We Die Like Brothers
The sinking of the SS Mendi
John Gribble and Graham Scott
Historic England Publishing, 2017
In February 1917, the SS Mendi, traveling through thick fog, collided with another steamship and sank off the Isle of Wight, leading to the deaths of more than six hundred men, mostly black South Africans troops from the South African Native Labour Corps (SANLC). The men of the SANLC were traveling to the Western Front in the hopes that their contributions to the war effort would lead to greater opportunities in the new white-ruled nation of South Africa after the war--hopes that ultimately proved unfounded. The sinking of the SS Mendi marked one of the largest losses of life during World War I, but it also occupies a prominent place in South African military history. In the years that followed, the SS Mendi became a focus of black resistance, a physical symbol of black South Africans' long fight for social and political justice.
Published on the hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the SS Mendi, We Die Like Brothers takes the tragic story of the sinking of the SS Mendi as a window into the broader history of the SANLC. Drawing on new archaeological discoveries, John Gribble and Graham Scott bring the story of the sinking fully up to date and discuss the political, social, and cultural repercussions within the context of the wider treatment of British imperial subjects during the war.