RELATIVES of African soldiers killed in an accident in the Solent are to sail into Portsmouth on a South African warship to mark the centenary of the tragedy.
Some 640 men from the 5th Battalion of the South African Native Labour Corps perished when the troop transport ship SS Mendi was rammed by SS Daro in thick fog on February 21, 1917.
Mendi had been on her way to the French port of Le Havre to assist with the war effort.
She sank near the Isle of Wight in about 20 minutes, dragging hundreds of South Africans into the cold depths of the Solent.
Now, to mark the disaster, SAS Amatola, a frigate from the South African Navy, will sail into Portsmouth this Sunday as part of a key series of commemorations.
On Tuesday, she will sail out of the city’s harbour – accompanied by a Type 45 destroyer from the Royal Navy – to Mendi’s wreck, where families and South African delegates will lay wreaths.
And Portsmouth will be staging its own events on Friday, with wreaths being laid at Milton Cemetery – where nine of the South African soldiers are buried – as well as a choral performance on the steps of Guildhall paying tribute to the fallen at noon.
Councillor Donna Jones, leader of Portsmouth City Council, said the event would be a proud moment for the area.
She added South Africa played a vital role in helping to win the First World War and that it was right the nation’s sacrifice was not forgotten.
‘The relationship of Britain and South Africa will go from strength to strength,’ she said.
‘This is yet another example of Portsmouth reaching out to the rest of the world.’
SAS Amatola is based in Plymouth, where she is undertaking joint training with the Royal Navy.
She is expected to leave Devonport Naval Base on Saturday, arriving in Portsmouth at some point on Sunday.
The Valour-class frigate is expected to remain in the city until Friday, February 24, where she will then set sail for Germany to take part in an exercise with the German armed forces.