Some weeks ago I asked if there were any surviving members from HMS Amethyst, the ship involved in the Yangtze Incident of 1949.
Although I had no replies from survivors , I did from a member of another ship’s company involved in the ‘incident’ as it was called, HMS London.
John Parker, of Paulsgrove, joined the Royal Marines as a Hostilities Only (HO) servicemen in 1942, aged 17.
He was based at Chatham and then sent to Deal, also in Kent, for extra training.
At the end of the war John, now 93, was released from service and reverted to civilian life.
That lasted just six months as he could not cope with civvy life and as he then lived in Portsmouth he rejoined the marines at Eastney barracks.
There’s no time to be afraid – you’re too busy to think of death
In November 1946 he was drafted to the Royal Navy’s last battleship HMS Vanguard and was with her for the royal cruise to South Africa in 1947.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth along with their two daughters departed from Portsmouth on February 1. John was part of the Royal Guard of 100 Royal Marines.
He tells me that when the guard passed the king’s quarters they used whisper loudly ‘Morning George’. The king, on hearing the whisper, called back ‘Morning Royals’.
John tells me it was a magnificent tour. Princess Margaret even posed for photographs for the ship’s company although Princess Elizabeth was a little more reserved.
After the royal party left Vanguard at Cape Town to make overland visits, the ship continued on a goodwill tour around the coast of the colony.
The South Africans treated the crew like royalty themselves, John tells me.
Retuning home on April 27, 1949, John was drafted to the Portsmouth dockyard-built County-class heavy cruiser HMS London and sailed with her from Chatham to the Far East.
I will not go into detail about what happened to HMS Amethyst as it is well recorded, but what is not is that the frigate HMS Black Swan and HMS London were sent to help Amethyst which was grounded.
However, neither ship got within 30 miles of her.
They had to retire from the fray as the Communist forces sent such a barrage the only thing to do was retreat.
London fired her eight-inch and four-inch guns to port firing at the north bank of the river. Several hundred rounds were fired.
She was hit several times down her port side, on her bridge and X turret.
Fifteen of the company were killed and 30 wounded. One was a Portsmouth man, CPO Writer Patrick Stowers.
He was posthumously mentioned in dispatches in the London Gazette of November 1, 1949.
I asked John if he ever thought he might be killed. ‘Not at all,’ he says. ‘Everyone is so busy at what they are doing, things like that do not enter your mind. Believe me, you do not have time to be afraid.’
London sailed to Hong Kong to have her wounds repaired and on returning to the UK John continued his marine service.
After 22 years he retired from the Royal Marines (T) as sergeant in 1964.