VETERANS of a naval crew denied war medals for their role in a one of the most daring operations in British military history were “victims of government skulduggery”, a Scottish MP claimed yesterday.
During a Westminster Hall debate, Labour MP Graeme Morrice raised the role of men who fought on board the HMS Concord and who took part in a rescue mission on the Yangtze River in the Chinese civil war.
Mr Morrice told MPs there had been a “cover-up” aimed at denying the involvement of the vessel in the incident in 1949, which campaigners have claimed was played down for diplomatic reasons.
HMS Concord was involved in the rescue of frigate HMS Amethyst, which came under fire on its way up the river, and relieved another vessel HMS Consort protecting the British embassy in Nanjing during the incident.
Mr Morrice, the MP for Livingston, said that HMS Concord’s veterans should be given “official recognition” of their bravery, which was immortalised in an acclaimed 1957 film – The Yangtse Incident starring Richard Todd.
The incident made headlines across the world in 1949 when HMS Amethyst came under fire. Heavily damaged and with many crewmen dead, it was initially grounded within range of Chinese guns.
Mr Morrice used the debate yesterday to pay tribute to the campaigning of HMS Consort Scottish veteran, William Leitch, who took up the case for the recognition of the part played by his comrades on sister vessel HMS Concord.
He said that Mr Leitch had provided an “overwhelming insight” into the episode by uncovering evidence relating to HMS Concord’s role in the incident.
Mr Leitch said he had uncovered pictures and letters in the archive of Rear Admiral Sir David Scott, which reveal how the crew of HMS Concord defied Chinese forces to sail up the Yangtse and help the refloated Amethyst.
Mr Morrice said: “Mr Leitch has been in touch about what happened and I know he’s delighted that we are able to have this adjournment debate.”
The Labour MP talked said that the Yangtze incident had “brought us to the brink of a Third World War” but claimed the truth about the role of HMS Concord had been “suppressed”.
Mr Morrice said that HMS Concord veterans had been “forgotten” despite providing a safe escort to HMS Amethyst, which was under Chinese attack.
He said: “It’s important in this debate that we provide some insight into the truth about the incident at the Yangtze River in 1949.
“As the Chinese civil war began, the Yangtze River was known as a war zone.”
He went on to call for HMS Concord veterans to now be given the Yangtze 1949 clasp, which those involved in the conflict received, as well the Navy General Service Medal they already hold.
Mr Morrice said: “There was a move to expunge any of Concord’s involvement. I hope that honourable members appreciate how frustrating this is. These veterans should be officially recognised, but they were victims of government skulduggery at the time.
“There has been a cover-up that may still be ongoing today.”
Mr Leitch said he was delighted that the issue was being raised in parliament.