THIS DAY IN HISTORY: SS Mendi sinks in the English Channel on the way to France

By Drum Digital
20 February 2015

The sinking of the SS Mendi on 21 February 1917 became one of South Africa's worst tragedies of the First World War (1914-1919).

A total of 616 South Africans, including 607 black troops serving in the South African Native Labour Contingent, died when the steamship sank in the English Channel on the way to France.

The incident happened in the early hours of 21 February 1917, when another ship, the SS Darro travelling at full speed and emitting no warning signals, rammed the SS Mendi.

Queen Elizabeth II unveiled a Mendi memorial at Avalon Cemetery in Soweto in 1995 to commemorate the disaster.

A plaque was also unveiled at the Delville Wood Museum in France.

In his poem 'The Sinking of the Mendi', African Poet Laureate S.E.K. Mqhayi wrote a poignant tribute to the  fallen war heroes.


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