Could medals finally be given to the SS Mendi dead?

South Africa's greatest World War I naval disaster happened when the SS Mendi, a converted troopship, crashed into the Darro, a larger ship, in the foggy English Channel in January 1917.

Over 90 years on, the site has been designated as a grave.

The disaster is remembered partly for the great dignity with which the crewmen met their fate once it became clear many were going to die. 616 South Africans died, along with 30 Britons.

The wreck of the ship was uncovered in 1945, but not confirmed as being the Mendi until 1974.

Now, following a campaign by Ned Middleton, a retired British Major, the site of the disaster has now been classed as a grave - meaning that it can't be interfered with.

"The culture of those black native South African soldiers demanded they be buried before being allowed to reach their own eternal after-life.

"Once the wreck becomes designated, those 616 souls will finally be able to move on." Middleton commented.

At the suggestions of the South African government, the British only awarded medals to the white officers on board the ship. None of the black servicemen on the ship received them regardless of merit.

As the case of the Mendi has been looked into again, hopes have been raised that medals may be posthumously awarded.

The British government still awards late medals relating to the World Wars, as we reported here and here.


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