Wall

Latest on Sun, 09:50 pm

Garth Coetzer: Was at school with Robyn [...]

John Richardson: when on TFB I took [...]

Charl Starke: 35 yrs ... seems like [...]

DK Pillay: What a tragedy to lose [...]

WO1. Piet van Zyl (TAS Ret): In 4 hours time 35 [...]

Peter Elrick: They shall grow not old, [...]

Cherylynn Wium: It will be 35 years [...]

frans louw: 35 jaar en ons sal [...]

» Post your Tribute Here





 

sa-legion-badge

 

 

The SA Legion UK proudly held a parade at the Royal Navy Memorial on Southsea Common in Portsmouth.

 

25. 1896_10151348863824822_908336151_nImage Gallery

 

Out of the Storm came Courage

 

(Address by Lgr Peter Dickens, Chair, SA Legion UK)

 

We come here today to remember all men lost at sea, we also come here specifically to honour brave South Africans lost at sea, the first great maritime tragedy been the SS Mendi and the second tragedy the SAS President Kruger. Both instances where the result of collisions with ‘friendly’ vessels, both instances where the result of ‘human error’ and in both instances brave men where lost to frigid waters in terrifying circumstances.

 

A cold, foggy morning, around 05:00 on 21 February 1917, in the English Channel, near zero was the recipe for a shipping disaster which caused barely a blip amid the chaos and carnage of the First World War, but has had consequences which have reverberated down the years in South Africa.

 

The SS Mendi, steaming rather slowly through the murky seas, was displaying the normal lights, and was, in addition, blowing her whistle at regular intervals, as required by the rules of shipping in foggy weather. The Darro, in contrast, was at full speed, displaying the normal lights but not making any audible warning signal.

 

On spotting the Darro the SS Mendi immediately sounded it’s whistle and tried to “hard a-starboard.” It was too little and too late.

 

The bow of the Darro tore through the hull of the Mendi , with the staggering loss of 646 men on the SS Mendi. To understand the terror that must have gripped these men in their final moments when this collision happened, remember that most of them had never been on a ship before boarding this one, most of them had never even seen the sea. All of the aspects of travelling by sea would have been totally foreign to them, they were thousands of miles from kin and home, from anything they would have been familiar with.

 

In spite of this the men seemed, by all accounts, to have behaved with remarkable fortitude and sanguinity. There was no evidence of panic.


According to oral history handed down about the event one person's act of leadership helped to keep the men calm and prevented what could have become a fatal stampede. This was a cleric among the men, one Reverence Isaac Dyobha, a Xhosa, who, at the last, held up his hands in supplication and loudly addressed the doomed men on the ship in these words:

 

“Be quiet and calm, my countrymen, for what is taking place now is exactly what you came to do. You are going to die, but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we are drilling the drill of death. I, a Xhosa, say you are all my brothers, Zulus, Swazis, Pondos, Basutos, we die like brothers. We are the sons of Africa. Raise your cries, brothers, for though they made us leave our weapons at our home, our voices are left with our bodies.”

 

The reference to weapons was to the fact that the South African Government had agreed to send black men to assist the Allied forces as labourers, but, due to policies of the time, they insisted they could not be given weapons.

 

After this stirring speech the men left on the Mendi, according to the legend which has grown up around these events, took off their boots, and did a “death dance” on the tilting deck of the sinking ship.

 

There were many more individual acts of bravery and selflessness in those terrifying early morning hours in the freezing water.

 

On receiving the news of the sinking of the Mendi the Prime Minister – General Louis Botha addressed the South African House of Assembly in Cape Town on 9 March 1917, with these words:

 

“Ever since the war broke out the ‘natives’ have done everything possible to help where such was possible in the struggle without ever doing anything which was in conflict with their loyalty to the Flag and the King. It has never happened in the history of South Africa … that in one moment, by one fell swoop, such a lot of people have perished, and, … I think that where people have died in the way they have done, it is our duty to remember that where people have come forward of their own accord, of their own free will, … and what they have done will redound to their everlasting credit.”

 

The second tragedy also reverberates down history, as it has been said that The South African Navy has never really recovered from it.

 

On 18 February 1982, four vessels – the pride of the South African navy where conducting a naval exercise – the SAS President Kruger was conducting a complex exercise with the submarine SAS Emily Hobhouse, another frigate, the SAS President Pretorius and the replenishment ship SAS Tafelberg. The high-intensity exercises had progressed over several days, with the SAS Emily Hobhouse pretending to attack the SAS Tafelberg, and the two frigates also conducting submarine seek and destroy exercises in zig zag pattens.


At approximately 4 am, the whole formation had to change direction by 154 degrees, a near complete reversal in direction. During the maneuver and error was made in the rate and degree of turn, radar contact was also lost in clutter and the SAS Tafelberg accidentally collided with the SAS President Kruger.

 

The damage was catastrophic damage. The SAS Tafelberg, being a tanker, was 18,980 tons. The PK was a mere 2144 tons with much thinner steel.

 

Last minute actions where shouted out to avoid collision, but like the Mendi – too little – too late. The SAS Tafelberg was severally damaged in the impact, but more tragically SAS President Kruger sank as a result of the damage it sustained – it sank 78 nautical miles south west of Cape Point with the loss of 16 lives. Like the SS Mendi this took place in freezing waters, and – like the Mendi – the terror would have been no different to the men of the PK facing death.

 

Today, the legacy of both the SS Mendi and the SAS President Kruger is been remembered. We stand shoulder to shoulder with our Brothers and we remember them – we remember their fear, their anguish and their bravery. This is a legacy of brave South Africans in full service of their country. It is up to us – their brothers in arms to remember them, it is our duty to keep their legacy alive, lest we forget.

 

Today, we also remember the sea, and the lives of all our fellow brothers in arms who have been lost to it. Great Britain, through two world wars and subsequent wars at sea such as the Falklands has lost thousands of souls in the service of their country. The sea has taken so many, British men and woman, men and woman from Commonwealth counties in service to the United Kingdom, and men and woman from countries allied to the United Kingdom in conflict.

 

So, today we remember the sea, and the men lost to it – Lest we forget.