Portsmouth children to sing in memory of SS Mendi tragedy 100 years ago

The troopship SS Mendi
The troopship SS Mendi
Looking down London Road circa 1903. The Horndean Light Railway tracks are on the right.  Picture: Barry Cox Collection

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SCORES of children will be joining a national commemoration in Portsmouth marking the centenary of the sinking of the SS Mendi.

The troop carrier sank in the Solent, just off the Isle of Wight, after it was accidentally rammed by SS Daro in thick fog on February 21, 1917.

It was one of the worst maritime disasters in UK waters, and cost the lives of some 640 men of the 5th Battalion of the South African Native Labour Corps.

Today will see about 120 youngsters from St John’s Catholic Primary School, in Cottage View, Landport, singing a traditional South African song on the steps of Portsmouth’s Guildhall from midday.

Accompanied by a choir from Chichester, the children will also be holding up the names of those soldiers killed in the disaster.

The school’s headteacher Laura Park said: ‘The children have been practising all week.

‘They have been touched by the story – which really isn’t that well known.’

Earlier, from 10am, a band of South African delegates will go to Milton Cemetery to lay a wreath in honour of the nine victims of the Mendi’s sinking who are buried there.

Then, from 2pm, an official event will be staged at The Pyramids Centre, in Clarence Esplanade, Southsea, to formally kick off the centenary SS Mendi commemorations in Britain.

On Tuesday South African frigate SAS Amatola will join a Type 45 Royal Navy destroyer to lay a wreath at the spot Mendi sank.

Relatives of the fallen will also be on board to pay their respects.