On the following pages is an exact copy of the book of commission, apart from some of the photo's. The first page details the various cruises and also includes the Yangtze Incident from the London's view point.
The second page covers the Royal Marines, Jenny's Side Party, Facts and Figures etc.
A HAPPY SHIP and a happy Commission if the word "happy" implied just fun and frolic, then it is not the word for London. But it means much more than this. It means that indefinable force which binds a company of men together, which gives them justifiable pride in their Ship and in themselves, and makes them feel that together they can surmount with confidence any emergency which may arise.
Emergencies of some kind or another are always arising in a seamans life, but it is not often in peacetime that he is confronted with such a sudden and vicious emergency as that which enveloped London on 21st April, 1949.
The discordant echoes of this unhappy incident will long ring down the corridors of history.
It brought with it loss of many good shipmates, and much suffering, sadness and sorrow; but paradoxically it proved if proof were needed that London was a "happy" ship.
And now the old lady will steam no more. The last commission of "The Lovely London" is over. What is she thinking of as she lies, always dignified, placidly waiting for the end?
Of her forbears stretching back in a long proud line for three hundred years?
Of the famous men she has met?
Of the varied and various places she has visited, from the Arctic Circle to tropic seas".
Of storms she has weathered?
Of great regatta days in the Mediterranean?
Of the Japanese surrender at Sabang?
Or of more recent memories
Jenny and her side party Garden Bend and the great uneasy city of Shanghai
Nanking in the summer sun Mirs Bay on a breathless still morning
Of these things she certainly thinks and many more. But most of all she is probably thinking of ships companies, and men with self-confidence bred of efficiency; of good fellowship and laughter, and of all the intangibles which make a happy commission.
She has had many of these and it can truly be said that the last was not the least.
CAPTAIN, ROYAL NAVY.
KEEL LAID, 23rd February, 1926. LAUNCHED by LADY BLADES, 14th September, 1927.
COMPLETED, 31st January, 1929. RECONSTRUCTED, 1939-41.
COMMISSIONS AND COMMANDING OFFICERS
|5th February, 1929, to 17th June, 1931.||Mediterranean.||Captain H. H.
Rogers, M.V.O., O.B.E.
Captain R. B. Davies, V.C., D.S.O., A.F.C
17th June, 1931, to 17th April, 1934.
Captain H. M. Burrough.
Captain Henry Harwood, O.B.E.
17th April, 1934, to 20th January, 1937.
Captain F. H. W. Goolden.
20th January, 1937, to 1st March, 1939.
Captain H. Pott.
|7th February, 1941.||Joined Home Fleet.||Captain R. M. Servaes, C.B.E.|
|22nd February, 1943.||East Indies.||Captain R. V. Symonds-Tayler, D.S.C.|
|26th November, 1945.||Trooping.||Captain S. L. Bateson.|
|26th June, 1946.||Reduced to Reserve.||Captain G. H. Oswald.
Commander G. T. Coney, O.B.E.
|Refit.||Captain R. W. Stirling-Hamilton.|
|11th September, 1947.||British Pacific Fleet.||Captain C. T. Addis, D.S.O.|
|Far Eastern Station.||Captain P. G. L. Cazalet, D.S.O., D.S.C|
|8th September, 1949.||Returned to Chatham, to reduce to Reserve (Category Z).|
For two hundred and twenty of the last three hundred and thirteen years there has been a London in the Royal Navy. The first (1636-1654) was a converted Merchantman who fought at Kentish Knock in 1652, and Camperdown in 1653. The Second (1657-65) a second rate of 64 Guns, escorted Charles II back at his restoration in 1660. A later London, a ship of 98 Guns, was Flagship at the Battle of Copenhagen, and yet another took part in the Bombardment of Sebastopol. The present ships immediate predecessor (1902-1920) was a first class Battleship, and fought at the Dardanelles.
The present London is the ninth of her name, and has known many notable occasions in her twenty-two years of life afloat. Among the more interesting in recent years were:
SEPTEMBER, 1941. Lord Beaverbrooks mission to Russia to arrange supplies.
NOVEMBER, 1943. Carried Churchills Staff for Teheran Conference from Plymouth to Egypt, and the "Stalingrad Sword" presented to that City by H.M. the King.
AUGUST, 1945. Accepted the Surrender of Sabang from the Japanese.
APRIL, 1949. Took part in the Yangtze incident.
Ship's Company January 1949.
PREPARATIONS AND THE TRIP TO CHINA
R. F. Leonard
NAVAL SERVICE is peculiarly confusing to the memory. Continual movement and changing appointments make for misleading associations, and mine is surprisingly telescoped. Memories of ships have a wide geographical range; memories of places are spread over a number of ships; and the recollection of persons comes from both time and space. Given tranquillity, and some written records, memories can be clothed in convincing words but now I have been asked to write an account of the early days of HMS Londons 1946-49 commission, without access to any notes and while trying to settle down to a new job. All this is an advance apology for the inadequacy and scrappiness of the account which follows, coloured by my personal preoccupations, and devoid of dates, and names of persons which would normally bulk large in such a narrative.
My first sight of HMS London in 1946 was when I crossed her upper deck, in early autumn, to reach the Swiftsure lying alongside her in the basin at Chatham Dockyard. After that I spent a fortnight or so looking enviously at her towering, dark grey sides from the quarterdeck of the smaller cruiser, and thinking of the greater comfort of her tween decks headroom and the delights of wood instead of semtex on her upper deck. When the Admiralty decided that London should go to China as Fleet Flag Ship instead of Swiftsure, my dream seemed to have come true, though it was going to be difficult to make her ready by December, which was then believed to be the sailing date.
Of the winter which followed I have some hideous memories of bitter cold, thick snows and frozen shore-side heads, and a ship apparently disintegrating into a squalid horror of red-lead, rust and wet dirt. To set against all that, however, I remember the great willingness of the Dockyard Authorities to help in every way they could, the apparently unfounded optimism of all those who were likely to form the nucleus of the final Ships Company, and the good work done by short service men under very unrewarding conditions. There is, too, a grateful memory of the "Operation Blackcurrant" submarines which gave us heat and light in those hard times. The chief works outside routine preparations were the fitting of a laundry after a long hunt for a suitable site; the complete chipping of the after turret and screen (which seemed such a folly while the rain and snow fell, but which was so well rewarded when they shone in the summer sun when the Dockyard plasterers and enamellers had done their work); the making of a theatre in the starboard hangar; the fitting of overhead fans in broadside messes (it was hard to imagine they would ever be needed); and the making of offices ready for the accommodation of the Commander-in-Chiefs staff. A vivid, individual memory of that time is the expression on our future Captains face when he made a preliminary visit in January and saw the desolate wilderness the quarter deck had become.
