ROYAL Navy personnel at HMS Collingwood, Fareham, together with veterans and their families, came together recently to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Yangtze incident.

With the Fleet Commander, Vice Admiral Jerry Kyd as the Guest of Honour, accompanied by Councillor Mrs Susan Bayford, the Mayor of Fareham, the visitors were welcomed to the establishment by Commanding Officer Rob Vitali.

The event began with a lecture by Dr Duncan Redford, from the establishment’s Maritime Warfare Centre, on the Yangtze incident. This was followed by a Service of Remembrance held in the site’s chapel, led by Reverend Thomas James.

Following lunch, the invited guests were escorted to the Bridge Simulator for a demonstration of the state-of-the-art training facility, which is used to train Navigation Officers of today’s Royal Navy.

HMS Amethyst veteran Ray Calcott, who was also celebrating his 90th birthday, said of the day “This has been very memorable, it’s been a lovely day, I’ve really enjoyed it. I never expected half of this.

“I was a seaman in charge of the A Gun, when the first shell came over, I remember it as clear as day.”

Mr Stewart Hett was also serving on the Amethyst at the time, as a 22-year-old Lieutenant. He said “Today was very nicely arranged. It was interesting to hear the lecturer talk about the incident, but of course I was there at the time and remember it well.

“When we were trapped in the river I had to take over as the second-in-command.

“I’m really pleased that HMS Collingwood keeps a lobby in Endeavour Building with all of the Yangtze memorabilia.”

Addressing the guests before they departed Captain Vitali said “On behalf of HMS Collingwood having you all here today has been fascinating. I’ve learnt a huge amount from having the veterans here from the incident.”

In April 1949, with civil war raging in China between the Chinese Communist People’s Liberation Army and Nationalist Kuomintang forces, the Royal Navy frigate HMS Amethyst was ordered up the Yangtze River to act as a guardship for the British Embassy in Nanjing.

When it was around 70 miles away from Nanjing, the ship came under fire from Communist artillery batteries on the northern bank of the river and, while attempting to evade the shelling, it ran aground.

During the incident 17 members of the crew were killed and 10 were wounded, including the Captain, Lieutenant Commander Bernard Skinner, who later died.

With the ship still under fire from Communist forces, First Lieutenant Geoffrey Weston assumed command. He ordered an evacuation of the wounded and those who could be spared to the Nationalist-held southern bank of the river.

Over the next few days, the frigate HMS Consort attempted to re-float Amethyst but was forced back by intense shellfire causing several casualties among its crew.

Two more vessels, the cruiser HMS London and the frigate HMS Black Swan were sent to assist but were also forced back.

Amethyst’s crew eventually managed to re-float the ship and Lieutenant Commander John Kerens, the Assistant Naval Attaché in Beijing, was able to get on board and assume command. He established a truce with the local Communist forces, but conditions worsened for the crew on board as rations ran short and the inside temperature of the ship became almost unbearable.

Early in July, under cover of darkness, Amethyst slipped from its anchorage towards Shanghai.

It was under artillery fire for part of the journey and had to negotiate treacherous sandbanks and a barrier in the river. Despite these difficulties HMS Amethyst reached Shanghai and re-joined the British Far East Fleet.

It arrived in Hong Kong under a glare of publicity from the world’s press who had eagerly followed the events of the ship’s three-month ordeal.