The South African Soldiers who did a Death Dance on a Sinking WarShip

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Here on Too Late for Worms, we are always on the hunt for ballsy people. You dont have to be a man to have balls; you just have to kick death, tyranny or utter bullshit in the testicles to qualify. Death will always win so you do not have to make it easy for the Reaper; if you are going to go anyway, how about you go out in style?

It is kicking balls that makes you ballsy but if you can battle death or a god and come out of the other side with a story to tell, we celebrate you. If you have no more chills left to give today, and nongiveafuckery is so ingrained in your fibres that you do not even know how to switch it off anymore, you need a medal and a cookie.?

There is a story little known outside South Africa of a shipwreck that lies in the English Channel. The wreck of what was once a troopship that was carrying men so badass that they could have kept death as a pet.

?On February 21 1917, a British Warship called SS Mendi was making her way through the fog on the icy waters south of the Isle of Wight in the English Channel to Le Havre in France when an unlikely thing happened. Smack in the middle of the waters, the ship was struck on her side by the douchebag SS Darro; a meat ship three times her size. Apparently, it is not just human beings who like to bully smaller people, there is douchebaggery even among water vessels.

The ill-fated SS Mendi. (Image Source)

The ill-fated SS Mendi.
(Image Source)

It is all fun and games until someone dies, right? Now, the SS Mendi was carrying 802 South African soldiers from the South African Native Labour Corps, 89 crew members, 17 NCOs and 5 white officers. The impact of the collision was so bad that it made a 20ft hole through the first and the second holds, trapping many soldiers below deck. She began to take in water and in 20 minutes, would be completely submerged and hundreds of soldiers and labour corps.

As she tilted, her escorting destroyer, HMS Brisk, sent lifeboats to rescue as many people as possible. The Captain of the bully vessel, Henry W. Stump, most likely lit a cigarette, poured himself a whisky and watched the drama unfolding. Or heard it as the thick fog made visibility near impossible.

With no salvation in sight and the panic setting in, a few men jumped into the icy waters where hypothermia would race against the few lifeboats around to claim them for the day. Most of them had never been on a ship before they boarded the troopship in Cape Town more than a month before but they knew death, they knew the Grim Reaper was hunting.

By the end of the day the Reaper would have claimed 646 people, most of them black South Africans by drowning, hypothermia or injuries caused by the impact. But they did not go out without flair and style. They owned that death like they had no fucks left to give; in fact, they dance the hell out of the whole thing, flipping at death the whole way to Hades.

It would be the most badass, the most impressive zerochills defiance against death ever attempted. In fact, it would be so badass it would be touted as a legend. As the ship sank, an awesomely named chaplain aboard the ship, Isaac Wauchope Dyodbha, yelled out to the men congregating on the listing deck:

“Be quiet and calm, my countrymen. What is happening now is what you came to do…you are going to die, but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we are drilling the death drill. I, a Xhosa, say you are my brothers…Swazis, Pondos, Basotho…so let us die like brothers. We are the sons of Africa. Raise your war-cries, brothers, for though they made us leave our assegais in the kraal, our voices are left with our bodies.”

No, the death drill is not a new dance style we in the know have not made you aware of. Relax, censors, cant touch this!

Anyway, other than having the coolest second name ever, the good Rev inspired the dying troops to show death the middle digit. As if on cue, the men removed their boots and stamped furiously on the sinking ship as they sang the war cry at the top of their voices. They were still doing the death dance as the Mendi tilted and sank completely, taking with her the most badass group of men to ever face death.

There is now a Warrior class strike Craft in the South African Navy named after the Reverend. The highest award for courage in South Africa, the Order of the Mendi, is given to citizens who have performed extraordinary acts of bravery. They all commemorate the men who had faced an enemy they could not conquer, the icy waters of the English Channel and the douchebaggery of a heartless captain on a monster meat ship, with such style and flair that they make death look like child’s play.

Order of Mendi for Bravery

Order of Mendi for Bravery



Owaahh, 2014.

Last modified: February 3, 2020

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