Fortunately our departure date was put back several times, in steps of two months, and, although this caused confusion in the drafting world, it gave time for a lot more work to be done on the ship and for many of the Officers and key ratings to learn the ship. As the hard winter grew into a fine spring and then a lovely summer, the size of the ships company and the willingness of the Dockyard to help a, by now, old friend grew together. The ship moved out of dock to the basin, the first coat of light grey paint was put on and she began to come to life. Ships teams began to play cricket, football and hockey shirts in the ships colours were bought and the boat shed began to paint the ships boats in what was meant to be the ships colours, but turned out to be chocolate and white. Personally I realised she was alive the first day the scuttle rims were cleaned, and I suddenly saw them, from the other side of the basin, shining in the sunlight. The first flavour of Gunnery began to creep in, the training of a seaman guard because the Royal Marines were late in joining, and a very successful participation in the Port Rifle Meeting where we very nearly swept the board.
The quarterdeck looms large in my memory of that summer. The planks became whiter, gratings grew up about the bollards, the awning was spread, and a ceremonial awning (saved from the Kent and kept at Portsmouth Barracks) scrounged; the starboard ladder, which had been a nightmare to design in two pieces, proved a nightmare to get out and in at first. That quarterdeck was to be a lasting pride and joy to the whole ship, it got off to a good start. The first ceremony it saw was the reception of the Lord Mayor of London with his Sheriffs, all properly habited, and the very polished performance of the Seaman Guard. My memory of that occasion is heightened by the Lord Mayors falling flat on his face on the matting of the gangway and his admirable composure in the face of so undignified a mishap. Before we left England the quarterdeck had been visited by, and earned praise from the Chinese Ambassador, the Commander-in-Chief of the Nore, and the Officers of the City of London Regiment (it was from the Colonel of this regiment we obtained permission to use the tune that became the Ships March).
After a last postponement, caused by an R.F.A. which rammed the ship soon after the new Captain joined, and a last spell of leave for her Ships Company, the London moved to a buoy at Sheerness where she lay for some time with an uncomfortable list caused by tide and wind acting in opposite directions on her very light hull. Fuelling, ammunitioning and Engine trials were uneventful as, indeed, they should be and then the Voyage to China began.
I find my memories of that voyage very uncertain: well behaved libertymen and very ill-fitting white uniforms at Gibraltar; difficulties with the heavy stern wires at Malta, where our two or three weeks of working up was marred by a tragedy when an ordinary seaman was lost from a seaboat whose bow dropped from the davit; and the arrival at Port Said very early in a clear beautiful morning. I knew the Mediterranean too well of old to be keenly impressed by recent events there.
Of our passage through the Canal, and on to Aden, I remember the discomfort of the anti-fly precautions we took because of a cholera scare; the brilliant naked landscape of the Gulf of Suez; the migrating swallows and the great birds that preyed on them; the requests for "hands to bathe", and the grimly beautiful movements of the sharks in the clear water when we stopped to fish, successfully, for them.
From Aden to Singapore I remember only the bright sunsets, the peaks of Ceylon against a morning sky, the greenness of Trincomalee, and embarking quantities of semtex and calcium carbide as freight for Hong Kong. At Singapore we were on our own station and it only remained to paint ship, in the face of the inevitable evening rain, and make an uneventful passage to Hong Kong.
And at Hong Kong, I remember, we made an immediate good impression which is just what we had come ten thousand miles to do.
THE FIRST CRUISE
AFTER THREE months "working up" and exercising in the Hong Kong area we were ready for a change of scenery. The February fogs and drizzly weather had blunted the attractions of Hong Kong anyway, and a Southern Cruise promised plenty of sunshine and some interesting places to see: Saigon in French Indo-China, Singapore, Labuan Island and Jesselton in Borneo, and Manila in the Philippines.
We left Hong Kong on February 23rd in company with the Sussex and the destroyers and frigates. We were the flagship and we had the Commander-in-Chief (Sir Denis Boyd) on board. After carrying out night exercises the Sussex and some of the frigates returned to Hong Kong and we set off for our cruise in company with the destroyers Constance, Consort and Concord, and the frigate Alert.
As we steamed south it quickly warmed up and the following day we went into tropical rig. The weather continued to favour us and we carried out a successful oiling at sea with each of the smaller ships in turn. This gave us a good close up of them as they steamed abreast of us while we pumped oil fuel across through a 5 inch hose pipe slung between the two ships. It was an interesting display of ship handling and evolution drill which many of us hadnt seen before.
Our first port of call was Saigon, the French Far East naval base. It lies some forty miles up the Saigon River, and as the river is reputed to be tricky for navigation we stopped at the entrance and picked up a French pilot. He seemed in a hurry to get to Saigon, or perhaps it was just his French temperament. Anyway he increased speed to 22 knots and we hurtled up the river as if possessed of the devil. We cut all the corners; we paid no attention to the native river craft; and half the riverside dwellings must have been swamped by our wash. Not until we came in sight of Saigon did the pilot slacken speed. Our Captain and Navigating Officer admitted afterwards that they were a little shaken by this display of Gaelic verve.
Our arrival at Saigon was no less spectacular. The French Navy and townspeople turned out in full strength to greet us; guards and bands were paraded, salutes were fired, and there were pipes, bugles and fanfares as we steamed slowly past the bund. Then we turned in the river. And here things seemed to go wrong for the French pilot planted our bows firmly in the river bank. It was a sickening moment. Here we were, the British flagship, stuck broadside on, blocking the river. But no; everything was in order. Apparently it was usual to turn big ships by ramming the river bank then swinging their sterns with the aid of tugs. We were duly hauled round and were soon alongside a jetty just astern of the French Admirals Flagship the cruiser Duguay Trouin.
