Veteran sailors are denied recognition for heroic mission
By Matt Jackson
April 20, 2009

Veteran sailors who helped a damaged warship flee China in the 1940s are being denied recognition 60 years later, The News can reveal.
Shipmates of the Portsmouth destroyer HMS Concord want a medal clasp for their part in the 1949 Yangtze Incident.

After the frigate HMS Amethyst was attacked by the Chinese army in April 1949, it was held captive until making a daring escape along the Yangtze river in July of that year.

HMS Concord travelled into the river to meet Amethyst and escort her out, coming within range of Chinese heavy guns at the Woosung Forts.

Sailors on other ships - who are meeting this week at HMS Collingwood in Fareham - were recognised for helping Amethyst.

But the Ministry of Defence maintains that HMS Concord did not face enough real risk.

Derek Hodgson was a stores accountant on Concord during the incident.

The 79-year-old from Lee-on-the-Solent said: 'We want the clasp to add to our general service medal, and we don't see why we don't deserve it.

'There are only about 20 of us left and we feel the real story of our role could be lost forever.'

Mr Hodgson said Concord had dashed 40 miles up the river to help Amethyst, transferring stores and fuel oil before escorting her safely past the artillery of the Woosung Forts.

The association claims to have official documents showing that in 1949 the MoD ordered a cover-up of the destroyer's involvement.

Mr Hodgson said: 'Ten years ago the MoD released papers showing that no publicity was to be given that we had gone into Chinese waters.

'Until then the line was that we had stayed away, but we were very close to guns that could have done us huge damage.'

Retired sailor Willie Leitch, 74, from Deans in Scotland, has campaigned for the clasp even though he served in the destroyer HMS Consort.

Mr Leitch said: 'It is a disgrace that the government has denied these sailors the honour they deserve.'

At the time the Admiralty recommended a clasp for the ships involved in the incident, which was then passed to the secretive Honours and Decorations Committee.

It was, and remains, a pan-departmental committee of civil servants who report to the monarch.

An MOD spokesman said: 'Actual risk and rigour must be present to qualify for a medal; potential risk would not be enough.

'It is documented that once HMS Concord had met HMS Amethyst on the morning of July 31, 1949, neither ship faced enemy attention.

'This has to be compared to the shelling, casualties including fatalities, and damage suffered by HMS Amethyst, HMS Black Swan, HMS London and HMS Consort, when the "Yangzte Incident" began in April 1949.'


HMS Concord was initially ordered as HMS Corso during the Second World War, built by Thornycroft at Southampton.

She was launched on May 14, 1945, renamed Concord in June 1946 and commissioned on December 20, 1946.

After the Yangtze incident in 1949 she went on to serve during the Korean War, before finally being decommissioned.

She arrived at the breakers' yard at Inverkeithing in Scotland on October 22, 1962.

-Matt Jackson
Defence correspondent

Reprinted with the permission of Matt Jackson and The News
© 2009 The News and all rights reserved


Page published Apr. 29, 2009