ELDERLY veterans demanding the government honours a warship’s role in a major Cold War episode have vowed to fight until their dying breath to get justice despite a refusal from Whitehall.
Sailors of HMS Concord have been battling with the Ministry of Defence for decades to get recognition for their part in a rescue effort on July 31, 1949.
Concord braved gunfire and shelling when she was scrambled to sail China’s River Yangtze during a civil war to help the stricken ship HMS Amethyst escape to freedom.
But while crew members on Amethyst and other ships were given the Yangtze Clasp for their efforts in an earlier rescue attempt in the April of that year – which left 45 sailors dead – none of the dozens of Portsmouth-based sailors from Concord were recognised for the July operation.
The mission was swept under the carpet by the MoD, which, for the best part of 60 years, refused to acknowledge Concord’s perilous exploit.
And although the MoD has since praised the heroism of Concord's crew, a spokesman said no clasp would be awarded.
Despite the blow Peter Lee-Hale chairman of the HMS Concord Association, who served on her between 1955-1956, said he would carry on the fight.
‘There has been a massive cover up that’s been going for 70 years now,’ said the 85-year-old. ‘These guys put their lives on the line for another ship. ‘All the other four ships involved earlier that got shelled – with people being wounded or killed – all got their medal.
‘Concord was at the same sort of risk but they have just been ignored and betrayed by the government.’
Amethyst ran the gauntlet of Chinese guns on both sides of the river during her dash for freedom on July 30.
Despite being fired on she made it to the open sea and freedom but 22 of Amethyst’s company were killed, including her captain.
Mr Lee-Hale added: ‘We still have hope but for many of us our health is starting to fail
‘There’s no more than half a dozen of the crew left now. One is deep in dementia.
‘But as long as I am alive – and I hope I will be for quite a few more years yet – I’ll continue to fight.’
An independent review in 2012 accepted the ship did enter the Yangtze on July 31, 1949.
However, the review recommended Concord’s crew should not be awarded the Naval General Service Medal Yangtze 1949 clasp as it was not fired upon.
A spokesman for the MoD said: ‘‘We would like to thank the crew of HMS Concord, whose bravery was fully in line with the proud traditions of the Royal Navy.’
‘We are aware that an independent review in 2012 concluded that the crew should not be awarded the Naval General Service Medal Yangtze 1949 clasp.’