Three Ships Parade

Three Ships Parade

Purpose: We remember all this South African navy ships lost at sea through the ages, starting from chronological order:

  • WW1: SS Mendi, which lead to 616 South Africans and 30 crew who lost their lives at sea, in South Africa’s biggest naval loss in history.
  • WW2: HMSAS Southern Floe, was sunk by a mine off Tobruk with the loss of 27 men, with 1 sole survivor, Stoker C J Jones.
  • Post-WW2: SAS President Kruger, President-classType 12 frigate which sank in 1982 with the loss of 16 lives after colliding with her replenishment oilerSAS Tafelberg, in the South Atlantic.
  • This day also marks South African Armed Forces Day, which was chosen to coincide with the sinking of the SS Mendi, indicating the impact which the sinking of the SS Mendi has had on a national level. For many South Africans there has been an awakening of an illustrious heritage, which identifies with the whole South African society. All groups have equally played a very important role in the defence of South Africa dating back to WWI.

Three Ships Parade, Richmond

RICHMOND-ON-THAMES – The Annual Three Ships Parade took place in Richmond on 23 February and was followed by a Q1 Branch Meeting and Social.

In the week that the SA Legion UK & Europe pay respects to all Naval and Maritime losses by using the ships SS Mendi, HMSAS Southern Floe and SAS President Kruger as iconic symbols of these losses, a number of events took place culminating in the Three Ships Parade in London. The venue for this service was the Chapel and Cenotaph at Richmond Cemetery.

The England Team sets the bar for events ever higher with each event, and the welcoming hot drinks and biscuits were most appreciated as were the professionally designed and printed handouts.

From left to right, Regional Chair Cameron Kinnear, Standard Bearers Jose Lopes, Dave Wiseman, Graeme Scott, Lee Greed and bugler Bobby Crick.

Brian Parry and the Standards were superb in their turnout and drill, and the SA Legion Padre Craig Esterhuizen’s address was, as usual, entertaining and very relevant. Three poems were read out by Stuart Robertson, Johan De Villiers and Cameron Kinnear for each of the iconic ships.

Wreaths were laid by Johan De Vries, Stuart Roberston, DuToit Verster and Adrian de Villiers.

After the parade the guests adjourned to the RBL club at Teddington for the England Branch Q1 meeting and a social.

Text by Lgr Cameron Kinnear

Photography by Karen Parry, Theo Fernandes, and Victor Ho.


Three Ships Service 2015

 

Some more great work from the South African Legion – Port Elizabeth branch – annual Three Ships Service in PE, in recognition of the three ships lost in February with the loss of so many South Africans – The SS Mendi, the MHSAS Southern Floe and SAS President Kruger.

 

The Annual Three Ships Service was once again held at the St Paul’s Church, Tucker Street, Parson’s Hill PE on the 22 February 2015. The Service was conducted by the Reverend Marc Barth, the Rector of St Paul’s. The Rev Barth has graciously agreed to become the Chaplain for the Legion in Port Elizabeth, replacing the Rev Fr P F Vietri CO who has been transferred to Bloemfontein by his church.

Some 80 Legionnaires, MOTH, Sea Cadet,RAFA/SAAFA, Naval Officer Association, Royal Society, St John Ambulance members and other Friends of the Legion attended the service.

A further coincidence of note was that Mrs Lesley Moore, the granddaughter of CPO MacTavish, a member of the SS Mendi crew who went down with the ship, was among us to pay her respects on the day.

After the Processional Hymn and the welcome, Lgr Brian Klopper (Chairman) read the Legion Prayer – which incidentally he composed!

Thereafter followed the Lesson by Legionnaire Wolfaardt.

Lgr Declan Brennan gave an excellent address, his theme embraced 3 ships which has permeated our history from the time of Jan van Riebeek who arrived with 3 ships; the battle of Muizenberg in which three Royal Navy ships took part, and so on up to the three ships involved in the SAS President Kruger tragic sinking in 1982. The address was enjoyed by the congregation and informative to them as well.

At that point our visitor from the United Kingdom, Mr Nick Ward, rose to give a 10 minute address on his archaeological work on the SS Mendi. Mr Ward has taken a keen interest in the SS Mendi tragedy for some 7 years and flew from London to attend our service. He will shortly be publishing a book titles “SS Mendi – The Long Voyage Home” wherein he recounted not only the story of the sinking but also some of the unhappy decisions by both the UK and South African Governments of that time. We were grateful to him for his flying visit and we thank him for his input.

The Three Candles of Remembrance were lit by three senior SA Sea Cadets from the Port Elizabeth Training Ship Lanherne. The Memorium was performed by Lgr Tertia Morton after which the Service ended with the Recessional Hymn.

Much good harmony and camaraderie was enjoyed in the Church Hall courtesy of the Church Ladies, who put on their usual excellent spread – Thank you ladies and to all those involved with the planning and execution of this annual event.

Article for the South African Legion of Military Veterans by Charles Ross based on the article by Waldie Bartie.

The photos used in this article were taken by Mr Mike Rands of St Paul’s Church


SS Mendi Parade Report

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The Parade to commemorate the sinking of the SS Mendi took place at Hollybrooke in Southampton on the 23rd February 2014.

The parade was jointly hosted by The Friends of Dellville Wood and the South African legion – United Kingdom Branch.

