Commemoration of the centenary of the sinking of SS Mendi [fr]
The sinking of the SS Mendi: 21 February 1917
On 16 February 1917, after its last night in Cape Town, the SS Mendi sailed towards the port of Le Havre, in France. Onboard were 33 crew members and a contingent of the South African Native Labour Corps (SANLC), composed of 805 black soldiers, 5 white officers, and 17 petty officers. They were heading to France to contribute to the Allies World War I efforts.
On the morning of 21 February 1917, while crossing the English Channel, the SS Mendi was hit by a merchant vessel, the Darro, south of Isle of Wight. The SS Mendi sank in only 20 minutes. The Darro was sailing at full speed in dense fog without any light signals.
Six-hundred-and-sixteen people died. Among them, 607 black soldiers. Only some of the bodies were found. Thirteen soldiers are buried in several cemeteries along the English coast, including nine in the Milton cemetery of Portsmouth. Another is buried in France, five in Noordwijk in the Netherlands. The names of the victims whose bodies were not recovered are engraved at the Holly-Brook Memorial of Southampton as well as at the Atteridgeville Memorial SS Mendi, near Pretoria.
The Consul General in Johannesburg, Mr Raymond Quereilhac, Colonel Jean-Marie Monot and Captain Arnaut Lacote attended the ceremony in Johannesburg on February 25. The French Consulate General in Johannesburg paid tribute to the fallen soldiers by placing a wreath.