The French wasted no time in descending upon us. It was many years since they had been visited by the British Navy on their own ground at Saigon, and they were not going to let the occasion pass unnoticed. Aided by the small but enthusiastic British community they took every opportunity of cementing the entente cordiale between Britain and France. Balls, dances, and receptions were laid on, and football, boxing and rugby matches were arranged, as well as excursions and visits to places of interest. The French afforded every facility for our sport and entertainment. The Cercle Sportif the French Sporting Club deserves particular mention, with its tennis courts and swimming pool. We found that the French girls disdained the use of bathing caps, while their latest Parisians styles of swimsuits seemed especially designed for a navel display.
Even without its hospitality and cordiality we found Saigon an attractive spot: a typical French town with neat white houses and wide boulevards set in a tropical background amid a native people. Plenty of shops and plenty to buy (perfumes and leatherwork a speciality). Only the curfew reminded us that the French in Saigon had their own political worries and were living under the menace of murderous attacks by rebellious Animates.
After Saigon, Singapore seemed dull. We anchored in the Roads and our arrival caused little stir. During the longish liberty trip to the shore we could see that Singapore was a fine city, and we found it fully equipped with modern buildings, shops, cinemas, and amusement parks. But prices were steep everywhere except at the Shackles.
We left Singapore without many regrets and headed eastwards towards Borneo in company with Consort and Alert. A three day trip brought us to Labuan Island on the north-west coast of Borneo. In contrast to Singapore, Labuan could only boast a straggle of low-built houses near a wooden landing jetty. Rusty, derelict landing craft on the foreshore were grim reminders of the part Labuan played in the War, and the importance, linked with Brunei across the bay, of its oil supplies. However there were no war relics littering the bathing beach on the other side of the lsland. A thirty minute truck ride over a rough coral road to get there, but it was worth it: a perfect sandy beach fringed with well-laden coconut trees. The coconuts took some getting, but we managed without calling on our crack rifle shots to help there was an improvised rifle range at one end of the beach where a Navy team competed successfully against the local police.
From Labuan a short hop northward along the coast brought us to Jesselton the same evening. (It was more than a hop for our cutters which sailed independently from Labuan to Jesselton overnight). Jesselton had more to show for itself than Labuan, though it was a couple of miles from the landing jetty. Not a large town, but its small British community (including the Governor of North Borneo) set out to give us a good time. And they didnt fail The local sports club and its playing field were placed at our disposal (the playing field trebled up as a football, cricket and hockey pitch) and the ladies of Jesselton opened up a special Fleet Canteen which they ran themselves a gesture that was thoroughly appreciated by the Navy. It was at the Canteen where we met a native Borneo head-hunter in full regalia including a blowpipe for shooting poisoned darts. There was also the local witch doctor who performed a native dance in which he pranced about on a heap of broken glass plenty of sweat, but no blood or tears.
Jesselton also boasted a bathing beach even bigger and better than the one at Labuan. Or if you wanted something more interesting, trips to the interior were laid on well worth it according to those that went. And on the last day of our visit Jesselton produced its trump card a race meeting. Not quite up to the standard of Happy Valley, but much more amusing.
Yes they certainly did us proud at Jesselton.
Not so at Manila, our next calling place. Maybe ours was only a brief visit. Maybe the place was still suffering from war devastation and had troubles of its own. Or maybe it was because we were only allowed to spend a dollar a day per man (with beer at 70 cents a bottle!). Whatever it was we were glad to be heading westward again towards Hong Kong where there was always the China Fleet Club and Happy Valley, They were still there when we arrived a few days later.
THE NORTHERN CRUISE
OUR FIRST cruise to northern waters began on Wednesday, 5th May 1948, when we left Hong Kong with two destroyers and HMS Alert in company. Various exercises took place during the first two days, after which the destroyers left us to go their separate ways, and we proceeded with Alert. No one was really sorry to leave Hong Kong, for the tremendous heat of summer had started, and we felt that a visit to cooler climes would be welcome. In any case, few of us had seen Nanking and Shanghai.
On the 8th May we anchored off Woosung, at the mouth of the muddy fast-flowing Yangtze River, and the next day began the journey up-stream to Nanking, through the valley of this great "main-street" of China (a journey very different from one we were destined to make a year later). We took two days over this, as it is not advisable for a large ship to attempt to navigate the river in darkness, and eventually reached Nanking amidst a confusion of saluting guns and National Anthems (106 saluting charges were fired!). We dropped anchor in mid-stream while our ears recovered from all the noise.
It was not long before official calling parties were flying hither and thither, and a large bag of invitations arrived on board. It was obvious that everyone in Nanking, and in particular the small British community, intended to give us a very good time.
There were many official parties, but quite outstanding was the private hospitality. In the five days we were there nearly every man in London and Alert had been entertained in some home ashore, and many had even been invited to spend one or two nights with residents. The welcome we were given could not have been warmer, and amply made up for the fact that we had to provide our own Canteen in a hut.
It was difficult to think that this city was the Capital of China. Although an ancient walled city, it seemed to us extremely dirty and untidy, resembling a straggling overgrown village rather than a capital city.
A large party was given on the Quarterdeck, beneath the red and white striped ceremonial awning, attended by the British Ambassador (Sir Ralph Stevenson) and his wife, Admiral Kwei the Commander-in-Chief of the Chinese Navy, and many other high officials. Admiral Kwei later invited some of the officers to a large dinner party, at which was served NOT Chinese Chow, but very beautifully cooked European food, and that most potent of drinks, rice wine!
On the last afternoon the Ships Company gave a childrens party for about fifty children. Swings, see-saws, aerial cars and cartoon films were in the programme, and judging by the exhaustion of the hosts afterwards, and the difficulty of persuading the young guests that it was time to leave, a good time was had by all!
We said good-bye to Nanking and sailed down stream to Shanghai a city we were to know almost too well arriving there on Monday, 17th May. Alert went alongside at Butterfield and Swires wharf, but we tied up to the buoys in Battleship Row, opposite the famous Bund.
Shanghai was very different in appearance from Nanking, being a large and modern city. Its points of similarity were to be found in the extreme hospitality of the European population, and the excessive dirtiness of the city under Chinese rule (or misrule). Those who remembered the pre-war Shanghai, when the city was an International Settlement, and lovely gardens extended along the full length of the Bund, were shocked to find mud and dirt in place of the gardens, and people and traffic so congested that it could take ten minutes to cross the road. The noise in the city was awful.
