A sinking ship – 1917

In all my reading around South Africa and World War 1, I only recently happened across the account of a ship being mined off the South African coast during the war and the role South Africans played in rescuing the survivors.

A postcard given by Louis Botha triggered a little investigation. I’d read about German raiders and the fear of them off the South African coast but this is the first account I’ve come across (that I can recall) of their impact.  On 16 January 1917, the German raider Wolf laid mines off Cape Agulhas. On 6 February that year, the SS Tyndareus, carrying the 25th Middlesex Regiment, hit one (page 3/4 has photo and short account).

The Middlesex regiment, 1005 strong, was on its way to Hong Kong for garrison duties under command of Lieutenant John Ward. It left Devonport in England on 22 December 1916 and would change ships in Durban. At 6.55pm on 6 February, 173 kilometres out of Cape Town, the ship struck the mine. All on board were evacuated and the ship was towed for two days to Simonstown where she received some repairs.

On 16 February 1917, the garrison provided a guard of honour for the opening of the Union parliamentary session before it reached Hong Kong on 1 April 1917. Ward commissioned a memorial in memory of the exemplary conduct displayed by the men when the ship had been sunk. This was placed on the Peak on Hong Kong Island, but during the 1990s was removed and now (2004) was on display in the National Army Museum in London which is the Middlesex Regiment’s official regimental archive. (Dan Waters, ‘The Middlesex “Tyndareus” Stone‘ in Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 2003)  I wonder if the stone is still on display in the ‘new look’ NAM – I’ll keep an eye open for it next time I visit the archive.

The SS Tyndareus was not the only ship to suffer these mines. According to WW1 US photos (scroll down for more detail), four ships sank off the Cape Town coast:

26 Jan 1917 – Matheran (British)

12 Feb 1917 – Cilicia (British)

26 May 1917 – Carlos de Eizaguirre (Spanish)

10 Aug 1917 – City of Exeter

The SS Tyndareus was the only one salvaged with some lives from the others being saved.

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