Conclusions Arising From The Search For The Truth Regarding
HMS Concord's Assistance During The Escape of HMS Amethyst
From The River Yangtze
By Derek Hodgson
It has become fairly obvious that the attempts to find historical facts and gain the interest of those in authority who have the necessary power to put right an error of the past is fraught with difficulty. A number of individuals have spent a great deal of time and effort to establish undeniable proof that certain misleading information of the past has been accepted as historical fact and the intransigence of certain gentlemen has been a major obstacle to its being accepted.
Whereas today, there being no Admiralty as such, history in the making is more or less derived from one source, the Ministry of Defence. Alright, there are instances whereby serving personnel occasional disagree with government policy etc. but in the main the current military and naval operations are equally accepted and made public where possible. As I hope now to demonstrate, this has not always been the case and at the time of the Yangtze River Incident the power and responsibility of the Commanders in Chief Far East illustrate the freedom to run operations as they saw fit.
The decision to send HMS Amethyst up to Nanking to relieve HMS Consort was, it would appear, made by Admiral Brind. A decision made all the harder by the withdrawal of HMAS Shoalhaven by the Australian Government due to the prevailing position of P.L.A. troops on the north bank of the river. The risk was taken with very unfortunate results and led to further casualties in the ships London, Black Swan and Consort. History states the then Atlee Government accordingly suffered acute embarrassment. I admit to not knowing the attitude of the Admiralty during this period. Following the incident, due to poor communications at the time and operational duties, newspapers were history and news reels of the day were not often viewed by we serving personnel out east, indeed it was not until the Memorial Service recently held at Tandridge last July that we watched the terrific welcome given to men of the Amethyst in Devonport and London.
What has absolutely now been established is that the decision to allow Amethyst to try a breakout was made by the C-in-C's afloat and ashore and not the Admiralty. It is a fact that the Admiralty sent a signal ordering Amethyst not to make the attempt but it apparently it was too late. All further orders during the night of 30th/31st July were as a result of signals from the C-in-C's to both Amethyst and Concord. The only signal to be repeated to Admiralty, as far as I am aware, was from Amethyst confirming rejoining the fleet (Concord) at Woosung.
The situation with the Admiralty was soon to change. As soon as both ships were clear of Chinese Territorial Waters HMS Cossack turned up and lo and behold, presumably as ordered by a higher authority, removed the ships log form Concord and replaced it with a new one. She then took over as escort. Dare I say that this action was the beginning of the 'cover up' and the ensuing playing down of Concord's part in the operation. From then on it was to be the Admiralty which issued press releases and established the fairy tale that all Concord did was to wait at the mouth of the Yangtze ready to proceed up river if Amethyst was fired upon at Woosung. Thus, fifty years later, as a result of a request made by Willie Leitch to his local M.P. Jim Divine a written question was forwarded to the then minister for Armed Services Bob Ainsworth as to why HMS Concord was not included in the award of the Yangtze Clasp.
Naturally enough, he would not know the answer so he would refer to the archives held at Kew where the Admiralty had deposited the press release of all those years ago and we all know what that said! He would also have obtained details of HD Committees ruling for the award which, on the basis of the published press release could not include Concord. Had they seen the ships log and read its contents, they may well have decided otherwise but even this is hardly likely as the instruction from the British Ambassador not to give publicity to the fact that Concord had entered Chinese Territorial Waters was still current. It is very likely that, as a result of this order, the later assertions by the Admiralty and a Minister that HMS Concord was only waiting at the mouth of the river was published as fact.
What it really suggested is that Concord did not enter Chinese territorial waters and should not, therefore upset the P.L.A. but, of course, they must have been well aware of the incursion. By referring to a chart of the area it becomes obvious that as soon as Concord passed the Light Vessel marking the entrance to the shipping channel she did in fact enter Chinese waters. It should be remembered that this meeting was in November and it would only be two months later in January that Britain recognised The Peoples Republic of China. It would not have been correct to rock the boat so near to such a major decision.