As in Nanking, we found the Chinese National Currency (Gold Yuan came in later) incredible, and had to go ashore with a suitcase to carry the notes if we wanted to do much shopping. A cup of tea and a bun cost $100,000 (CNC)! War shortages existed, and black-marketers knew no bounds. But for all the fantastic situation and undoubted difficulties, we soon found that the life of Shanghai continued to tread its expensive way, and pleasure seekers could easily find their entertainment if they were willing to pay for it.
Both British and American residents were very free with their hospitality (as they were on all our subsequent visits), entertaining large numbers of the ships company and doing all they could to make our stay enjoyable. The Union Jack Club and the United States Armed Services Y.M.C.A. were both well patronised, and ran dances and other entertainments for us. Entertainment at the Y.M.C.A. was particularly well organised, and the welcome given us there very warm indeed. During all our visits the Americans went out of their way to do all they could for us.
It goes without saying that keeping pace with all the unofficial entertainment, was a considerable amount of the official and formal. On the first night in harbour the Quarterdeck was again the scene of a large party, to which half Shanghai seemed to come, and parties for the ships Officers were given on Empire day by the Shanghai Club and by the Acting Consul General, and later in the week by Sir Victor Sassoon whose magnificent dinner dance was dazzling in its extravagance. A small party given by the Argentine Consul came as a surprise, but the hosts were friendly and kind, and obviously glad to meet the Royal Navy.
Eventually the time came for us to leave this fantastic city which used to be known as the "Paradise of adventurers," and sail for Formosa, which we did on the 27th May, arriving in Keelung Harbour two days later. After Shanghai we were all much struck by the beauty, quiet and cleanliness of this little island which for so long was a Japanese Colony. It was now being run by the Chinese, and the slovenly influence of this government was beginning to show itself in the birth of a careless spirit.
Keelung Harbour was itself very lovely, being surrounded by well wooded hills. Taipei, the capital of the island, we found about eighteen miles inland, with a good train service. The town itself was clean, tidy and well laid out, with some attractive suburbs. Here, unlike on the mainland of China, the roads were well built and in excellent condition.
The Formosans are a well-disciplined and courteous people, whose shopkeepers did not appear to charge extortionate prices. There was little officially laid on here, and we were left to our own devices for the four days of our stay, to recover amidst peace and beauty, from the turmoil of our previous visits, before returning once more to Hong Kong.
JULY TO DECEMBER
JULY OPENED with the ship in Hong Kong and the shooting team carrying off most of the prizes at the B.P.F. rifle meeting, including the Fleet Rifle Cup won by a team of 32.
After eight days exercising at sea in the middle of the month, during which we anchored for a day or so in lovely Plover Cove, we left Hong Kong wearing the flag of Admiral Sir Denis Boyd. With Sussex and destroyers in company we set course for Japan and thereby missed a typhoon which struck Hong Kong at the end of the month.
We arrived at Yokosuka a naval base at the entrance to Tokyo Bay on 28th July and stayed there for five days. No doubt most of us think of tea sets when we think of Yokosuka for it was here that most of the hundreds of tea sets we brought home were purchased. We were fortunate to arrive in Japan soon after the rate for Yen had been readjusted to the £ and things were at a reasonable price. Many of us visited Tokyo an hour away by electric train and several went in search of the burial place of Will Adams, the founder of the Japanese Navy, whose memorial is to be found on Watling Street in Gillingham. The Japanese seemed anxious to please, although they display so little emotion that it is difficult to know just what they are thinking, and the U.S. Navy was as cordial and helpful as it usually is. Meanwhile the "brass-hats" were planning a series of exercises with the United States Fleet, which took place at sea before we went on to Ominato Ko at the northern end of the main Japanese island. Sussex and destroyers were again in company and it was intended to hold the fleet regatta, as well as the Admirals inspection at Ominato.
Ominato is a very small place with a large aerodrome, which used to be an important Japanese navy air base, but the aerodrome is in a very dilapidated state now. The Americans there placed playing fields and tennis courts at our disposal, and arranged riding for those who knew how. They also provided a demonstration parachute jump by an airborne regiment, taking us to the spot by train and lorry, putting on the show, and giving us "big eats" and beer afterwards. It was a very well organised trip and much enjoyed by everyone.
London, of course, won the regatta and then came a change in our plans and a high speed dash back to Hong Kong and on to Singapore. We had our bottom scraped in the floating dock and after a few days went on a short cruise to Malacca and Penang. It was at Malacca on 14th September, 1948, that we celebrated the twenty-first anniversary of the launching of our ship.
On our return from Penang we anchored in Singapore Roads for four days during which a certain amount of shark fishing went on -not without success, although it got away! Then we went round to the Naval Base for our annual refit, and on 4th October, we all went to live in HMS Terror.
It was a very pleasant change to live on land again and to have comfortable accommodation with easy access to playing fields, a very fine swimming bath, and two cinemas. The five weeks spent in Terror were much enjoyed and when we returned to live on board again on 12th November, it was almost like recommissioning!
A few days later we left for Hong Kong again where we arrived towards the end of November, having had a bit of a "blow" on the way up. We were not long there before we were doing some exercises at sea with the Buffs on board, and taking part in exercises in Hong Kong with the army and the police.
Then, on 13th December, Belfast arrived and a few days later we waved good-bye to Sussex who was going home to pay off. She had just come down from Shanghai and we had to go up to relieve her. To spend Christmas in Shanghai was not everyones idea of a good time, but that is what we did and it was not too bad after all, our old friends giving us a warm welcome. We arrived a few days before Christmas and Shanghai was then at the beginning of its second inflation The streets were even more crowded with traffic and pedestrians than on our previous visit; the noise was intense; squalor was everywhere; and people were dying of cold in the streets at night. However, London represented a bit of Britain to the local British subjects and we gave a couple of parties to their children which were a great success We did not actually have snow, but there was ice on the river and on the boats. There was plenty of sport available soccer, rugger and boxing, but few, if any, were sorry when we slipped down the Whangpoo on 17th January and set course for Hong Kong.
