SS Mendi – England Centenary Commemoration 2017

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The centenary parade to mark the loss of the SS Mendi was held at Southampton’s Hollybrook Cemetery on the 20st of February. The site memorialises 2000 soldiers who died at sea and have no grave – that includes 600 of  the 616 casualties from the Mendi – fittingly honoured near the memorial to the great British WW1 soldier Field Marshal Horatio Kitchener.

Respect was also shown in the dignitaries from the host nation who attended -Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe was joined by the HRH Princess Royal, Princess Anne and her husband Vice-Admiral Sir Timothy Lawrence; the Chief of the South African Navy Vice-Admiral Mosiwa Hlongwane; and the Minister for the Middle East and Africa, Tobias Ellwood.

Ceremonial duties were performed by a guard of honour and band of the South African Navy while all four arms of service stood guard around the memorial cross.

In paying tribute Mr Radebe drew on the words of the South Africa poet SEK Mqhayi: “Somebody has to die, so that something can be built, somebody has to serve so that others can live.” The profound meaning in these words did not go unnoticed, touching an emotional chord amongst the entourage of descendents of the Mendi crew who were in attendance, amongst which was Siboniso Makaye, whose grandfather was one of the crew members, Private Ndabana Makaye. Siboniso’s own father died when he was only four, he had grown up hearing about his grandfather’s fate from his grandmother who had raised him.

 

“Africa is saying it is well with our souls for these heroes. Today Africa is here” are the words  of Navy chaplain Captain (Rev) Lulamile Ngesi, who paraphrased the words of a prominent American lawyer who lost four of his children when their ship sank.

 

Perhaps the most poignant moment came when the piper from the South African Medical Services played the lament -a haunting version of the old hymn Abide With Me

Tribute to our heroes of the past, bond with the current

After paying tribute to heroes of ‘forgotten valour’, veterans enjoyed the chance to meet current serving members of the SANDF, who undertook the ceremonial duties during the centenary. To conclude this momentous day the opportunity granted to meet the Officer Commanding of the South African frigate, SAS AMATOLA, Captain Roux on board the ship in Portsmouth harbour.   Plaques were exchanged and stories swapped – a fitting end to an historic day of remembrance for those lost at sea.
Legion role in Centenary build-up

It was encouraging to see the culmination of everyone’s effort in this auspicious moment, with the SA Legion playing a significant role in the build-up to this year’s centenary (since SA Legion initiated this memorial service at Hollybrook five years ago). This year, although not run by the Legion, the following Legionnaires contributed: Wreaths were laid by Mr Cameron Kirk Kinnear, Regional Chairman of the SA Legion UK & Europe at Hollybrook (with England Branch Chairman, Mr Claudio Chiste laying a wreath at Milton cemetery on the Friday). It is perhaps fitting that both are naval veterans and Cameron is a survivor of the sinking of the SAS PRESIDENT KRUGER (affectionately known as the “PK”).

Also in attendance were Legionnaires Justin Bosanquet, Graeme Scott, Theo Fernandes, Tony Povey, Jose Lopes, Tino de Freitas, Craig Esterhuizen and Grant Harrison.

 

Article written by Lgr Claudio Chiste and Lgr Justin Bosanquet with images by Lgr Theo Fernandes, CWGC and final image by Lgr Claudio Chiste.


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The centenary of the sinking of the SS Mendi, as well as Armed Forces Day was commemorated at Noordwijk in the Netherlands on 21 February 2017.

The ceremony began with a moving chapel service led by Rev. Andrew Gready. Short speeches were delivered by the Mayor of Noordwijk Jan Rijpstra, South African Ambassador Vusi Koloane, Lesotho Ambassador Ms Mpeo Mahase-Moiloa, historian Mark Sijlmans, and myself on behalf of the South African Legion.

The service was followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at the gravesides of five named, and one unnamed SS Mendi casualties, whose bodies were washed-up on the Dutch coast, and now rest in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission section of the Noordwijk General Cemetery.

The now-annual event was hosted by the South African Embassy in partnership with the Municipality of Noordwijk – who have been of amazing support in the way they have embraced ‘their’ SS Mendi casualties – and the South African Legion (EU branch).

South African dignitaries included the Ambassador, as well as Defence attaché Brig. Gen. Mac Letsholo, Chargé d’Affaires Mrs. Namhla Gigaba, and a fine delegation of embassy and consular staff.

In addition to Lesotho, the Ambassadors of Cameroon, Egypt, Kenya, Senegal and Zambia were also in attendance.

The Defence Attachés of the USA, Great Britain, Canada, Japan, Romania and Uganda also attended.

The Royal Netherlands Armed Forces sent several high-ranking officers from various branches. They also supplied a Guard of Honour of Dutch soldiers to perform ceremonial duties such as raising and lowering the flags. They also supplied a very competent trumpeter who played Last Post, and a piper who added much decorum to the proceedings.

Afterwards, the SA Ambassador invited guests to an informal dinner of South African food and wine in Noordwijk’s superb new sports complex.

After dinner, I was given the opportunity to say a few words. As a token of our appreciation for their continued support, I presented SA Legion Shields to the Mayor of Noordwijk, Ambassador Koloane, and Brig. Gen. Letsholo.

I also presented the Ambassador, the General, and Chargé d’Affaires Namhla Gigaba with first editions of Fred Khumalo’s just-published novel ‘Dancing the Death Drill’, that includes the sinking of the SS Mendi in its plot. I presented a further two copies to the Mayor of Noordwijk for the city’s public library.

