The Ray Calcott Story

By Ray Calcott RN (HMS Amethyst)

November 2005

My name is Ray Calcott and I was an Able Seaman on HMS Amethyst.

On 20th April, 1949 at around 08:00 we weighed anchor and started to move up the Yangtze River to relieve HMS Consort as guard ship in Nanking. We had been under weigh for about twenty minuets when we came under fire from the north bank of the river by communist forces. Forewarned and knowing what might happen the skipper had ordered the quarterdeck to have a Union Jack painted on it so that aircraft could see out nationality. Canvasses were stitched together and a very large Union Jack was painted on them, one for the port side and one for the starboard side. These were rolled up on an oar from the whaler and secured with sailmaker's twine they were then secured to the bottom of the guard rails.

Immediately when we came under fire, the skipper ordered the lashings to be cut and the massive Union Jack's were unfurled in order than no one could mistake what country we were from. At this time I was on the quarterdeck and dashed up to my action station which was A gun. At this point the shore battery kept on firing, hitting us at will. A and B guns could not bear and only X gun was able to fire, but it was soon put out of action. When the wheelhouse took a direct hit the wheel went over to port, the telegraphs were stuck and we went aground on Rose Island . Movement was restricted on the upper deck as snipers on the shore and their main armament continued to fire on us.

As the wounded were being taken below the First Lieutenant (who had assumed command) ordered the crew ashore asking for about 24 able bodied men to remain to take care of the wounded. Some men swam ashore and some were ferried in the port whaler. A short time later the telegraphist, Jack French, came back on board to do the necessary signals. It was then discovered that there were many more men who had stayed on the ship than originally believed as we were uncertain of the numbers who had swum ashore.

We heard that HMS Consort was at full speed coming towards us and we prepared to be towed off the river bank. The speed at which she was traveling rocked the ship, but we were still unable to get off the mud. Consort turned and continued to fire broadsides but she sustained a lot of damage and casualties so had to continue her journey to Shanghai.

That night we jettisoned as much heavy gear as possible from the forecastle and after several tries we eventually managed to release the ship from the river bank. It was decided to continue towards Nanking and we found what was a considered to be safe anchorage. The following day we received a signal to say that HMS London and HMS Black Swan were coming to escort us down the river, but they suffered the same fate as Consort and had to withdraw.

At approximately 1600 hrs. on 21st April a Sunderland Flying Boat arrived with a doctor and medical supplies, our own doctor as well as our S.B.A had been killed. A sampan with our gunner, Eric Monaghan, met the Sunderland and the RAF doctor jumped into the sampan, the gunner went aboard the Sunderland to help to take off some more medical supplies. The guns from the shore opened up and the aircraft had to take off with our gunner aboard. A Chinese doctor from ashore came aboard to help the RAF doctor and they came to the conclusion that the wounded had to be taken ashore as soon as possible. The Chinese doctor said that he would arrange things, so at midnight the same night it was decided that five wounded and one able bodied person with them would be ferried ashore in the sampan.

I was in the first sampan ashore, the wounded were off-loaded and put onto the river bank and the sampan went back to the ship for more wounded. When it returned with the wounded there was no able bodied person aboard and this continued until all the wounded with the exception of 1st Lt. Weston, were ashore. There I was, all alone with 19 seriously wounded and no sign of anyone.

I had noted during the daylight hours that there was a small army camp a couple of miles from where we landed and I told the wounded that I was going to check out this camp to see if I could find some help. After a while I came back with about 40 men and 20 stretchers. We started to walk to Chinkiang and after approximately three of four miles I spotted some white hats in the distance. We came to a halt and I went over to them and asked if there was a British Naval Officer there, a voice asked if I was from Amethyst and I replied "yes sir", he said "thank God, we have been looking for you". It was Lt. Commander Kerans and with him was Brigadier Dewar-Durie, a Canadian who was fluent in Chinese. Also with them was Commander Packard, an American doctor, his assistant and a senior Chinese naval officer with medical supplies. At this point I handed over my wounded to them.

Lt. Commander Kerans and I tried to signal the ship as it was underway, but no one saw us. We re-joined the wounded and walked a further four miles over a mountain and met some lorries which had been placed at our disposal. We arrived at Chinkiang railway station to board the last train to Shanghai. I was informed that the Captain and A. B. Winters [sic] had not survived the journey.

We arrived in Shanghai and were met by American naval staff and ambulances and were taken to their hospital. We stayed the night and the next day the wounded were taken on board the hospital ship Repose. I joined HMS London and then HMS Belfast and after a short while we set sail for Hong Kong . I rejoined HMS Amethyst when she escaped down the river.

© 2005 Ray Calcott RN
Edited and transcribed by Michael W. Pocock


Page created Oct. 5, 2007