SS Mendi was a British 4,222 GRT passenger steamship that was built in 1905 and sunk with great loss of life in 1917.
In 1916 during the First World War the UK Admiralty chartered her as a troopship.
Mendi had sailed from Cape Town carrying 823 men of the 5th Battalion the South African Native Labour Corps to serve in France. She called at Lagos in Nigeria, where a naval gun was mounted on her stern. She next called at Plymouth and then headed up the English Channel toward Le Havre in northern France, escorted by the Acorn-class destroyer HMS Brisk.
Mendi's complement was a mixture characteristic of many UK merchant ships at the time. Officers, stewards, cooks, signallers and gunners were British; firemen and other crew were West Africans, most of them from Sierra Leone.
The South African Native Labour Corps men aboard her came from a range of social backgrounds, and from a number of different peoples spread over the South African provinces and neighbouring territories. (287 were from Transvaal, 139 from the Eastern Cape, 87 from Natal, 27 from Northern Cape, 26 from the Orange Free State, 26 from Basutoland, eight from Bechuanaland (Botswana), five from Western Cape, one from Rhodesia and one from South West Africa). Most had never seen the sea before this voyage, and very few could swim. The officers and NCOs were white South Africans.
On 21 February 1917 a large cargo steamship, Darro, collided with her in the English Channel south of the Isle of Wight.
Mendi sank killing 646 people, most of whom were black South African troops.
The sinking was a major loss of life for the South African military, and was one of the 20th century's worst maritime disasters in UK waters.
Click here for the names of those who perished in the Disaster as per the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Records: