Sinking of the Birkenhead: Stand fast – women and children first

Sinking of the Birkenhead: Stand fast – women and children first

The troopship, HMS Birkenhead, sank in the early hours of 26 February 1852. To ensure that even after 169 years the courage of the men that day is not forgotten, a remembrance service is annually held on (25 and) 26 February in various towns around the world.

In Gansbaai, the event usually includes a small remembrance ceremony at sea close to the rock where the Birkenhead was wrecked and a wreath-laying ceremony at the Danger Point Lighthouse. The lighthouse was erected in 1895 in order to warn ships of the dangerous reef, and overlooks the Birkenhead Rock where HMS Birkenhead met her sad fate.

This year the ceremony at the Danger Point Lighthouse could not be held due to Covid-19 restrictions. True to tradition, a boat trip to Birkenhead Rock took place on the morning of 25 February 2021 (as bad weather predicted for the 26th). After a short message and prayer, fynbos and lavender were cast into the sea in remembrance of those who lost their lives.

May we always remember those brave soldiers who stood back, even as the ship broke up, to let the women and children board the life rafts first.

Although never part of international maritime law, the Birkenhead Drill, is now seen as a standard evacuation procedure in maritime disasters.

Pictured here are Riaan Franken, Mariaan Burger, SD Fourie and Hardus Botha at the commemoration service of the sinking of the HMS Birkenhead.

On the journey back to the harbour Skipper Hennie Otto stopped the boat in order that the passengers may enjoy a sighting of Bryde’s whales. Gratitude is conveyed to the owners of Marine Dynamics, Dyer Island Cruises and White Shark Projects for making their boats available for the occasion.

170th anniversary

Glenda Kitley of Gansbaai Tourism has indicated that 2022 will be the 170th commemoration of the Birkenhead. She said the Gansbaai Tourism Committee, along with stakeholders, are busy with plans to make this a special event. A number of descendants of those who were on board, have indicated a desire to attend. “Once finalised, the programne will be circulated and advertised,” she added.

But to stand an' be still to the Birken'ead drill is a damn tough bullet to chew - A sentence from Rudyard Kipling's famous poem 'Soldier an' Sailor Too''. Pictured here are Deon Naudé playing is trumpet and Chaplain Mark Robson at the Birkenhead Rock where HMS Birkenhead met her sad fate - not even 5kms from the shore.
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