HONG KONG is a small island in South China, near the mouth of the Canton River and just inside the tropics. It has belonged to us since 1840, while the New Territories (a strip of the mainland) and some more islands were acquired on a ninety-nine years lease in 1899. The vast bulk of the population, now close on two million, lives in the town of Victoria on the island, or in Kowloon across the water. The whole territory is mountainous and the coastline deeply indented. making the Colony very attractive, even though the cutting of trees for firewood during the recent Japanese occupation has removed much of the former beauty.
This small island looms very large nowadays in the life of the Navy in the Far East. The tiresome behaviour of the extreme Orientals in fighting one another has shut off the best part of the old China Station and instead of popping into Hong Kong to enjoy the delightful winter when it is clear and dry, and flitting north in spring, we are now compelled to sample long spells of hot damp summer. The thermometer never rises to spectacular heights, but it is unpleasantly humid and sticky. Summer too, is the season for typhoons, which can create immense destruction when they pass really close. However it is only very occasionally that Hong Kong experiences a really bad gale.
The Colony has made a wonderful recovery from the war and the Japanese occupation, and the only two big changes that strike a visitor from pre-war are the over- crowding of the towns, and the high price of everything. But if you are fresh from queues and coupons the high prices are not so noticeable at first. And if you have no money, there is plenty to look at in the shops and streets, with free processions in the way of Chinese weddings and funerals.
To a newcomer the junks and sampans in the harbour, the seething masses in the streets, the Chinese shop signs, and not least the smells, are a great change from England. Nearly everyone is cheerful, smiling and industrious.
There is a great deal of interest in the Colony, and plenty of occupation for those who like bathing, sailing and walking. For those not built for locomotion, there is a convenient electric tramway to the top of the Peak, where from nearly 1,800 feet you can get a view that must only be beaten by a few places perhaps Rio and Cape Town.
It seems peculiar that in such a place there is neither public library, museum, theatre, concert hall, nor picture gallery - one suspects the worship of the mighty dollar as being altogether too absorbing in what is often described as "The shop window of the Empire in the Far East". Cinemas are expensive and crowded so that the excellent facilities of the China Fleet Club are a great boon to liberty men. There is also the Union Jack Club, most efficiently run by the W.V.S. who never seem to tire of doing things for the servicemen.
After a long spell in harbour for refitting, a most welcome change can be made by the ship going round to Mirs Bay for a week and enjoying the fresher air and simple life of Tolo Harbour or Plover Cove. In fact, the best way to delve into the Chinese scene is to spend time among the villages of the New Territories, rather than immersed in the glamour of the multitudinous places of entertainment to be found in Victoria, Repulse Bay, and Kowloon.
THIS BOOK OF THE COMMISSION may sound just an account of our jaunts and jollies and our trials and tribulations. To see these in their proper perspective one should be reminded of their background in particular the shifts of commercial and political fortunes in China.
From the 18th century days of the East India Company, British trade with China has been important. At first they were murky days of opium smuggling; but trade in tea, spices and silk soon flourished. Trading with the Chinese in those days, though, was not easy. A dislike of foreigners coupled with the traditional extortion of "squeeze" frequently led to extremely harsh treatment of British traders. As a result, British forces were sent out to protect our traders, and this led to the so-called Opium War and our acquisition of Hong Kong as a trading centre and a base for our fleet.
From then on British trade in China developed rapidly. Capital was invested and large business firms, banks and shipping lines were founded in Hong Kong and soon spread to the treaty ports of Shanghai, Tsingtao, Amoy, Foochow, etc. The names of the big British firms like the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, Jardine and Matheson, Butterfield and Swire are very familiar to us. These and other British commercial enterprises were no longer harried by local Chinese mandarins: we had our British Government representatives at the ports, our Ambassador in Nanking; and behind them all the protection of the British Navy.
Now British interests and lives in China are being threatened by a new menace Chinese Communists. These Communists formed a party in 1925 when General Chiang Kai-Shek succeeded Dr. Sun Yat-Sen (the founder of the Chinese Republic). They raised a small army and resisted Chiang Kai-Sheks efforts to suppress them. A truce was called in this Civil War when the Japanese invaded China in 1937. In their fight against the Japanese, the Communist army developed its guerrilla tactics to a high degree. After the defeat of Japan in 1945 the Communists seized a considerable amount of Japanese war material (conveniently left by the Russians). Thus equipped and led by ruthless and efficient leaders they resumed their Civil War against the Nationalist armies of Chiang Kai-Shek and launched an offensive southward from Manchuria.
The story of their triumphant sweep southward is familiar. From the middle of 1948 it was necessary for British warships to be maintained permanently at Shanghai and Nanking; and the London had her share of that duty. After spending Christmas 1948 at Shanghai, we returned again the following February and March and we were on our way there again in April when the tragic episode of the Amethyst occurred.
Shanghai has now fallen and with it Nanking, while Amoy, Canton and Hong Kong are being threatened. The London will no longer be able to play a part in the Far East, but we passed the Triumph on her way out, and the Kenya will soon be there to take our place.
THE YANGTZE ACTION
S0 MUCH HAS been written lately of the Yangtze Action, that it seems almost unnecessary to re-capitulate the events which led up to London going into action with the batteries of the Peoples Liberation Army. But this is a book which will be kept, of which long forgotten copies may be turned out of drawers and cupboards and read by people who have forgotten, or never heard of, the Yangtze "Incident." Real and recent, important and vivid as it is to us who participated, the incident will very soon become a little-known and minor curiosity of history.
In April 1949, the forces of the Chinese Nationalist Government and of the Communist Peoples Liberation Army faced each other across the Yangtze River.
Nobody doubted the Communists ability to cross the river and ultimately to take Shanghai. A truce had been declared while the Kuomintang considered the Communist terms, which more nearly resembled an ultimatum. This truce was to expire on the 22nd April, unless the Chinese Nationalists acceded. In Shanghai the great foreign business communities awaited events, none more determined than the British to stay where they were and continue their eighty year old tradition of business as usual whatever the prevailing condition of ever shifting Chinese Politics. In Nanking the Embassies, too, having declined to move to Canton with the Nationalist Government, were staying. Both communities had the support of the Royal Navy. The destroyer Consort had been at Nanking for over three weeks and was running short of stores. It was decided to send the Amethyst to relieve her on the 20th April, two days before the truce on the Yangtze was due to end. No British warship would thus be under way on the River if the long awaited crossing actually took place on the 22nd, and Amethyst had plenty of stores and fuel to remain at Nanking until the probable period of fighting was over.
