Naval History

It is fortunate for posterity that Group Captain Rupert Taylor, a Johannesburg businessman in 1964 became interested in the old Simon’s Town Seaforth Cemetery or the ‘Old Burying Ground’, as it is called. Like his war-time contemporary ‘Sailor’ Malan he began his service career in the Navy before switching to the Airforce during the Second World War. While in the Navy he used to occasionally sit under a plaque to Midshipman Hammill in this cemetery admiring the sea view.

Below is the epilogue of Mel Baker's remarkable story. It covers his return to Wernersdorf on two occasions and his reunions with fellow POWs over the years. It also highlights the powerful commemorative events that he has been part of.

Mel Baker was a crew member of the HMS Gloucester which sank near Crete in 1941. He was one of only a handful of survivors picked up by the Germans. Below is Part 1 of his powerful account of being a Prisoner of War for most of World War II. He was 21 when he was taken prisoner and returned to Port Elizabeth in 1945 aged 25.

On 25 May 1978, the SA Navy hydrographic survey vessel, the SAS PROTEA under command of Capt C.J.H. Wagenfeld rescued twenty-six crew members from the Japanese crab fishing boat, the Kaiyo Maru No 1, which foundered off the Skeleton Coast of Namibia. Shortly thereafter, PROTEA was involved in another mercy mission to evacuate a heart attack victim from the tanker Texaco Sweden off the Namibian coast. SAS PROTEA was justly rewarded that year with the award of the SA Navy Sword of Peace for humanitarian efforts.

 

This last week brought a spectacular media scoop to Steve Humphrey of the BBC when an anonymous tip off (presumably telephonic) led him to a bell shaped parcel left at the entrance to the Swanage Pier in Dorset, England. The BBC team was on hand to film the careful unwrapping of the parcel to reveal a ship's bell with the word “Mendi” deeply etched in capital letters on the side (main image from Steve Humphrey and BBC TV South). The bell of the SS Mendi, lost in World War 1, had been found. 

 

Fifty five years ago Hermanus experienced its longest and most high profile contact ever with the Royal Navy. The famous aircraft carrier HMS Victorious officially visited the town for two incident-packed days that galvanised the whole population.

 

“Be quiet and calm, my countrymen, for what is taking place now is exactly what you came to do. You are going to die, but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we are drilling the drill of death. I, a Xhosa, say you are all my brothers, Zulu, Swazis, Pondos, Basutos, we die like brothers, for though, they made us leave our weapons at home, our voices are left with your bodies.”

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