Dominoes

It is incredibly heartening to see how an event that was started by the South African Legion EU Branch just three years ago has grown from a modest ceremony with a few dozen attendees to an annual remembrance embraced by the SA Embassy as well as the international diplomatic community, and attended by well over 80 people. It was just a pity it fell on a work day, which prevented more of the UK Legionnaires from attending.

It was humbling for the SA Legion to receive special mention in Ambassador Koloane’s speech, in which he thanked us ‘for keeping the memory alive’.

 

Andrew Bergman, Branch Chair SA Legion Europe gave the following speech:

Locoburgemeester Van Duin, your Excellency Ambassador Koloane, Brig. General Letsholo, Madame Gigaba, ladies and gentlemen, dames en heren, maNena nomaNenakhazi

In his iconic 1914 poem entitled ‘The Soldier’ English First World War poet Rupert Brooke says:

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’ some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.

These words by an Englishman, so loving of England, could just as easily have been penned in isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sesotho, or any of the other languages that make up South Africa’s inimitable multicultural tapestry today, by a member of the South African Native Labour Corps:

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’ some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever eKoloni, kwaZulu, Mpumalanga, Lesotho, mZanzi Afrika.

Many of the men who were lost off the Isle of Wight that dark February night 100 years ago had never seen the sea before they gathered at the Green Point Track near to Cape Town harbour to board the SS Mendi. So as the sea engulfed the ship, they had little chance in the frigid waters.

The remains of those pitiful few SS Mendi casualties that the cruel sea surrendered might lie in foreign fields, but still, today, after 100 hundred years, their sacrifice does South Africa credit. Their names join those of thousands of soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice – for better or for worse – for King, Commonwealth and Country.

Nederland koos voor neutraliteit in de Eerste Wereldoorlog, maar toch waren Nederlanders niet gespaard van de vele nare neveneffecten van een oorlog dat op hoor afstand werd gevochten. Vanuit Nederland hoeft men vandaag maar een dag-ritje Ieper of een weekeindje naar Parijs te maken om de relatief – en certainement na Zuid Afrikaanse begrippen – zeer kleine geografische afstanden waarin de industriële oorlogsellende waarna te SS Mendi stoomde zich afspeelde.

Zo werd zelfs de stoffelijke resten van de Zuid Afrikaanse soldaten, gedragen door zeestromingen en aangespoeld op de Nederlandse kust. En hier in Noordwijk werd onze kameraden, geboren in de droge uitgestrekte vlaktes van Zuidelijk Afrika, of in de heuvels en bergen van KwaZulu or Umtata of Lesotho, of Botswana, uiteindelijk met respect en liefde te rusten gelegd.

Maar uit het bloed-doorweekte as van de oorlog rijzen vaak ook positieve dingen. Vandaag krijgen de leden van de South African Native Labour Corps het aandacht dat ze terecht verdienen, maar tot onlangs door ‘selectieve geschiedenis’ grotendeels ontnomen waren.

Dan, over de loop van drie jaar, tijdens het regelen van deze nu jaarlijkse herinneringsbijeenkomst, heb ik een bijzondere relatie zien bloeien tussen Gemeente Noordwijk, de Zuid Afrikaanse veteranen, en de Zuid Afrikaanse diplomatieke vertegenwoordiging. Ik ben zeer benieuwd om te zien wat daaruit ontwikkeld.

So today, on the occasion of the centenary of the sinking of the SS Mendi, and in celebration of South African Armed Forces Day, the Europe Branch of the South African Legion of Military Veterans embrace and salute our comrades-in-arms, past, present and future.

And we remember that there is one corner of this field in Noordwijk, where Privates Leboche, Zendile, Molide, Kazimula, and Mtolo now lie, that is forever mZanzi Afrika.

Report by Andrew Bergman, images by Johanna Bergman-Badings.


 

Some more great work from the South African Legion – Port Elizabeth branch – annual Three Ships Service in PE, in recognition of the three ships lost in February with the loss of so many South Africans – The SS Mendi, the MHSAS Southern Floe and SAS President Kruger.

 

The Annual Three Ships Service was once again held at the St Paul’s Church, Tucker Street, Parson’s Hill PE on the 22 February 2015. The Service was conducted by the Reverend Marc Barth, the Rector of St Paul’s. The Rev Barth has graciously agreed to become the Chaplain for the Legion in Port Elizabeth, replacing the Rev Fr P F Vietri CO who has been transferred to Bloemfontein by his church.

Some 80 Legionnaires, MOTH, Sea Cadet,RAFA/SAAFA, Naval Officer Association, Royal Society, St John Ambulance members and other Friends of the Legion attended the service.

A further coincidence of note was that Mrs Lesley Moore, the granddaughter of CPO MacTavish, a member of the SS Mendi crew who went down with the ship, was among us to pay her respects on the day.

After the Processional Hymn and the welcome, Lgr Brian Klopper (Chairman) read the Legion Prayer – which incidentally he composed!

Thereafter followed the Lesson by Legionnaire Wolfaardt.

Lgr Declan Brennan gave an excellent address, his theme embraced 3 ships which has permeated our history from the time of Jan van Riebeek who arrived with 3 ships; the battle of Muizenberg in which three Royal Navy ships took part, and so on up to the three ships involved in the SAS President Kruger tragic sinking in 1982. The address was enjoyed by the congregation and informative to them as well.

