Scots veteran carries flag for Yangtse river crews

William Leitch. Picture: Robery Perry
William Leitch. Picture: Robery Perry
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THE role of a naval crew which undertook one of the most daring rescue operations in British history is to be debated at Westminster today following a campaign by a Scots veteran.

William Leitch, who was 17 when he served HMS Consort, has taken up the baton for the recognition of the part played by sister vessel HMS Concord in a rescue mission on the Yangtze River during the Chinese Civil War.

The story of the Amethyst became a big screen hit as The Yangtse Incident in 1957. Picture: contributed

The story of the Amethyst became a big screen hit as The Yangtse Incident in 1957. Picture: contributed

The rescue of frigate HMS Amethyst, which came under fire on its way up the river to relieve the Consort protecting the British embassy in Nanjing, was played down for diplomatic reasons, Mr Leitch claims – and the crew’s gallantry was never recognised.

Now Livingston MP Graeme Morrice is to discuss the issue in Parliament in a debate tomorrow afternoon.

“A very large question mark hangs over the 1949 Yangtze incident,” said Mr Morrice. “For 64 years now, the true story of HMS Amethyst’s dramatic escape from China’s Yangtze River has been suppressed. I fear it appears to have been a cover-up that may still be ongoing to this day.”

The incident made headlines across the world in 1949 when Amethyst took fire. Heavily damaged and with many crewmen dead, it was initially grounded within range of Chinese guns.

Its rescue became the subject of an acclaimed 1957 film – The Yangtse Incident.

Mr Leitch said that three years ago he had uncovered evidence relating to the role in the incident of HMS Concord among pictures and letters in the archive of Rear Admiral Sir David Scott, which reveal how the crew of the Concord defied Chinese forces to sail up the Yangtse and help the refloated Amethyst.

The veteran said he was delighted that the issue is to be taken to Parliament.

“People are going to have to realise the truth behind what happened,” he said. “This gives this government a chance to put right the omissions that the government 64 years ago had put wrong.”