90th Commemoration of the sinking of the
SS MENDI - Southampton
On 16 January 1917
the SS MENDI, a troopship, sailed from Cape Town en
route to La Havre in France, carrying the
Fifth Battalion of the South African Native Labour
Contingent. On board were 805 black privates, 22 white
officers and 33 crewmembers.
On the morning of 21 February 1917, just south of the
Isle of Wight, the 4 000-ton steamship was rammed and
almost cut in half by an 11 000-ton liner, the SS DARRO.
The SS MENDI sank in 20 minutes, and 607 black troops,
nine white officers and all 33 crewmembers died in the
icy waters of the English Channel.
Captain HW Stump of the SS DARRO was later
disciplined for travelling at speed through fog without
sounding a warning horn. It was also said that he took
no steps to save the drowning, merely floating his ship
nearby, while lifeboats from the SS MENDIís escorting
destroyer, HMS BRISK, rowed among survivors, trying to
In 2007 the South African Navy was requested to
participate at the 90th anniversary of the sinking of
the SS MENDI which took place at the Hollybrook
Memorial, Southampton. The South African Navy Band
was tasked to provide music for this solemn occasion.
On 17 July the Band departed for England, arriving at
Heathrow Airport in the early hours of the following
morning. After a couple hours travelling by road,
we reached our final destination and booked into our
accommodation at HMS NELSON, Portsmouth.
Band arriving at accommodation - Portsmouth
On the morning of 19 July we were once again on the
road back to London for two performances later in the
day. These performances included:
- a Marimba Group concert at Trafalgar Square; and
- a gala dinner concert hosted by the South
African High Commissioner at South Africa House for
Marimba Group in Trafalgar Square
South Africa House
Planning the gala dinner programme at South Africa House
Petty Officer Emmanuel Twala, Chief Petty Officer
Sam Naidoo and Leading Seaman Lebo Mphuthi ready in
their best for the evening gala performance
On 20 July rehearsals for the 90th Anniversary
Commemorations took place at Hollybrook Memorial and
this culminated in the solemn event taking place on the
morning of 21 July with representatives from both the
South African and British governments being present.
Members of the Band off-loading instruments before the
start of the commemoration service
War graves at Hollybrook Cemetery
The SS MENDI memorial wall
SS MENDI memorial wall - Southampton Cemetery
Members of the SANDF marching into place for the SS
MENDI commemoration service
After a successful week in England the Band returned
to Cape Town on 22 July.