Speakers 
John McCabe – Friends of Delville Wood
Colonel ND Tshiloane – SANDF Deputy Defence Adviser
Legionnaire Peter Dickens – Chairman of the SA Legion UK branch
The sermon was led by John McCabe
Guests and wreath laying
The Right Worshipful the Mayor of Southampton – Councillor Ivan White
South Africa:  Brigadier General Sithabisa Mahlobo – SANDF
United Kingdom: Lt Cdr Lee Blackburn
India: Commodore Sandeep Beecha
Pakistan: Commodore Mustaq Ahmed
France: Lt Cdr Arnaud Valentin
Canada: S Lt Nathan Schnarr, A/S Lt Nicolas Denutte
Australia: Lt. Cdr Craig Lavers
New Zeeland: Lt Josh Aperahama
Commonwealth War Graves Commission  Mr Bernie Doran
Friends of Delville Wood Mrs Cindi Paul Byrom
Royal British Legion – National Branches District – Mr David Street
Royal British Legion St James Branch – Mr Adrian de Villiers
Royal Navy Association – Shipmate Rod Fraser
African Quest poem read by Legionnaire Jeff Coleman
South African Legion wreath – Legionnaire Paul Duncan
Act of Remembrance read by Mr David Street – Royal British Legion
Standards present 
South African Legion
Royal Navy Association
Fleet Air Arm Association
Royal Marines Association
Message from Lgr Peter Dickens on the SS Mendi
A foggy morning, around 05:00 on 21 February 1917, in the English Channel, in freezing weather loomed a 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 a South African troopship operated by the British and African Steam Navigation Company was accidently rammed and sunk by the SS Darro.The Darro – three times heavier than the Mendi, was disobeying maritime rules travelling ‘full ahead’ in fog – and not using her fog horn – the Mendi, was following all regulations and travelling slowly .. on spotting the Darro she immediately sounded the whistle and tried to go “hard to-starboard.” But it was too little and too late.

The Darro rammed the troop ship at a right angle with such force that the Mendi was resting on the sea-bed within 25 minutes. The violent impact left a gaping 20ft tear amidships instantly trapping more than 100 soldiers below decks who were unable to escape the rapidly rising water as the ship quickly listed quickly to starboard.

Her crew failed to launch sufficient life rafts for the 811 strong contingent of 5th Battalion South African Native Labour Corps.  In the dense fog an inadequate rescue effort followed, so many remained aboard the ship, unwilling to commit an icy plunge into the sea..

In spite of this the men, by all accounts, behaved with remarkable fortitude. There was no evidence of panic. One person’s act of leadership helped to keep the men calm. This was a cleric, one Reverence Isaac Dyobha, a Xhosa, who held up his arms and loudly addressed the men with 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.”

After this stirring speech the men left on the Mendi, took off their boots, and did a traditional African war dance on the tilting deck of the sinking ship. A uniquely African act of bravery in the face of danger, men In full song slipping away to their deaths – an African chant echoing in the English fog.  There were many more individual acts of bravery and individual selflessness.

A catalogue of failures sealed their fate, the Darro made no effort at all to rescue the men in the water and steamed on, combined with the fact that many of these men could not swim and the extended exposure to the freezing February waters – all these factors resulted in a very high death toll.

Fewer than 200 men aboard the SS Mendi survived.  In all 616 South Africans perished – 607 of them black South Africans.

Convention and prejudice of the time meant this dreadful tragedy was not afforded appropriate recognition by respective Governments – both in the United Kingdom and in South Africa .  South African officials demonstrating their unwillingness to highlight black people’s wartime contributions by withholding medals, not erecting memorials to them, excluding them from parades, excluding the from veteran facilities on the basis of colour and preventing reasonable post-war compensation for ‘non-combatant men’ – deemed somehow less valuable.

Particularly poignant was that South African Labour Corps men had readily volunteered their services to support the British Crown’s war effort on the Western Front in the hope it would win them greater political concessions at home. The reality was that remarkably little changed for the next 7 decades whilst they remained disenfranchised and excluded.

The contributions of black South Africans to both the world wars remains relatively unknown, but the sacrifice and valour no less.

To put this tragedy into its correct historical context – in WW1 – as many (more in fact) South Africans died on the Mendi than at the Battle of Delville Wood in France – a sad statistic in its own right as Deville Wood is equally as tragic – but its very telling as the true tragedy was yet to come – Forgotten Valour.

Forgotten valour due to he conscious effort in South Africa after the World Wars to forget about these men – and all South African men of colour serving in WW1 and WW2. Simply because of pure racial prejudice and party political agendas of the time.

Many people in South Africa still perceive the World Wars as a ‘white mans’ contest – with a smattering of black Africans in non combatant roles merely digging trenches. But nothing can be further from the truth.

In all, in WW1 – 83 000 black South Africans and 3 000 Cape Coloureds answered the call – in all 85 000 men of colour complemented the 146 000 white servicemen – serving in all sorts of roles, ranging from policing, driving, stretcher bearing, cooking, engineering… the list goes on. Bottom line 42% of the serving South Africans in WW1 where men of colour.

And in World War 2, the statistics are pretty similar. 211,000 whites, 77,000 blacks and 46,000 Cape Coloureds. Again 42% of the serving South Africans in WW2 where men of colour.

That’s a staggering amount of servicemen – who – after both world wars – where effectively completely marginalised.

As South Africans it is now our responsibility to address this fundamental miscarriage and remember the sacrifice of all South Africans – and do our upmost to reinstate the valour and recognition so long overdue.  Our eternal hope is that history will not repeat itself, and we will honour all South Africans who have fought for the country – be they black, white or brown.