Jeremiah Siyabi – SANLC

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Wembury Local History Society
24 June 2016 ·

A doorway into the past:

Very little is known about Private Jeremiah Siyabi of the South African Native Labour Contingent SANLC). Records give no mention of his family and merely say that he died in an accident, aged 45. SANLC was a regiment set up in 1916 at the request, and cost, of the British Government. It was disbanded in 1918. The men of the regiment were employed as labourers and paid just £3 a month. They were kept in conditions worse than those of prisoners of war and were separated from Europeans by high fences, topped with barbed wire. At all costs, they were to be kept away from white women, they were not allowed out of the camps without an escort, were not allowed in shops or bars and were not to be entertained in the homes of Europeans. No medals were awarded to the men of the force, even though the British Government had provided one for all who had served with SANLC. There are very few war graves in Britain of soldiers from the SANLC, just three in Devon. About one third of the names on the Hollybrook Memorial in Hampshire, were members of SANLC, many of whom died when the troop carrier ship, the Mendi, sank in 1917.

It is fitting that Private Jeremiah Siyabi should be buried in a British Churchyard in a beautiful position overlooking the sea, and has been given a memorial stone as good as any given to any soldier who died serving Britain in World War 1.

After the War, none of the black servicemen on the Mendi, neither the survivors nor the dead, or any other members of the South African Native Labour Corps, received a British War Medal or a ribbon. Their white officers did. This was South African decision. Black members of the South African Labour Corps from the neighbouring British Protectorates of Basutoland (modern Lesotho), Bechuanaland (Botswana) and Swaziland did receive medals.

30 March · Plymouth ·
At 12.15pm, 30th March 2018, almost forty people gathered to pay our respects to Private Jeremiah Siyabi who died exactly 100 years ago on 30th March 1918. He was part of the South African Native Labour Contingent (SANLC) based at Renney Camp. It is thought that he fell from the cliffs near Renney Point, possibly whilst building the defences there that were to protect Plymouth Sound and the Naval Dockyard.

The members of SANLC had left South Africa in 1916, at the request of the British Government, to help the war effort by providing the hard labour required to defend our country and also to support the fighting forces in France.

We will remember them.

Forgotten Heroes of the First World War

Research and and photographs by Sue Carlyon
Copied and linked with permission of Sue Carlyon and Wembury Local History Society, 31 July 2018

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