At 1000 on the 20th April, heavy fire was opened on the Amethyst by the Communists in the vicinity of Rose Island. She was immediately and repeatedly hit on the Bridge and in the Wheelhouse, became out of control and still under heavy fire, grounded on Rose Island. London, wearing the Flag of Vice Admiral Madden, Second in Command, Far East Fleet, received Amethysts report at 1100. She was then approaching the Yangtze Entrance Lightship on passage to Shanghai. Lower Deck was cleared, and the situation was explained to the Ships Company. Then began the work of preparing the ship for possible action. There was much to be done. The Lovely London was looking her best that morning. Her awnings were spread, her brightwork was shining, her illumination circuits were partly rigged ready for celebrations on St. Georges Day. To strip her for action was a big task, both mental and physical.
We steamed on to Woosung, embarked two Chinese Pilots and Mr. Sudbury, a Whangpoo Pilot who also knew the Yangtze well, and continued up the Yangtze to Kiang Yen where we anchored for the night at 1900. Events had moved during the afternoon, Consort had steamed at full speed from Nanking to Amethysts assistance. She too had been heavily fired on, and suffered damage and casualties. She was forced to abandon her attempts to tow Amethyst off and came down to Kiang Yin. She, and Black Swan, who had come down from Shanghai secured alongside us. Both ships were fuelled and our Medical Staff spent a busy night attending to Consorts wounded.
At 0615 on the 21st April we weighed, steamed 10 miles up the river and anchored again. Black Swan came with us, Consort returned to Shanghai. During the night, Amethyst had managed to get herself off and was now at anchor above Rose Island. All attempts to get in touch with Communist Headquarters had failed. At 1000 the Admiral decided to go up in London and attempt to bring the Amethyst down. Black Swan was to come as far as Beaver lsland and give covering fire if necessary.
Let us be clear on this point. To steam a 10,000-ton Cruiser past determined and well trained shore batteries in confined waters without prolonged and heavy preliminary bombardment is not a sound operation of war. But we were not at war with the Communists; the strength and efficiency of the batteries were not known and there was a good chance that the Communists would have realised their mistake in firing on British warships on the previous day, and would not fire at all. All the chances had been carefully weighed and we were prepared to give as good as we got if the opposition was determined.
At 1026 with the Ships Company at Action Stations, we weighed and proceeded up the river at 25 knots. Large Union Jacks had been rigged on the front and sides of the Bridge and on the sides of the Hangars. They flew also from four Yardarms on the foremast and two on the Mainmast. This galaxy of bunting was completed by a large white flag at the Foremast head and an ensign at the peak. There could be no doubt in the mind of any man familiar with the British National Flag or the usage of the White Flag as to the Ships Nationality or Peaceful Intentions.
At 1036, ten minutes after we had weighed, fire was opened from the North Bank. We were hit immediately by projectiles of 75 mm and 105 mm calibre. The firing continued for four minutes in spite of heavy and accurate counter-fire from the eight inch, four inch and close range weapons. After passing this battery, there was a lull till 1104 when it started again. Casualties and damage were becoming severe, particularly on the bridges, hangars and four inch Gun Decks. At 1106 a burst on the Bridge wounded the Captain and Officer of the Watch, mortally wounded the Navigating Officer and killed the Chinese Pilot. Damage to instruments and communications on the bridge were severe. We were now 19 miles from Amethysts position, the bridge was temporarily out of action and the navigation of the river at high speed from the after conning position and without a Chinese Pilot was clearly impracticable.
It was clear that, in the doubtful event of our reaching Amethyst, the return trip escorting her at slow speed was foredoomed to failure. The time for withdrawal had come and the wheel was put hard-a-starboard. By great good fortune we were between two batteries, neither of which could bear on us while we turned. At 1114 we were safely round and regaining the centre of the Channel and, shortly after this, the bridge was able to take over from the After Conning Position again. Five more actions took place during the passage down the river. Each time the pattern was the same a burst of fire from the Bank, quickly followed by our return fire. It was not a pleasant action to be in: the range was never more than 1,500 yards and hits were frequent and inevitable. The opposition consisted of 4 in. gun batteries well dug in, but plainly visible on the bank, and of anti-tank weapons of 40 mm calibre which fired high velocity armour piercing shot, which were capable of damaging 8 in. Gunhouse Armour and piercing Turret Trunking. These guns were well camouflaged and impossible to spot and it was they who caused most of our casualties. The last battery ceased fire at 1340. We had been under heavy fire for a total of 48 minutes, spread over a period of three hours. Our casualties were thirteen killed, fourteen seriously wounded and about 45 lightly wounded. Two of the seriously wounded unhappily died later.
It is difficult to assess the damage and casualties inflicted on the opposition, but at least eight direct hits with 8 in. H. E. Shell were obtained on the 4 in. batteries at an average range of 1,500 yards. In addition, 4 in. air bursts and close range direct fire must have caused many casualties in the target area. The Communists themselves admitted two hundred and fifty killed. Altogether we fired 155 rounds of 8 in., 449 rounds of 4 in. and 2,625 rounds of Close Range Ammunition.
Space does not permit the telling of the many stories of good and gallant work by parties and individuals of all departments and in every part of the ship. Nowhere did we find a weak link. The matter is best summed up by the following excerpt from the Captains Official Report:
"All damage to the ship was quickly and efficiently dealt with by the Damage Control Parties, whose performance I consider to be outstanding, taking into consideration the difficulty of providing realistic training in these duties.
The bearing and conduct of the Ships Company, a large proportion of whom are very young and were experiencing action for the first time, was beyond praise. As an instance, the 4 in. Gun Crews and Supply Parties suffered 38% casualties, who were instantly replaced as they fell. These guns continued in action throughout and fired a total of 449 rounds."
We secured at Holts Wharf, Shanghai, that evening. Of the next few days of unremitting work patching the damage and clearing up the debris of battle, some memories stand out. The funeral of the dead from London, Consort and Amethyst at the Hung Jau Cemetery: Shanghai Cathedral packed to the doors for the Memorial Service on the following day: perhaps, above all, we will remember the overwhelming kindness and help of the American Navy in placing their Hospital Ship Repose at our disposal and assisting us in every possible way.