At that point our visitor from the United Kingdom, Mr Nick Ward, rose to give a 10 minute address on his archaeological work on the SS Mendi. Mr Ward has taken a keen interest in the SS Mendi tragedy for some 7 years and flew from London to attend our service. He will shortly be publishing a book titles “SS Mendi – The Long Voyage Home” wherein he recounted not only the story of the sinking but also some of the unhappy decisions by both the UK and South African Governments of that time. We were grateful to him for his flying visit and we thank him for his input.

The Three Candles of Remembrance were lit by three senior SA Sea Cadets from the Port Elizabeth Training Ship Lanherne. The Memorium was performed by Lgr Tertia Morton after which the Service ended with the Recessional Hymn.

Much good harmony and camaraderie was enjoyed in the Church Hall courtesy of the Church Ladies, who put on their usual excellent spread – Thank you ladies and to all those involved with the planning and execution of this annual event.

Article for the South African Legion of Military Veterans by Charles Ross based on the article by Waldie Bartie.

The photos used in this article were taken by Mr Mike Rands of St Paul’s Church


 

ST MARY’S ANGLICAN CHURCH, CAMBRIDGE, EAST LONDON

Article by Charles Ross

 

On Sunday 28 September 2014 the Parish of St Mary’s Anglican Church, Cambridge, East London held a Celebration of Remembrance 1914 – 2014 in sacred memory of the 11 members of the Parish who gave their lives for King and Country whilst on active service during the Great War 1914 – 1918.

 

The service was attended by members of the South African Legion of Military Veterans, MOTH’s and Royal Air Force Association.

 


Collated by Peter Dickens

 

This is the only known image we have of the SS Mendi, the ship at the centre of South Africa’s worst military disaster and biggest single loss of South African life at war (a little more than at Delville Wood – and that’s quite staggering).

 

On 21 February 1917, during World War I, this chartered troopship – the SS Mendi – containing a full battalion of South African Native Labour Corps men and officers on it’s way to the western front was rammed in fog conditions in the English Channel. The SS Mendi sank in 20 minutes.

 
616 South Africans (607 of them black troops – mostly from rural areas around the Eastern Cape) plus thirty crew members, mostly British, died in the disaster.

The much heavier ship, the SS Darro, which rammed the Mendi had not been following safety protocols for sailing in fog conditions, and furthermore did not stop to rescue the men in the frigid February water. 
 
The greatest tragedy was yet to come as due to racial prejudice and the politics of the time this event was somewhat down-played through the years and not enough recognition given to these men,

 

for example none of the black servicemen on the SS Mendi (neither the survivors nor the dead), received medals, nor any other members of the South African Native Labour Corps,  although their white officers were decorated as a consequence of a South African Government decision. 

Monuments were not really erected to these men and their legacy was in effect scrubbed from South African history.  Except for a small unknown memorial in Port Elizabeth, little was done in South Africa until a proper and fitting memorial was finally unveiled at Avalon cemetery Soweto by Queen Elizabeth II in 1995.  
 
So much so was history shielded and altered that most people in South Africa still to this day do not know (or believe) that in World War One (and World War Two for that matter) – approximately 40% of the standing South African Union Defence Force – where “non-white” South Africans. 
 
The injustice to these men – lost valour – is something the South African Legion is working very hard to redress with annual commemorations to the disaster – both in South Africa and in the United Kingdom in February. 

To give perspective on the scale of the disaster and the loss of life and the impact to the black South African community at the time, page down through the honour roll of the South Africans who lost their lives that day, it’s quite staggering. Lest we forget.

