SS Mendi Sunk off Isle of Wight
The sinking of the SS Mendi, requisitioned by the British government for use as a troopship during WWII , is a story that deserves to be far better known for several reasons, not least the enormity of the loss of life. That it is not is surely due to one of those reasons – the race of the majority of the victims.
During thick February fog the Mendi, steaming from Plymouth to Le Havre, was hit amidships by the SS Darro, a meat ship sailing to Argentina. It was before dawn, in thick fog, the Darro travelling too fast and not sounding her fog-horn. The Mendi was carrying more than 800 members of the South African Native Labour Corps to the war in France, having ferried them originally from Cape Town.
Almost severed in two the Mendi sank rapidly. Most of the black South Africans could not swim. Their Xhosa pastor Isaac Dhyoba calmed those on deck as they waited to die, and according to legend had them perform a death-dance.
In all 627 men perished, including 30 of the Mendi’s crew. The Darro’s captain made no attempt to rescue those in the water. He was later punished with suspension of his licence for 12 months.
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