Source: Ministry of Defence South Africa
One of South Africa’s worst military disasters, the sinking of SS Mendi, was commemorated at Ga Mothaga Recreation Resort at Atteridgeville near Pretoria during the annual Memorial Service presented by the SA Legion, Atteridgeville Branch. The Chiefs of Services and Divisions in the SANDF layed wreaths at a commemoration service.
History holds the memories of fallen compatriots commissioned for service of South Africa during the First World War on 21 February 1917. The legendary (Rev) Isaac Dyobha is reported to have calmed the panicked men down and preparing them into coming to terms with their fate while the ship was sinking.
SS Mendi was transporting 823 members of the 5th Battalion, South African Native Labour Corps to France. She had sailed from Cape Town via Lagos, where a gun was fitted to her stern, to Plymouth, before proceeding towards Le Havre. At 5am, while under escort of the destroyer HMS Brisk, she was struck and cut almost in half by the SS Darro.
The men of the ship of the South African Native Labour Corps came from a wide range of social backgrounds, and from a number of South African peoples, some men were killed outright in the collision, and some were trapped below decks. Many however gathered on the listing deck of the SS Mendi.
SS Mendi was a steamship of the Elder Dempster Line, chartered by the British government as a troopship, which sank off the Isle of Wight in 1917 with 616 South Africans plus 30 British crew members losing their lives in the tragic incident.