Emslie, S. Lieutenant 
Richardson, E.H. Lieutenant 
Turner, T.K. Regimental Sergeant Major 
Botes, A.D. Staff Sergeant 
Cockrell, A. Staff Sergeant 
Botha, C.H. Colour Sergeant 
Ford, T.A. Colour Sergeant 
Knaggs, R. Colour Sergeant 
MacTavish, R.A. Colour Sergeant 
Abraham, Andries 11164 
Abrahams, Fred 11163 
Aliveni, Jim 8911 
Bade, George 9707 
Badlana, Joel 10016 
Baleni, Langeni 11098 
Banana, Nkeni 9665 
Bangani, Mxonywa 9379 
Basilie, Isaac 9170 
Bay, James 9294 
Beko, Heny 9374 
Beta, Jack 9164 
Beyulea, Windvogel 11070 
Bhay, Jim 9260 
Bikleni, Dodoka 9377 
Bokleni, Henry 7587 
Booi, John 9690 
Bovi, Mkokeli 10017 
Bungane, Freddy 11169 
Butitje 9802 
Chesa, Elijah 11170
Collis, Vimba 9650 
Dabani, Jim 9241 
Dampi, Piet 9203
Danki, Thomas 9215 
Dano, William 9265 
Dealtaha, Annaniya 9754 
Dengese, Aldum 9567 
Dinoka, Geelbooi 9780 
Ditsepo, William 9436 
Dyushani, John 10018 
Eland, Piet 11138 
Etea, Piet 11188 
Fidyoli, John 11172 
Franci, Rueben 9956
Fule, Steven 9261 
Gabaza, William 564 
Gabutloeloe, Lucas 9708 
Geina, Manie 9689 
Gigima, John 8010 
Gilweni, Jim Tom 9915 
Gobizitwana, Willie 11206 
Gqweta, Henry 9928 
Gumede, John 11216
Msiya, Lemu Galimini 9647
Gumeni, Charlie 9685 
Gwabu, Jack 9321 
Gwatyuza, Jacob 9954 
Hasbane, Jan 9147 
Hendricks, James 9943 
Hendricks, Willem 11132 
Hlangweni, Mtati 11161 
Hlatshwayo, Fishi 11126 
Hlope, Zanempi 11120 
Holoane, Francis 11171
Homelane, Willie 9289 
Jackson, Abrams 9803 
Jacobo, Isaac 9695 
Jamangile, Jim 8892 
Jantole, Joseph 8900 
Johnson, Willie 8913
Jonas, Jim 9710 
Jonas, Saluseni 9244 
Jongilanga, Pansi 9390 
Jubile, Lawrence 11045 
Kabi, Simeon 10964
Kakana, Jan 9441 
Kakele, Mac 9154 
Kale, Karl 9818 
Kali, Hamilton 10021 
Kaloto, Simon 9418 
Kana, Mali 11176 
Karishi, Change 9146 
Kashane, Jan 9176 
Kataza, John 9686 
Kazamula, Moskein 9626 
Kazamula, Simon 10931 
Kazimula, Natal 9623 
Kepisa, Jack 10374 
Kepsize, Johnson 9848 
Ketsbai, Helon 9905 
Kgadile, Kleinbooi 9820 
Kgana, Johannes 3703 
Kgatjane, Lucas 11144 
Kgobosemang, Kleinbooi 9740 
Kgosi, Isaac 9211
Kgupa, Longone 9425 
Khaile, Robinson 11173 
Khoanamutsi, Mapipe 9429 
Kholopane, Dovey 10960
Ngcobo, Vincent Pansi 9319
Kladi, John 9578 
Kleinbooi, Jack 9263 
Koalane, Josaih Walter 10896 
Kokoto, Jonas 9398 
Kolong, Kimon 9822 
Koluba, Sam 9406 
Koopman, Jan 9293 
Kopane, Jan 11048 
Kopane, Snele 9666 
Kozamula, Captain 9447 
Kula, Hlongwana 11088 
Kumalo, Magwala 11112 
Kuse, John 9785 
Kutshwayo, James Henry 5969 
Kwikanye, Jack 9290 
Lebeko, Charlie 9415 
Leboche, Abram 11056 
Lefi, Ishmael 11141 
Legoabe, Stephen 9763 
Legwale, Stephen Lucas 3274
Lekau, Alfred 9188 
Lekau, John 1256 
Lekgoli, Soloman 9728 
Lekhoto, John 1791 
Lepero, Geelbooi 9829 
Ntshangase, Dick Mqitsha 9914
Lephethe, David Job 11196 
Lesele, Corporal 9654 
Lesetja, Jan 11063 
Leshage, William 10947
Lesiba, Daniel 10369 
Lesiba, Jan 10384 
Lesiba, Joseph 9186 
Lesiba, Simon 10371 
Lesibana, Jim 10364 
Lesitja, Charlie 10373 
Lesitja, Martinus 9908 
Lesoale, Johannes 11192 
Letau, Karel 9286
Letebele, Namatshan 9748 
Letebele, Pond 9155 
Letwatwa, Lucas 9659 
Lifa, John 11247
Likgoli, David 9946 
Likgoli, Sebolai 9947 
Linganiso, Simon 10020 
Lithaba, Michele 9761 
Liwela, Frans 10951
Louw, Piet 11137 
Luhlongwana, Koni 9580
Luputini, Jacobus 9255 8
Maake, Saucepan 9142 
Mabagwana, Titi 9271 
Mabane, Mpini 9393 
Mabaso, Zula 11122 
Mabila, Charlie 9126 
Mabururu, Abraham 9125 
Macambi, Mareyama 9794 
Madikizela, Tatani 9388 
Madimetja, Jacob 10383 
Madosi, Robert 8910 
Madubanya, Jack 10365 
Madume, Botha 9124 
Madume, Frans 9189 
Madume, Jack No. 1 9174 
Madume, Jack 9408 
Madume, Jim 10949 
Madume, Kleinbooi 9185 
Madume, Mackson 9420 
Madzibana, Frans 9631 
Mafadi, Ephraim 9576 
Mafika, Daniel 9371 
Mafiliba, Mtigedwa 9243 
Magadi, Daniel 562 
Magagamela, Alison 8356 
Magaju, Hlongwana 11092 
Maggisi, Sitini 11079 
Magoba, Isaac 9195 
Magudulwana, Hlongwana 11093 
Magwegwana, Hlongwana 11105 
Mahaladi, Windvogel 11067 
Maharo, Stephen 9544 
Mahlaba, Whisky 9629 
Mahlentle, Richard 9773 
Mahloapitseng, Klaas 10965 
Mahludi, Isaac 11154 
Mahohoda, Klass 9643 
Mahutu, Canteen 9149 
Makalima, Robert 9288 
Makamba, Bloro 9198 
Makasha, Jim 3021 
Makatini, Nongqayi 9558 
Makatu, Kleinbooi 11181 
Makaye, Ndabana 11215 
Makeleni, Kimberley 9688 
Makhohe, Jan 8967 
Makilitshi, Paraffin 9117 
Makoba, Majuta 10002 
Makoe, Jack Jantji 11185 
Makole, Benjamin 9839 
Makopans, Frank 9897 
