Craigneuk Navy vet's fight to honour forgotten heroes
By Richard Mooney
March 3, 2010
THIS week Craigneuk-born ex-Royal Navy man William Leitch will go to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh to expose what he claims is a cover-up of an incident which left 180 heroes without medals.
During the Chinese Civil War in the summer of 1949, Britain's HMS Amethyst was fired upon by Communist forces on the Yangtze River - far from the neutral South China Sea.
The damage to the ship was so catastrophic that 50 men were killed.
The vessel was stuck for over 100 days in Chinese territorial waters.
The then Labour Government said that the Amethyst had made a daring escape, darting down the Yangtze River on a foggy night by itself.
However, William (76), and some former colleagues say this is not what happened.
William served on the Amethyst's sister ship, the HMS Consort, a few years after the Yangtze incident and he first heard what had really happened on that fateful day.
He says another ship - HMS Concord - entered Chinese territorial waters to escort the Amethyst to the mouth of the Yangtze and provide cover for that vessel should the Chinese Communist guns open fire. And, William explained, due to a Government order at the time that no publicity should be given to the fact that the HMS Concord entered Chinese Territorial waters, the 180 crew members never were recognised with medals for their heroic efforts in the Yangtze Incident.
William said: "There were 180 seaman on the Concord the day it went into the Yangtze.
"Of that, 24 are still alive. I would like to see them get their due with a Yangtze Medal."
William says that in late July 1949 HMS Concord entered the Yangtze and met the Amethyst near the dangerous point of the heavily-armed Communist Woosung Fort.
Risking their own lives, it is said the Concord's crew turned the ship and provided cover for the Amethyst.
As both ships made their way down the river, they found a safe spot to drop anchor where the Concord took on supplies and refuelled the Amethyst before they were on their way again.
Amazingly, Woosung Fort did not open fire and the two ships made it safely into neutral waters.
And according to William, as the ships left the Yangtze River, they met a blockade of British Navy ships guarding the river's entrance.
The Concord was stopped by HMS Cossack and a Chief Navy officer boarded it, took the ship's log and replaced it with a new one - ultimately removing any involvement that the Concord had in the Yangtze Incident.
That is until 2007, when William found copies of the ship's original log after digging through the Navy archives at Churchill College in Cambridge.
William also discovered telegrams and communications between Navy commanders which he says prove HMS Concord's involvement in the Yangtze Incident.
The series of communications found by William show orders being given by naval command to HMS Concord telling the staff to be ready to support the Amethyst during her escape, if necessary.
The key however is a telegram from the UK's Sir Ralph Stevenson, Commissioner General of South East Asia, to the British Foreign Office in Singapore, which states that: "No, repeat, no publicity should be given to the fact that HM Ship Concord entered Chinese territorial waters."
William, currently living in Livingston, got his MP Jim Devine to ask the Secretary of Defence Bob Ainsworth about the Ministry of Defence's stance on the Yangtze Incident and the medals.
Mr Ainsworth maintained in 2007 in a letter to Jim Devine that the Government's stance was that the Concord did not enter the Yangtze.
William told the Wishaw Press: "It's all there. It's all true. The Government are going to have to apologise to me no matter.
"Bob Ainsworth said it wasn't in the river when in fact it was. There were 180 seaman on the Concord the day it went into the Yangtze. Of that 24 are still alive. I'd like to see them get their due with a Yangtze Medal."
Not disheartened by the UK Government's failure to recognise the crew on the Concord, William petitioned the Scottish Parliament to have a look at the case and make representations to the UK Government, asking them to investigate the circumstances involved in the process for awarding medals to those in the 1949 Yangtze campaign and if it was corrupted as a result of the exclusion of important documents relating to the result of the HMS Concord.
William said: "These men risked their lives for their own battered comrades and then were stricken from the record like it never happened. Most of the Concord's crew are dead now. Surely the remaining members deserve recognition for what they did. It's only right."
William's petition was discussed yesterday (Tuesday, March 2) at the Scottish Parliament.
Reprinted with the permission of Richard Mooney
and the Wishaw Press
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Page published Mar. 10, 2010