National Maritime Museum helps honour the sacrifices made by South Africa’s people during the Great War
The National Maritime Museum has become the latest partner of the We die like brothers exhibition at the South African National War Memorial, joining the likes of Historic England, the Imperial War Museum, the Shipwreck Centre at Arreton and Wessex Archaeology.
In February 1917 the Liverpool troopship Mendi was sunk as a result of a collision off the Isle of Wight. Over 600 men of the South African Native Labour Corps being transported to France drowned in one of the war’s many terrible maritime disasters. The We die like brothers exhibition tells the story of the loss of the Mendi and its importance today to both South Africa and the UK and will open on 5 July 2015.
The National Maritime Museum has contributed a detailed plan of the Mendi prepared by its builders to compliment the photographs of the ship provided by the Imperial War Museum and We die like brothers team member John Gribble. The availability of these plans and photographs has enabled us to tentatively identify where some of the finds being donated to the exhibition came from, including this porthole which we think may have come from the Purser’s cabin – where the ship’s safe would have been located, explaining the bars attached to the porthole’s frame.
The NMM has made a plan of the Karina, sister ship of the Mendi, available on its website. Both ships were built by Alexander Stephens, one of the Scottish shipbuilding firms that turned the River Clyde into the greatest shipbuilding river in the world in the late 19th century. The Mendi was managed by the famous shipping line Elder Dempster of Liverpool. At the time the trade between Britain and West Africa was dominated by Liverpool shipping companies, with manufactured goods being shipped to Africa and raw materials back. Prior to being requisitioned for war service, the Mendi operated to a fixed schedule and was therefore able to carry mail and passengers. As a result it had a larger superstructure than pure cargo vessels, in order to provide passenger accommodation.
by Graham Scott - Senior Archaeologist/Dive Superintendent