Makosana, Charles 9143 
Makudu Johannes 9898 
Makwane, Jacob 9857 
Makwatedi, Mack 9193 
Makwena, Josias 9857 
Malebogo, Jack 9427 
Malemutle, Chairlie 9119 
Malesela, Jan 10363 
Malgas, Hlanga 9932 
Mali, Mac 11069 
Maluse, Charlie 10391 
Maluse, Frans 10382 
Maluse, Lucas 10366 
Mambolo, Johannes 11065 
Mandcas, Sam 9248 
Mandubule, Dick 10027 
Mandwane, Hlatshwayo 11101
Maneka, Jack 10375 
Mangaliso, Hlongwana 11090 
Mangapela, Piet 11150 
Mange, William 9709 
Mangise, John 9669 
Mangoloane, Jacob 8997 
Mangqe, Timothy 8876 
Mangwana, Jan 9162 
Mantupsi, Jack 9426 
Manunyane, Bernard 9285 
Manzane, Ben 9635 
Mapalala, Keve 11121 
Maparana, Charlie 9136 
Maphessa, William 9563 
Mapheto, Hosiah 11066 
Maphoto, Harry 9826 
Mapulane, Sampson 9433 
March, Martinus 11135 
Marofula, Jacob 11057 
Marole, Willem 9138 
Martinus, Johannes 9295
Masade, Albert 9757 
Masaleni, Jeremiah 9927 
Maseko, Windvogel Captain 11071 
Mashali, Jameson 9411 
Masia, Dick 9432 
Masiaane, Jim 9562 
Masikela, William 9173 
Masilo, Transvaal 9782 
Masina, Taweni 9238 
Masinde, Jonas 9518 
Masindi, George 9237 
Masoling, Julius 11167 
Matebula, Piet 9358 
Mathlana, Aaron 9287 
Matjala, Richard 9798 
Matjola, Jan 9565 
Matkala, Picennin 11186 
Matlala, Johannes 11190 
Matonsi, Jaftha 9806 
Matsang, Abel 9751 
Matshana, Hezekiah 9924
Mathse, Marcus 9853 
Matshelane, Andries 9661
Matsubane, Jim 10368 
Matume, Frans 10370 
Matume, Moses 9760 
Matupu, Thousand 9133 
Mazaku, Gwavuma 9381
Mbata, Albert Nkomempunga 9913 
Mbedla, Isaac 9931 
Mbikwa, Sam 11140 
Mbiyazwe, Jim 9199 
Mbombiya, Jim 9373 
Mbuzi, Mzingele 9382 
Mcanyana, Russel Palmer 9792 
Mcitshwa. John 9768 
Mdata, Soloman 11075 
Mduna, Edward 9770 
Mdunyelwa, July 9922
Mdyogolo, Mnyeliso 9651 
Mehlomane, Silwanyana 9242 
Mekgoe, Herman 9253 
Menza, John 9658 
Mgidi, Billy 11204 
Mgingana, Koza 11099 
Mgoyoye, Petrus 9670 
Mgwena, Soloman 9784 
Mhlanga, Ndukwana 11118 
Mijana, Willie 9831 
Mkezo, Mpotyana 9394 
Mkohla, Joseph 10012 
Mkomazi, Frans 9152 
Mkomazi, Jim 9627 
Mkoni, John 9256 
Mkonvama, Daniel 9118 
Mkumguri, Jim 9736 
Mlahleki, Jail 11155 
Mlando, Hlongwana 11086 
Mlonyeni, Robert 9386 
Mncedana, Melville 7601 
Mnyeliso, Gama 9652 
Mnyikinwa, Longone 11055 
Moatse, Josiah 8991 
Mobitsela, William 9775
Modeba, Theophilus 9194 
Modikeng, Goodman 11151 
Modisane, Jan 10899 
Modise, David 9204 
Modisoatsile, George 9718
Moeata, Petrus 9783
Moeng, Sampson 9945
Maake, Joseph 9140
Mofokeng, Koos 10953
Mogalobutha, Klaas 9183
Mogorosi, Benjamin 10433
Mohale, Jacob 9177
Mohase, Vellum 9660
Mohowe, William 9128
Mokatakisa, Hendrick 10963
Mokgeleli, Aaron Jili 9333
Mokgosi, Aaron 9370
Mokgwere, Samuel 9743
Mokhali, Simon 10958
Mokhapo, Mac 9129
Molabi, Amos 9156
Molelekoa, Titus 9819
Molide, Sitebe 9267
Molife, Andries 11194
Molife, Linesa 9269
Molife, Mosmiti 9268
Molisanyane, Andries 9951
Moloi, Kleinbooi 9797
Moloi, Philip 11189
Moloyi, Mreki 9557
Moloyi, Ntikimana 9275
Molthlakane, Letsie 9838
Monahela, Edward 10959
Monamatuga, Thomas 9191
Mongologa, Joseph 9700
Monoke, Johannes 9825
Montso, Michael 11152
Monyako, Philip 9835
Monyele, Elias 9368
Morashe, Jim 9401
More, Pinefas 10434
Morolong, Walter 11178
Moshe, Moses 9132
Moshimane, Jack 10377
Mositsi, Amos 9739
Motaung, Jacob 9950
Motebang, Eliah 10962
Motela, Jack 9187
Mothei, Jan 9741
Motobi, Peter 7210
Motsoahai, Mpalakela 10957
Mpafulane, Udmund 9366
Mpatu, Simon 9437
Mpee, Johannes 9901
Mpete, Jan 9687
Mpoa, John 9721
Msesenyane, Jan 9632
Mshote, John 563
Msimango, Lubaro 9270
Msiya, Lemu Galimini 9647
Mtembu, Mswela 11109
Mtirara, John 9385
Mtolo, Sikaniso 9999
Mtombeni, Abraham 9560
Mtshotshisa, Gabayi 9939
Mudungazi, July 9638
Muhlaba, Joel 9252
Mukopo, Andries 9171
Mukotle, Fred 9168
Mulabe, Change 9440
Mulamu, David 9163
Munani, Mukale 9419
Murape, Jim 9430
Murda, Jack 11149
Mutinjwa, Daniel 9236
Mvele, Jerele Mazalemvula 9646
Mvula, Joniseni 11108
Myamana, Verandah 9622
Mzamani, Jim 9279
Mzayifana, Alfred 11207
Mzimane, Johannes 9677
Mzono, Jotama 11072
Nafufa, David 9644
Napane, Charlie 9421
Natedi, Jack 9141
Nawane, George 9698
Ncotele, Litye 9862
Ndaba, Pikiti 11128
Ndamase, Richard 9389
Ndanise, Baleni 9641
Ndeya, James 9795
Ndhluli, Jim 11060
Ndiki, Samuel 9859
Ndingi, Olifas 8893
Ndlankuhle, Nzulu 802
Ndlovu, Isaac 9529
Nduna, William 11058
Nepthale, Tsusa 11145
Ngade, Ben Elias 11061
Ngake, Enos 9749
Ngate, Canteen 9148
Ngate, Picannin 11054
Ngcenge, Durward 9771
Ngcobo, Pindela 9272
Ngcobo, Vincent Pansi 9319
