A permanent exhibition on the loss of the steamship Mendi in February 1917 was opened on 5 July at the South African National War Memorial at Delville Wood on the Somme by the South African Ambassador to France, His Excellency Mr Rapulane Sidney Molekane.
Wessex Archaeology's Graham Scott travelled to the Somme to help the ‘We die like brothers...’ exhibition lead, UK museum director Susan Hayward, to install the exhibition last week.
The loss of the Mendi, in which more than 600 men of the South African Native Labour Corps died, is an iconic event in that country's history. The Ambassador thanked the voluntary British and South African team who put together the exhibition and expressed the gratitude of the South African government and people for the support given to the project by Historic England, Wessex Archaeology and the numerous other individuals and institutions involved.
The project built on archaeological work on the wreck of the Mendi undertaken by Wessex Archaeology. It also benefited greatly from the involvement of UK divers such as Martin Woodward, John Buglass and Keith and Neville Rimes, together with the descendants of the men lost in the disaster. The photograph shows Rose MacTavish, granddaughter of Sergeant Robert MacTavish, being greeted at the exhibition opening by the Head of the South African Air Force, Lt Gen ‘Zakes’ Fabian Zimpande Msimang, who was there to represent the Head of the South African Armed Forces.
More about the ‘We die like brothers...’ exhibition will follow.
By Graham Scott: Senior Archaeologist/Dive Superintendent