We had only four months to remain on the Station before going home. Our happy anticipation during that time was clouded by the thought of the Amethyst, still in her perilous and comfortless position in the grip of the Communists. When the news of Amethysts brilliant and gallant escape came through on the 31st July, it brought a greater thrill to none than us. Now we could go home completely happy the Yangtze Incident was finally and satisfactorily closed.
Cruises to Borneo and the Far East Coasts of Malaya
AFTER A TREMENDOUS round of farewells to the many friends we had made in Hong Kong a last minute rush round the shops a final walk round the peak and several last mugs of ale at the China Fleet Club and finally a Farewell Party on the Quarterdeck given by the Captain and Officers the ship left Hong Kong on the 14th June, 1949 on the first part of the trip home. Our departure was an event of some magnitude, which apparently required the assistance of such at the Far East Fleet as was then in harbour they all accompanied us to the open sea, where they cheered us on our way. Even the tugs and fire-floats (which seemed to be "jet" propelled) played their part, keeping us company as far as the harbour limit. It was a sad moment for us in many ways, for apart from the sadness that had but recently enveloped us all, our time in Hong Kong had been extremely happy, and we had made many good friends.
But the time had come, and we turned our backs on the island colony and steamed for Singapore where we were to spend a few weeks before finally leaving the station on the 4th August. The period of waiting was very pleasantly occupied by a cruise to Borneo and another up the East coast of Malaya.
On Thursday, 30th June, we left Singapore for Jesstleton where we had been before. The majority of the ships company lost no time in renewing old acquaintances. Those for whom it was the first visit were not long in discovering the charm of the people there. There is never any doubt about the welcome they give.
During our stay the weather was kind to us, although one night an official dinner party on the Quarterdeck was almost washed over the side by the rain. Doubtless the digestion was aided by the exercise of climbing up and down ladders between showers. Large numbers of banyan (picnic) parties went away, and there were plenty of sporting activities. Once again the ladies of Jesselton showed their concern for our well being by running a Club and Canteen ashore, which earned our deep gratitude, and some of the children from the Church of England School came on board to have a look round.
On the third day of our stay, His Excellency the Commissioner-General for South East Asia, Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, embarked, and the next morning we sailed for Sandakan where we arrived some twenty-four hours later. Sandakan had been totally destroyed by the Japanese during the war, but we found the people making wonderful efforts at recovery, and very pleased to see us, and their Commissioner-General. Their first act of welcome was to present every member of the ships company with a small pamphlet giving a history of the town and notes on items of local interest, and emphasising the pleasure which they felt at the visit of one of His Majestys Ships.
Our stay there was for two days only, while the Commissioner-General paid his official visit, but even so we saw quite a lot. Again, picnic and swimming parties were the main attraction, together with a circus which delayed its departure for Jesselton so that we could attend. But those who went came to the conclusion that a circus beneath the heat of the tropical sun was not a good thing, unless you had the forethought to take a gas mask with you. A very enjoyable dance was given in the Club for the Officers and Chief and Petty Officers, and on the last night Mr. MacDonald gave a Supper Party on the Quarterdeck, which was attended by a number of people including some native Chiefs from up country who came in their full regalia (it was unfortunate that we should have arrived during their fasting month). This was brought to a sudden and damp conclusion by a Sumatra which appeared from nowhere, and overthrew tables, bottles and glasses, before washing everyone off the Quarterdeck.
The Royal Marines beat the Retreat in both Sandakan and Jesselton, to the evident satisfaction of the population of each place who obviously appreciated the ceremonial At Sandakan the ship was opened to visitors and an unending stream appeared. The first crowd arrived within an hour of our anchoring.
On 9th July we sailed from there, dropping Mr. Macdonald off at Kota Balud. We were very sorry to say good-bye to him, and all wished that his stay with us could have been longer. We picked mail off Jesselton, before anchoring for the Sunday night at Labuan Island where guests came off to the Cinema. The following morning we left for Singapore, and after a brief visit to the Naval Base to re-provision, we went round and anchored in Singapore Roads for a few days, until 18th July, when we left for the Fast coast of Malaya wearing the flag of Rear Admiral Caslon.
We went up as far as Khota Bahru where we anchored some way off the shore opposite a very beautiful beach. This beach, we discovered later had the beautiful name "The Beach of Passionate Love" (we did not see any), and it was here that we erected a temporary though not very successful jetty. The three days of our stay were spent very pleasantly with swimming and banyan parties on the beach and occasional expeditions to the town of Khota Bahru (about six miles inland through the Ulu jungle to you) for sports.
Mr. Churchill, the British Adviser, we found to be a very jovial and friendly man. When last seen by the Ships Company he was sitting on the top of the canopy in the pinnace, singing with all his might as he shepherded his flock to the beach after the party on board.
The Club at Khota Bahru gave a party for the officers on the last night which will remain firmly fixed in the minds of many, if only for the fact that those attending had to wade ashore from the launch (the temporary jetty having proved by then to be very temporary) carrying their Mess Undress on their heads. The procedure was repeated at 3 a.m. with a small but select company of British residents cheering the departing officers on their way.
A party of constables from the local police force (who had been inspected the previous day by Admiral Caslon) came off to look round the ship, and were much impressed by what they saw. Apart from them there could not be many general invitations because of the great difficulty of getting people from the beach into launches. The trip from the town by river was too long to be practicable.
From Khota Bahru we made our way down the coast to Trengganu, where we arrived on 22nd July. Here the town was not so far away and a number of routine liberty trips were possible, which enabled us to have a chance of seeing something of the real Malay in his own surroundings. We found him a very cheerful and courteous person. Here again the Royal Marines beat the Retreat to the great delight of all ashore. Several hundred visitors came on board, and judging by their smiling faces, well enjoyed the experience.
The Cocktail Party given by Rear Admiral Caslon was extended into an all-night session by a gale which blew up and made it inadvisable for launches to attempt to reach the shore. After a few signals had been made giving instructions for the feeding of infants left at home, the guests settled down to enjoy a novel situation, eagerly eating whatever food we could rake up at such short notice. All the men were bedded down in the Theatre, while their wives were accommodated in cabins. They were able to return to shore about 0700 the next day (a Sunday), and some managed to return in time for Church, there being no priest ashore.