Ngesi, Walter 9910
Ngqotoza, Zilandana 9653
Ngwahewa, Jan 9637
Ngwane, Jamse 9654
Nini, George 11053
Nkakuleni, Sly 9407
Nkhereanye, Lukase 5743
Nkoane, Peter 7277
Nkomandi, Konisars 9639
Nkunwana, Jack 9212
Nkwambene, Charles 9634
Nkwenkwe, John 9889
Nodolo, Squire 9772
Nokwelo, Makali 7067
Nomvaba, Charlie 9207
Nongwe, Johannes 10024
Nquza, Jabez 9202
Nsulansula, Zondo 11097
Ntabani, Picannin 9716
Ntelte, Frans 9139
Ntindili, Charlie 8891
Ntopi, Piet 11187
Ntoro, Kleinbooi 3711
Ntozake, Honono 8912
Ntshangase, Dick Mqitsha 9914
Ntshetsha, Mbalela 9383
Ntsieng, Bullar Martinus 9575
Ntsutswana,Thomas 9938
Nukula, Ben Sydney 11051
Nxazonke, Mlungu 9934
Nyambana, Konish 9636
Nyati, Samuel 9283
Nyonane, Ebenezer 11205
Nziba, John Clout 11177
Olibeng, Fanwell 9216
Olijn, Pieter 11131
Oliphant, Piet 11166
Pala, Alexander 9851
Pambili, James 11052
Papetje, Johannes 10378
Pasile, Radoma 9175
Pasoane, Amandus Aupa 11146
Pasoane, William 9850
Paulus, Dolf 11133
Payipeli, Charlie 9249
Payo, Jacob 9667
Perike, Ephraim 9599
Petela, Kleinbooi 9923
Petrus, Paul 9296
Petula, Stephen 10908
Phaladi, Bob 11046
Phiti, Tom 9179
Phohophedi, Thomas 8329
Pieters, Isaac 11162
Pietersen, Paulus 10900
Pikahila, Stephen 9793
Pinyana, Nodyiwana 8020
Pisani, Matthews 9151
Pitso, Andries 9911
Pitso, Jan 9717
Pkula, Simon 9953
Plaatje, Thomas 9657
Plaatjes, Malgas 9711
Poko, Philip 9824
Pokwane, Frans 9399
Ponyose, Koos 11059
Pugiso, David 9251
Pulana, Philemon 11047
Pule, Lazarus 9834
Pupuma, Madela 8907
Qaba, Edward 9648
Qakala, Jan 10013
Quvalele, Parafin 10022
Quzula, Charlie 10928
Qwebe, Cawood 9909
Rabatji, Jan 11064
Radelbe, James 9376
Radzaka, Jucas 9781
Rakau, Frans 11179
Rakgokong, Johannes 11062
Ramakalane, Titus 11193
Ramakhutle, Gerson 8992
Ramakoko, Modise 8990
Ramasi, Rabintoe 9746
Ramasita, Job 9902
Ramatea, Joseph 11143
Ramathodi, George 9896
Ramedekoane, Thijs 9001
Ramkosi, George 9833
Ramoho, Charlie 9130
Ramoshiela, Nicodimus 8994
Ramosole, Abel 9000
Rampomane, Aaron 11184
Rampopo, Lukas 8996
Rampunve, Jan 9733
Ramurumo, Frederick 9668
Raskane, Jan 9160
Ratilulu, Samuel 11147
Ratskogo, Gilmore 10897
Resinali, Picanin 9625
Roadway, Smith 9656
Rwairwai, Jerry 9694
Samela, Wolobile 9197
Seathlane, Selepe 10954
Sebadi, Samuel 994
Sefako, Geelbooi 8999
Sefako, Jim 9671
Segule, Smith 9122
Sekakaile, Rice 9412
Sekonyela, George 9816
Sekoro, Josiah 11142
Sekote, Stephanus 11191
Sekwidi, Jan 9779
Selami, Jim 9192
Sello, Seth 9907
Seodi, Green 9397
Sepalela, April 9417
Serewe, Jackson 9724
Setani, Style 9920
Setloko, Philemon 11180
Shebeshebe, Jack 10379
Shikamba, Jack 9445
Shiletane, Bossboy 9137
Sibalabula, Timotheus 9210
Sibalela, Jim 9240
Sibisi, Jacobus 9817
Sibizo, Edmund 11240
Sibolayi, Sampson 8993
Sifaku, Kleinbooi 10948
Sigededhla, Zachariah 9556
Sigidi, Hlongwana 11085
Sikawuleb, William 9755
Sikota, Theodore George 11202
Sikwayo, Ben 11157
Silika, Molefi 9266
Silwane, Frans 9121
Sinqana, July 11203
Siposa, Willie 9392
Sitebe, Mqobo 11107
Sitlaro, Koos 8995
Sitole, Charlie 10912
Sitole, Mgqiki 11116
Skhabi, Hermanus 11182
Skip, Jim 9428
Soka, Anderson 9892
Solani, Meji 9655
Somatshungu, Tom 9805
Somgede, William 9800
Songca, Lukakuva 8879
Stephens, George 9413
Stunga, James 9280
Suping, Abraham 9744
Suping, Johannes 11049
Swarts, Jan 11130
Swarts, Sma 11129
Tabudi, Jacob 9854
Takisi, Frank 9181
Tamasinya, Johannes 9590
Tambu, Peter 11168
Tankobong, Zachariah 9742
Tanoni, Phineas 11153
Tentata, July 11165
Thebeagae, Charlie 9753
Timpane, Billem 9745
Tiya, Percy 9706
Tlabure, Elias 11183
Tladivamutsi, Michael 11076
Tokhae, Jan 9134
Totwana, Hlongwana 11094
Tsamaya, Jacob 9246
Tsase, John 10950
Tsehlana, Jack 10372
Tshabalala, Kaysi 11102
Tshabana, Willie 9555
Tshange, Ngqakamatshe 11091
Tshekosi, Klaas 9780
Tshenene, Charlie 9860
Tshikari, Paul 11174
Tshite, Joseph 10431
Tshomolokse, Paul 9702
Tshotsha, Hlongwana 11110
Tshulo, Abram 9758
Tsule, Soloman 9434
Tube, Jackson 9259
Tumberi, Jim 9630
Tyilo, John 11198
Tywalana, Jeremiah 9649
Utuni, Frans 9776
Uziningo, Jantshi 9926
Voss, Philip 7229
Vovela, Joe 10929
Vutula, Charles 9801
Wauchope, Isaac 3276
Williams, Freddy 9714
Williams, Henry 9292
Zambezi, Hlongwana 11096
Zatu, John 9937
Zenzile, Arosi 9375
Zimuke, Mashaya 11068
Zingwana, Johannes 9640
Zinyusile, Edward 11158
Zitonga, Mongameli 8021
Zondi, Solomon Vili 9299
Zondo, Magida 11103
Zondo, Mufakabi 11114
Zondo, Pukwana 11115
Zulu, April 9247
Zwane, Sikonyana 11087
Zwane, Sukwana 11089

