Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Visiting the Men of the Mendi

Many years ago I was  fortunate enough to read "Black Valour" by Norman Clothier. At the time it was the definitive book about the Africans and Coloureds that served with the South Africans during the wars. It also spurred my interest in the Mendi, and the men who lost their lives in the sinking. It took many years to finally be able to visit the Mendi Memorial at Avalon Cemetery and from then on things just happened. My Mendi Webpage is still a work in progress even after so many years, and deep in my heart I always wanted to visit some tangible relic to the Mendi in the United Kingdom. 

My chance came on 10 April 2013, while I was in Southampton and I decided to visit the old Cemetery here. But when I arrived at it I decided to carry on going and find Hollybrook. I was not going to loose the chance of a visit while I had time or weather on my side. Hollybrook in itself is not a great cemetery, it is however an OK cemetery, and it does have a World War 2 CWGC plot as well as a number of CWGC headstones inside the cemetery

World War 2 Plot at Hollybrook

The plot I was after was at the opposite side where I had come in and I soon found it on a slight rise. Up till this point the weather had been poor: overcast, misty and generally not great for photography, but suddenly the sun came out as if it knew I was there.

The Men of the Mendi have a small corner of their own, and it had recently been visited by HRH Prince Michael of Kent, and wreaths had been laid at the site. When I saw that first plaque I broke out in tears. It was one of those truly seminal points in my life.

I ran my fingers over the names, names that I have on my Roll of Honour, and that I had read record cards of, or who I had read about. They became real, and yet they were long gone. Like them I was far from South Africa at that moment, and I felt humble that I was representing their home on this day. I wish I had had something from there to leave behind for them, but all I really had was my own sadness at seeing these men who went willingly off to war, and who never returned,

I noticed that the wreaths were from other Commonwealth nations, but saw that there was nothing from our own government. What would these men say about the South Africa of 2013? It matters not, what matters is that they never get forgotten. And that seeing those names up close and personal was a moment in my life that won't leave me.

This particular memorial commemorates by name almost 1900 servicemen and women of the Commonwealth land and air forces whose graves are not known, many of whom were lost in transports, torpedoed or mined in home waters. The memorial also bears the names of those who were lost or buried at sea or who died at home but whose bodies could not be recovered for burial. 

Not too long ago the CWGC was able to correct a lot of the errors in the names on this memorial, and I hope to be able to correct my own list as well. Sadly, all that is left of their lives is this name on a plaque. And I think that in this case, there is a small piece of England that is uniquely South African. They were men that came from the tip of Africa, to fight in a war that they knew nothing about, and they died far from their homes, never reaching their destination, but remaining here, far from the sunshine that was now fading as I took my last few photographs. But if I do think about it , these men were never really forgotten, their families remembered them, and their comrades, but they too have passed on, and  that duty has been passed on to us, a generation of ex-servicemen who also served their country. 

Hamba Kahle  Men of the Mendi. May You Rest In Peace.

Links repaired 29/03/2016

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Hullo Southampton

Today, 7 April 2013 I packed my bags and headed for the port of Southampton. Like with London I do feel a connection to this city and its port, probably because so much of my maritime literature featured Southampton very strongly, and of course this is where the ill fated Titanic sailed from.

Of course ships will rate very high on my list of things to do/see while I am in this city. In fact, in a short period of six hours I saw two cruise ship sailings already. The first being P&O's Ventura.

Followed shortly thereafter by Cunard's Queen Elizabeth.

Many years ago, during the 1950's and 60's these self same docks would see rows of major passenger vessels, Our own Union-Castle Line would have had at least two ships in port every week.

Southampton Docks many many years ago
And of course the Queen Elizabeth or Queen Mary would have dominated every other ship afloat when they were calling. Alas those days have passed and today we have to take what we can get. The two cruise ships above don't really do much for me, I have seen much better looking. And, by the looks of it there are quite a few arrivals and sailings scheduled for the next month. On top of that is the anniversary of the sailing of the Titanic from these very docks

How long will I be here? till 8 May probably, after that? who knows. I am going to do my job hunting here and hopefully be lucky, or will have to move on. Either way though, I intend to ship watch and visit the Hollybrooke Cemetery to pay my respects to our fallen Mendi men who are commemorated there, and I know that will be a sad occasion.

Till the next time I visit my blog, I shall leave you with photograph of Shieldhall, a really nice looking vessel that is more up my line. At any rate, it will be a change from cemeteries.