Campaign to honour unsung war heroes

South African carriers lined up outside a fort at Dschang in German Cameroon, in 1914

Black South Africans who served and died during World War I might finally have their stories told and their names honoured.

Over the course of the war, from 1914 to 1918, thousands of black South Africans enlisted for non-combatant duties, serving in various labour units, including the Cape Coloured Labour Regiment, Cape Auxiliary Horse Transport, the Military Labour Bureau and the Military Labour Corps.

Unlike the South African Native Labour Contingent, which would serve in Europe and is well known for its connection to the doomed
SS Mendi, these men were recruited and served on African soil.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), an organisation that honours 1.7 million men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the First and Second World Wars, has now launched a public campaign to fill in the missing pieces in the lives of men, who until now have not received any recognition for their sacrifice by name.

Liz Woodfield, director of information and communications for the CWGC, said that more than a century after the war ended, not all the names of those lost from the ranks of the labour units had been recorded in remembrance.

“We are looking at changing that, so that they can be honoured by name and their stories told.”

The CWGC is calling for any surviving relatives or friends to come forward. You can email: info@hwb.co.za or by sending an SMS with your name and contact details to 40720.

The Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation supports the project, and the foundation’s CEO, Piyushi Kotecha, said: “We know that, collectively, these labour units made an essential contribution to the British war effort – not by carrying arms but by feeding and supplying the front lines and keeping armies in the field. The hope is that this project will bring healing and restore the dignity of these fallen and forgotten black South African soldiers.”

There are 31 names of men who enlisted in the Western Cape: Jim Tselitye, Johannes Tsoanetje, Johannes Khanedi, Frank Kuinana, Jim Nogos, Jim Mabso, John Damster, Andries van Wyk, May Boyes, Moss Levy, Johannes MacCallum, Jan Engelbrecht, James Maaupi, Jacob Toani, Johannes Alcaster, John Francis, Ben Bekomo, Peter Warden, Charles Samuels, Isaac Jacobs, David Jacobus, David Molale, Isaac Garrett, William du Plessis, Klaas Nieuweld, Cornelius Irish, Jan Mabi, Charlie Guda, Stephen Sikondele, Isaac Felix and Thomas Tywakodi.

The names are spelt as they were recorded at the time.

You can find a full list of all the names here or follow the CWGC Facebook page.