold on to something to keep from being blown over. Soon the word was passed the another ship the Kashmir, had broke her rudder and her Captain was unable to control her hitting the Otranto amidships and bow on port side. This ripped a large hole in her side at the point where the ships hospital was. There were several men in the hospital who were killed outright. She took on a list very quickly and flooding into the engine room shorted out the generators and the lights went out. The conditions of the sea at that time were swells of 15 to 20 feet or more and men were being thrown across the deck of the ship. About this time the HMS Mounsey was coming along side and the swells crashed the two ships together. Men were beginning to jump off the Otranto and onto the Mounsey some timing the jumps right and making it to the Mounsey and others were crushed as the two ships slammed together. At this time the mortally wounded Otranto was grounded on some rocks and was tearing herself apart and soon tore into two parts. Captain Ernest W. Davidson true to the ancient traditions of the sea, stayed with his ship and went down with her in the terrible sea as he saluted his men for one last time. Men were in the raging sea and clinging to anything that would float. One man survived by grabbing a large tub of lard that was floating by him. After being in the water for about 2 hours he finally made it to shore looking like a giant grease ball. By 11:00 am it was all over the Otranto was gone with many men and those who survived were taken to Belfast, Ireland.

Researcher and Designer

Joy Locke & Joe Irons

The featured picture is from the Chattanooga Sunday Times Memorial Supplement, May 25, 1919.

  • Rank: Private First Class
  • Date of birth:
  • 20 April 1899
  • Date of death: 6 October 1918
  • County: Hamblen
  • Hometown: Morristown
  • Service Branch: Army
  • Division/Assignment: Coastal Artillery Corps Company 410
  • Theater: Europe
  • Conflict: World War I
  • Burial/Memorial Location: Knoxville National Cemetery, Knoxville, TN
  • Location In Memorial: Pillar IV, Bottom Panel
  • Contact us to sponsor David C. Hickey

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