The Lament of the SS Mendi
Jackie Kay remembers the sinking of the SS Mendi in the English Channel in 1917, when 650 people drowned, most of them black South Africans coming to contribute to the war effort.
The poet Jackie Kay remembers the sinking of the SS Mendi in the English Channel in 1917.
Most of the 650 men that drowned were black South Africans. They ranged from poor farmers to the cream of African society, and all of them were coming to Britain to do their bit for the war effort. The scandal that followed was caused by the fact that those on board the British ship that rammed it in the thick fog did nothing to help save the drowning men, nor was any explanation ever offered to the victims' families.
Kay tells the story, with the help of some of the relatives of those who died, and composes her own poem to honour them.