But for the hard work of Willie Leitch culminating in his discovery of the archives held at Churchill College, Cambridge we, the remaining ships company of Concord, would have found it hard to provide written proof of the extreme danger in which their ship was placed when travelling so far up such dangerous waters. Not only signals and telegrams covering the escape were located but also a letter from Commander Dickins, a member of Flags staff, to his father Admiral Dickins which, apart from confirming the signals exchanged, talks of the feelings of the staff throughout this momentous night. This information must have been a considerable surprise to Mr. S. Spear the naval secretary given the responsibility for answering my letters to the minister Bob Ainsworth. He also would probably have referred to the info held at Kew as he initially stuck to this line, but thereafter he must have found it a bit of a struggle as he appears to have studied the book 'Hostage of the Yangtze' the contents of which must have rather made life even more difficult as this book more than illustrates the problems his predecessors encountered.
His only use for this book was to photocopy a sketch map of the Yangtze river to back a comment in his letter to me that 'it is not considered inappropriate to describe Woosung as being at the mouth of the river, for example see the enclosed map'. What he appears not to have noticed is the scale of this map which when measured shows that Woosung is at least 38 miles from the entrance, 38 miles of a hostile river bank averaging a distance of only 2/3 miles away. This Mr. Spear commenced corresponding with me on 19th December 2007 in answer to a letter I sent to Bob Ainsworth, he has since then answered on behalf of the minister and Royal Naval senior officers on numerous occasions and over this period appeared to have gradually accepted much of what we have put forward, However, in a letter dated 15 May 2009 he has changed his submissions and puts forward arguments set by precedent such as 'The MOD does not have the authority to introduce UK medals' we are not asking for a new medal, he then states 'It has been longstanding Government policy dating back many years to the post-War period that no consideration will be given to applications for medal recognition for events that took place more than five years previously'.
This is hardly a fair comment as until 1998 we were not aware of facts. Most of us remained out in the far east for a further year and remained in the RN for five more years, we would have been in real trouble if we had started raising issues whilst still serving. It was only when we had access to our log that it was realised just what had officially been taking place. In any case, rules are not laws so therefore can be changed.
It is also a fact that a G.S.M. was issued for service in the 'Canal Zone' during the period 1951 to 1954 as recently as 2003. Contrary to the statement that this should not be used as a precedent we believe that it most certainly is. Whilst mentioning ship's logs it might be considered rather strange that the log of Amethyst, also held at Kew is completely blank for the night of the escape. It has been filled in before and after but not during. I do find this very surprising indeed. Also rather strange is that Concord's log now public property and which therefore should not be moved from the Archives, was removed.
Our Chairman of our Association Peter Lee-Hale last year had occasion to again refer to said log only to find that it had indeed been taken away. When questioning the staff as to its whereabouts he was informed that a public department in Portsmouth had taken it but refused to say who. After considerable pressure from Peter the log was replaced. Why should this be, it just happens to be the only document in the Archives which confirms Concords entering the Yangtze and proceeding to Woosung.
In a recent letter from a senior member of the ships company of HMS Amethyst the question of Yangtze Clasp is raised and he states that he and members of the other ships companies of the London, Consort and Black Swan regard the issue of said clasp as an award for being under fire. It is certainly a fact that it was this action that initiated its introduction but then by its extended qualification period for a further hundred days confirmed it as a Campaign Medal. The General Service Medal is not a medal issued for bravery, it is and always has been granted for all who served within an area of a specified campaign whether front line or otherwise. HMS Concord, by virtue of the dangers and position in which it was placed most certainly should also qualify.
The letter also refers to the value of the medal when put up for sale. It is a fact that by increasing the issue by say another 200 to cover Concord should have no effect on its value, in fact it could increase it as even now the current value varies according to which ship the party served on. For example a rating serving in Amethyst and whose name and number appears on the rim of said medal will find it worth more than say a rating from Black Swan. I personally regard such financial value irrelevant. Quite deservedly HMS Amethyst and the Yangtze Incident has attracted massive publicity and its fantastic story will forever be remembered by a film and coverage through the Internet and newspapers of the day. Concord, on the other hand, is plagued by false reports claiming that she met up with Amethyst at the mouth of the river by which time the Amethyst had reached safety.
It is surely rather ridiculous that there should be two archives differing to such a degree. Is it not time for both archives to be married together in order to provide an accurate, correct and truthful account of what has become a quite famous event.
It is fervently hoped that someone in authority will have the courage to act on our behalf and publish the truth.
March 6, 2010
Page published Mar. 7, 2010