 


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Let us die like brothers – the legacy of the SS Mendi

 

The accidental ramming of SS Mendi Troopship by SS Daro on a cold foggy morning eleven miles off Isle of Wight, on 21st February 1917, became an almost unparalleled wartime tragedy for South African forces.

 

Daro, at almost three times Mendi’s weight, travelling ‘full ahead’ in fog conditions – not using her fog horn to warn shipping in the area or the appropriate lights – she rammed the troop ship with such force the SS Mendi sunk and was resting on the sea-bed within 25 minutes. The violent impact, nearly at right angles, left a gaping 20ft tear amidships instantly trapping more than 100 soldiers below decks who were unable to escape the rapidly rising water as the ship quickly listed to starboard.

 

Her crew, consisting 29 sailors, failed to launch sufficient life rafts for the 811 strong contingent of 5th Battalion South African Native Labour Corps (SANLC). In the dense fog and inadequate rescue effort that followed, many remained aboard the ship, unwilling to commit to an icy plunge.

 

They were reportedly exhorted by the Chaplain Rev Isaac Dyobha  who called them together to  die like warriors and brothers. 

 

He said  “Be quiet and calm, my countrymen, for what is taking place now is exactly what you came to do. You are going to die, but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we are drilling the drill of death. I, a Xhosa, say you are all my brothers, Zulus, Swazis, Pondos, Basutos, we die like brothers. We are the sons of Africa. Raise your cries, brothers, for though they made us leave our weapons at our home, our voices are left with our bodies.”

 

Thus, together they danced a death drill, they chanted and danced on the tilting deck until finally being sucked into the vortex created by the sinking ship.

 

The reference to weapons was to the fact that the South African Government had agreed to send black men to assist the Allied forces as labourers, but, due to policies of the time, they insisted they could not be given weapons.

 

There were many more individual acts of bravery and selflessness in those terrifying early morning hours in the freezing water.  A catalogue of failures exacerbated the final outcome, the Darro for example made no effort at all to rescue the men in the water, and ultimately it was that many of these brave men had no experience of the sea combined with extended exposure to the frigid February waters, off St Catherine’s Light, that accounted for the unusually high death toll.