Eventually, we returned to Singapore on 26th July, having finished our last cruise of the commission, and just in time for the Captain and Officers to be present at a most enjoyable party given for them by Mr. MacDonald who had by then returned to his delightful residence at Bukit Serene.
"HOMEWARD BOUND" a trite phrase, but one which had been in the back of our minds for the past few months. And now it was a fact, for early on Thursday, August 4th, we left Singapore Naval Base for the last time. As we moved away from the jetty a couple of hundred feet of paying-off pennant streamed from our foremast, while on the Quarterdeck the R.M. Band struck up "Rolling Home to Merrie England." All the ships in the base gave us a send off and maybe there was a note of envy in their cheers; well, their time would come.
We were soon clear of the Johore Straits and leaving Singapore Island behind. After a couple of days at Penang we steamed across the Malacca Straits past Sabang where the London had accepted the Jap surrender four years before, and into the Bay of Bengal. We were now in the East Indies Station; we no longer belonged to the Far East Fleet.
A four day trip brought us to Trincomalee where we stayed a couple of days to stock up with oil, then off again on the longest leg of the trip home the seven days crossing of the Arabian Sea to Aden. By this time we had our days organised to an almost invariable routine. Somnolent afternoons followed busy forenoons; in the Dog Watches those not on watch could either chance their money at Tombola or their limbs in frenzied games of deck hockey, or they could add to the placid plop-plop of deck quoits; in the evenings there was usually a cinema show. Competitions were organised of course, and the Gunroom were hardy (or foolhardy) enough to win the deck hockey, while delicate quoiting brought champion-ship honours to Cpl. Hart and Marine Beith. In the tug-of-war final the Wardroom team were slightly favoured by having a mountainous Gunnery Officer as their anchor and a few minor mountains as well and they managed to see off a well nourished team of Cooks by two pulls to one. And so the days passed away.
Our stay at Aden was short, just long enough to top up with oil and water and to give the watch ashore a chance to stretch their legs. And then into the Red Sea where we wilted under the heat. But we perked up again at the Suez Canal where a refreshing welcome awaited us. Apparently the buzz had got around that the London was passing through, and as we went up the Canal it seemed as though the whole British army was deployed along the banks to give us a cheer. We appreciated that a lot. Even the G.O.C. British Troops, Egypt, himself came on board to say a few words. He was an old friend of ours, having been G.O.C. at Hong Kong when London first arrived there, and we suspect that he organised the reception. It was a nice touch anyway, and it was well rounded off by the destroyer Childers. She had joined us at Suez and followed us up the Canal. We left her at Port Said and in reply to our polite thank-you-for-your-company signal she signalled back: "Thank you very much. It was a pleasure to bask in the reflection of your glory". Flattering maybe, but very apt.
We stayed a few hours at Port Said to drop and collect some mail. And we were duly visited by that traditional fez-topped figure, James the Son of Eire, who persuaded us to accept (at a profit, of course), his offerings of dates, Turkish Delight, and sugared almonds, etc. Unfortunately, there was no time for the Gully-Gully man.
And so into the Mediterranean. It was blue alright, but disappointingly rough. Not till we got to Malta did we get a chance to bathe, and that was when we anchored off the entrance to Grand Harbour to get mail ashore. It was a quick dip, beautifully cool too, after the tepid water of the East that wed been used to. But time was getting short and we didnt stop again until we reached Gibraltar. We nearly had to stop though, a couple of days out from Gibraltar, when the Ships Concert Party staged a show on the Quarterdeck. It was a roaring success: Biscoes Bearded Beauties couldnt bring the house down, but they nearly carried away the quarterdeck awning!
We stayed a couple of days at Gibraltar. Paint ship was our principal job there (we had to get London looking tiddley again for her arrival in England). But there was ample time for a run ashore. The shops in Main Street were a great temptation; most of us topped up with eatables to take home, but it was tricky working out how much to spend and how much to save for our leave (and for the Customs at home).
From Gibraltar through the Straits, passing Cape Trafalgar, then round Cape St. Vincent northward to Finisterre and across the Bay of Biscay to Ushant (names we remembered from our schooldays). We rolled a little in the Bay, but we were too near England to worry about that. All the way up the Channel we kept a look out for it, but it wasnt till tea-time on Monday, September 5th that the Isle of Wight was sighted. By daybreak the next day we were coming up to the Great Nore Tower (and as we passed a nice sum of £10 dropped into the pocket of the Nore Sweepstake winner). In a couple of hours we were at Sheerness and Home.
Well, almost we had to spend a couple of days at Sheerness de-ammunitioning and de-oiling before making our way up the Medway to Chatham Dockyard. The events there need not be recounted they are too fresh in our minds. We liked the idea of being officially welcomed by the Lord Mayor of London, but we enjoyed even more meeting our families and friends and showing them round what had been our home for the past two years. And then, of course, we had some foreign service leave to look forward to in our own homes.
The trip home took just over a month. The sun shone practically all the way and we arrived back nicely sun-burnt with tans ranging from pale puce to deep mahogany. The tan will soon wear off. But not the memory of the Lovely London.
At a United Service held at Sea on Sunday, 14th August 1949, this Tablet was unveiled by CAPTAIN P. G. L. CAZALET and dedicated by the REVEREND N. M. DENLEGH-MAXWELL, in Memory of those in the Ship who gave their Lives in the Yangtze River on the 21st April, 1949, in the attempt to rescue H.M.S. Amethyst.
"A Greater love Hath no Man than This,
That a man lay down His Life for a Friend."
THE TRUE GLORY.
0 Lord God when Thou givest to Thy servants to endeavour any great matter grant us also to know that it is not the Beginning but the Continuing of the same until it be Thoroughly Finished which yieldeth the True Glory.
DRAKE S PRAYER.
T0 US has fallen the honour of serving in the last commission of a famous ship and of bringing her home on her last voyage. London began her career well, she continued it well and it was with us as her Company that she continued her work until it was Thoroughly Finished. I believe that we upheld her name and were worthy of our predecessors. I hope that we may even have added a little to the lustre of her life story. If it is so we can be very content.