ON A MISSION: The SS Mendi, which sunk in 1917 off the Isle of Wight in the UK, resulting in the deaths of 616 South Africans.
ON A MISSION: The SS Mendi, which sunk in 1917 off the Isle of Wight in the UK, resulting in the deaths of 616 South Africans.
LEADING THE PACK: Hilary Page’s father (on the right), Brigadier John Daniels, next to Jan Smuts in Durban, 1943.
LEADING THE PACK: Hilary Page’s father (on the right), Brigadier John Daniels, next to Jan Smuts in Durban, 1943.
RECALLING: Hilary Page, 82, speaks about her grandfather, Lieutenant Samuel Emslie, who died in the SS Mendi tragedy when he was 61.
RECALLING: Hilary Page, 82, speaks about her grandfather, Lieutenant Samuel Emslie, who died in the SS Mendi tragedy when he was 61.
Cape Town -The family of Lieutenant Samuel Emslie, who captained the troopship SS Mendi which sunk while carrying more than 800 servicemen, hopes that the event will be featured as part of South African history in schools around the country.

Every year the family visits a memorial centre at UCT’s Lower Campus to commemorate the event.

More than 600 people died when the vessel sunk after colliding with a steamship while en route to France to serve in World War I, on February21, 1917.

Wednesday marked 101 years since the incident, in which 607 mostly black troops from Mthatha and Cape Town died.

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday commended the SANDF for its diversity during his address at the Armed Forces Day celebration in Kimberley.

The event commemorates servicemen who have lost their lives on duty, and the sinking of the SS Mendi.

Speaking to the Cape Times, Emslie’s granddaughter, Hilary Page, 82, lauded Ramaphosa for mentioning in his State of the Nation Address that the event was “certainly part of our history, and people must remember it”.


Page said “I’m hoping it is part of South African history in our school books.

“It was very hard for us, as it was for a lot of the others. My mother’s mother died of a broken heart months later.

“My mother always said to me: ‘You have got to remember February21, your grandfather, my father and all those wonderful young men who lost their lives',” he said.

She said a number books and a movie dealt with the SS Mendi, but every time she spoke to younger people they barely knew the story.

Page said they had created the SS Mendi Academy to help teach people about the unsung history of the vessel.

She recalled that one evening, many years ago when she was little, her family was in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, and they heard the sound of drums.

It was local villagers who sought her grandfather, but when they heard that he had died after he jumped off the ship with the rest of the men, the villagers left with a sign of respect.

“He recruited more than a hundred of these men from the Eastern Cape.

“They had wanted him to be rescued. According to someone who was rescued, he said: ‘No, I’m dying with these men'.

“So it was a very dramatic feeling, they show it in the film, and they jumped together into the icy waters.

“We always commemorate it. We always have,” she said.

The SA Navy and the Cape Town Highlanders will attend a guard of honour, with the participation of the SA Army and Air Force at UCT’s Lower Campus on February 25 at 11am.

Cape Times