SS Mendi bell to return to SA

The SS Mendi was rammed by the far-larger Royal Mail packet-boat SS Darro which, following a government inquiry, had failed to lower lifeboats, leaving the men to drown. (John Gribble Collection and Tim Couzens Collection)

The SS Mendi was rammed by the far-larger Royal Mail packet-boat SS Darro which, following a government inquiry, had failed to lower lifeboats, leaving the men to drown. (John Gribble Collection and Tim Couzens Collection)

When UK Prime Minister Theresa May visits South Africa to strengthen economic ties with President Cyril Ramaphosa, she will come bearing a very significant gift: a bell from the SS Mendi.

The ship sank off the Isle of Wight on February 21 1917 killing 616 men — out of the 823 men from the Fifth Battalion of the South African Native Labour Corps — en route to the Western Front to support the British in World War I.

The crew were expected to work behind the frontlines in France.

READ MORE: Fallen soldiers of SS Mendi dragged into battle

According to the BBC, the ship’s bell was given anonymously to British public broadcaster Steve Humphrey in 2017 in a plastic bag at Swanage Pier, Dorset.

The SS Mendi was rammed by the far-larger Royal Mail packet-boat SS Darro which, following a government inquiry, had failed to lower lifeboats, leaving the men to drown.

Captain of the Darro HW Stump — who was accused of gross negligence — was suspended for a year.

The bell was allegedly taken from the shipwreck in the early 1980s, and has since been on display in the Sea City Museum in Southampton.

READ MORE: Dismay over ‘missing’ Mendi medals

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Gemma Ritchie

Gemma Ritchie

Gemma Ritchie works in the Mail & Guardian's online department. She majored in English Literature at a small liberal arts college in the USA.  Read more from Gemma Ritchie

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