Letters of commiseration

For many black South Africans, the sinking of the SS Mendi was a disaster on two fronts: first, because of the lives lost and, second, because it was feared that black involvement in the war effort would end. For these, usually mission-educated, Africans, this would be tantamount to being told they could not serve the Queen. Read just one of many letters in which both these themes emerge.

Also see images of the original letter: Page 1 | Page 2Page 3

Governor-General's Office

Cape Town,

31 March, 1917.

Sir, I have the honour to transmit to you herewith the document mentioned below, on the subject of Resolutions passed at a Memorial Service held in the Centenary Native Church, Kimberley, in honour of the men who perished in the transport "Mendi".

I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your most obedient,
Humble Servant,
(Sd.) Buxton

Resolution I.

We have heard with deep sorrow, of the loss of the Transport Ship "Mendi", on which a large number of our countrymen were sailing to join the members of the Labour Contingent, and who lost their lives by the collision in the English Channel on the 21st February 1917.

We extend our sympathy to all the bereaved, and pray that they may be sustained and comforted by the thought that their loved ones lost their lives while in the execution of their duty, for King and Empire.

Resolution II.

We, the Native members of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, Kimberley, assembled in our Centenary Church, on the occasion of the Memorial Service for our fellow countrymen who lost their lives in the transport "Mendi", while on their way to assist the Empire in the great struggle for freedom, desire to express our unswerving allegiance to the King, and our loyalty to the Government of our country.

Though disaster has overtaken us by the loss of so many of our people, we do not intend to hold back, but to go forward, and assist our Sovereign in any capacity that may be allotted to us, to uphold the flag under which we enjoy.

- Resolution of Sympathy: Wesleyan Methodist Church, Kimberley, National Archives, Ref. GG 9/124/48

back to the Reverend Isaac Wauchope memorial page

"You are going to die, but that is what you came to do... Let us die like warriors."
Reverend Isaac Wauchope
King George V inspects the SA Native Labour Corps, France, 1917
Picture: © SA National Museum of Miltary History


In this lesson plan, learners will study two transcripts of oral sources and will be encouraged to appreciate the insights and feelings that these sources offer us. They will also study a "minute" from Louis Botha, the Prime Minister at the time of the disaster, and resolutions passed by a Christian African community on how they planned to carry forward the fight for the Empire.

Lesson plan
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Archive Photo Gallery
A small collection of images of Reverend Wauchope and the men who died with him in the SS Mendi disaster.
The brave Reverend Wauchope
In February 1917, hundreds of SA Native Labour Corps members died when the troopship SS Mendi sank in the freezing waters of the English Channel.