 

Fewer than 200 of the 840 souls aboard the SS Mendi survived.   The total toll on human lives lost that day reached a staggering 646.

 

Convention and prejudice meant this dreadful tragedy was not afforded appropriate recognition by respective Governments in South Africa and the United Kingdom.  South African officials during these years demonstrated their unwillingness to highlight black people’s wartime contributions by withholding medals and reasonable post-war recompense to ‘non-combatant men’ deemed somehow less valuable. Particularly poignant was that South African Labour Corps men, drawn from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, had readily volunteered their services to support the British Crown’s war effort on the Western Front in the hope it would win them greater political concessions at home. The reality was that remarkably little changed for 7 decades.

 

This however is now been redressed and today recognition is been awarded and these fine brave men are been honoured at last.  The South African Legion is one of the organisations which has taken the lead in highlighting this significant event – both in South Africa and abroad.  In the United Kingdom, the South African Legion branch located in the England honoured the Mendi fallen on the 24th February 2013 in Portsmouth in a specific ceremony dedicated to the men buried there.

 

As called out by Rev Isaac Dyobha ‘let us die like brothers’ but a few days after Mendi sunk, 9 men washed ashore and were buried at the Milton cemetery in Portsmouth, most poignantly – here too they where buried as brothers.

 

The eight South African labour Corps men are buried together – sharing the same graves, one officer – Lieutenant R.A Mactavish is buried here too just a little up the same lane.  The grave register shows on the first names of the Labour Corps men only, no rank, no surname – they are described in the register as ‘an African Native’, they are intervened directly to earth – no coffin was afforded these ‘native African’s.   These are paupers graves.

 

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Two graves – 488 and 490 contain 8 men, buried together – ironically – like brothers.

 

During the ceremony held by the South African Legion – United Kingdom branch, as the honour roll was read, members of the SA legion at each headstone laid an individual garland.  The colours and standards of The South African Legion, Royal Navy Association and the Fleet Air Arm Association where dipped to the ground in honour of the men whist the last post was played.

 

Honours where also paid to a the small number of other victims of the Mendi who came ashore elsewhere.  However in reality most did not, almost a third of all the 1900 names listed at Hollybrook Naval Memorial in nearby Southampton, commemorating Commonwealth land and air forces whose grave is not known, are men of 5th Battalion South African Native Labour Corps.

 

After the ceremony Peter Dickens, the Chairman of the South African Legion – United Kingdom branch said ‘It’s a pretty significant parade for us because in South Africa the Mendi is taking more significance as people understand the contribution of black Africans to the First and Second World Wars. Today we come to honour the nine South African soldiers who washed up on shore in Portsmouth and who are buried here, but for many hundreds more the sea is their grave’. 

 

Dickens went on to say that ‘more and more emphasis is now been paid to the contribution of Africans to the modern freedom of Europe, both in South Africa and here in the United Kingdom.  It is right, fair and long past its due date that these brave South African heroes are now been accorded their much deserved honour and respect’.

 

The shipwreck has recently been awarded World Heritage and War Grave status and an increasing number of Memorials are testament to contemporary recognition for, and acknowledgement of the sacrifices made by not only the 607 South African Labour Corps men lost that day on His Majesty’s service but also many thousand silent black South African citizens who risked everything to join Europe, ‘like brothers’.

 

Press Release written by Peter Dickens and Dave Mannall

 


 

On 21 February 1917 at 05:00, the SS Mendi was struck and cut almost in half by the Darro, South West of the Isle of Wight, causing the SS Mendi to sink. A total of 607 Black South African soldiers and nine of their white countrymen, drowned in the disaster.

These men met their fate with African dignity. It is recorded that the Reverent Dyoba Wauchope Williams, to calm the panic and quieten the men in their hour of death, captured their attention by raising his arms aloft in the true tradition of his race, as he cried out in a loud voice: “Be quiet and calm, my countrymen. What is happening now, is what you came to do… you are going to die, but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we are drilling the death drill. I, a Xhosa, say you are my brothers… Swazis, Pondos, Basotho… so let us die like brothers. We are the sons of Africa. Raise your war cries, brothers, for though they made us leave our assegais in the kraal, our voices are left with our bodies.”

A short silence followed and then these soldiers who were from the mines, the kraals and the open veld, shed their army boots and started to dance the “dance of death” with all the vigour they could muster.

Some of the survivors were able to abandon the ship by lifeboats and some jumped into the icy waters. Survivors recollect soldiers singing and praying while they struggled in the sea enveloped by darkness.

On 9 March 1917, the stunned members of the South African House of Assembly rose in silence to pay tribute to the dead of the SS Mendi.

This, the worst maritime tragedy in the history of South Africa, is annually commemorated in Cape Town (hosted by the Western Province Gunner’s Association), Atteridgeville (hosted by the SA Legion Atteridgeville and SA Legion Pretoria), Johannesburg (hosted by the City of Johannesburg and SA Legion NHQ), Port Elizabeth (hosted by the SA Legion Port Elizabeth), Portsmouth (Hosted by the High Commission to the UK and SA Legion England) and Noordwijk in the Netherlands (hosted by the Noordwijk Municipality and SA Legion Europe).  A similar service is planned in Durban (to be hosted by the SA Legion Durban) from 2017.

The SANDF now commemorate Mendi Day as “Armed Forces Day” in recognition of this and commemoration services for the SS Mendi are usually held on the closest weekend to the date the SS Mendi sunk or on Armed Forces Day.


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