SS Mendi's bell was recovered in June 2017 after a journalist received an anonymous tip-off (Image courtesy of Maritime Archaeology Trust)

SS Mendi bell displayed on Isle of Wight this week

Posted on on 17 September 2017
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The bell from SS Mendi, the ship sunk in 1917 with the loss of more than 600 black South African troops destined for the Western Front, is being temporarily displayed on the Isle of Wight. 

It's on short-term loan to the UK-based Maritime Archaeology Trust after being anonymously handed in following commemorations marking the 2017 Centenary of the disaster.

The bronze ship's bell can be seen at the Shipwreck Centre and Maritime Museum at Arreton Barns, Isle of Wight, until Friday (September 29).

SS Mendi was accidentally rammed by another vessel in thick fog in the English Channel on 21 February 1917 on the last stage of a voyage carrying men of the South African Native Labour Corps to France.

In 1974, local diver and Shipwreck Centre founder Martin Woodward discovered the troopship's last resting place off the Isle of Wight: "I am really delighted that the ship's bell from the Mendi will be coming to the Shipwreck Centre for temporary display this week," he said.

"As we have a large display of artefacts from the Mendi in our exhibition, and have done since I found and identified the wreck back in 1974, it seems particularly fitting that the bell should be included with the other items from the wreck.

"We would love to see the bell come to us permanently in the future, but that remains to be decided and discussed with the relevant authorities. In the meantime, we very much appreciate it being loaned to us, as the Mendi will always be one of the most significant and poignant finds in my many years of diving."

The South African-led Centenary service in February 2017 at CWGC Hollybrook Memorial, Southampton, where the dead from SS Mendi who have no grave but the sea are commemorated (Photo: Centenary News)

In June 2017, a BBC journalist found the ship's bell, wrapped in a plastic bag at Swanage pier in Dorset, after receiving an anonymous tip-off.

In accordance with maritime law, it was handed over to the UK Receiver of Wreck who placed it in the safekeeping of Southampton City Council Museums pending a decision as to its future.  

The Mendi wrecksite is a protected war grave.

The ship's bell has since been on display at Southampton’s Sea City Museum and will be returned there at the beginning of October, in time for the museum’s plans to mark Black History Month.

It has been lent for a week of activity taking place at the Shipwreck Centre as part of the Maritime Archaeology Trust's lottery-funded Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War project.

Centenary News update, August 2018: SS Mendi's bell was presented to South Africa during a visit by Britain's Prime Minister, Theresa May.

The Maritime Archaeology Trust is a charity that seeks to promote and preserve maritime archaeology around Britain but particularly on England's South Coast. 

For more information about the SS Mendi disaster and the South African Native Labour Corps, see the blog and video 'Remembering SS Mendi' on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) website.

Centenary News reported from the February 2017 Centenary commemorations in Southampton. 

Source: Maritime Archaeology Trust

Images: Maritime Archaeology Trust (SS Mendi bell) & Centenary News (Hollybrook Memorial)

Posted by: CN Editorial Team