Belfast Telegraph

Sons of Northern Ireland naval heroes say HMS Caroline has ignored their valour

Ray McCullough with his model of HMS Amethyst
Ray McCullough with his model of HMS Amethyst
Andrew Bannister
Samuel Bannister
Ray McCullough Snr
Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

The sons of two Belfast war heroes recognised by King George V for their bravery during an attack in China in 1949 say their requests to have their efforts recognised are being ignored by the Royal Navy Museum.

Raymond McCullough and Samuel Bannister were 16 and 21 respectively, serving on board HMS Amethyst when it came under attack on the Yangtze River where many of their colleagues perished, 70 years ago this year.

Mr McCullough's son, also Raymond, and Mr Bannister's son Andrew want the Royal Navy's museum in Belfast - HMS Caroline - to recognise the role played by their fathers by displaying memorabilia associated with their service on the U-boat hunter, including their medals.

Mr McCullough told the Belfast Telegraph that he and Mr Bannister were previously assured there would be a display in HMS Caroline, but they now fear it will not happen.

He said: "Andrew and I first contacted HMS Caroline around two years ago and they seemed very interested in the display about what happened to HMS Amethyst and our fathers.

"I have a lot of items including telegrams to my grandmother telling her my father was on board the HMS Amethyst when it was attacked, and I have photographs of him on the ship.

"But most importantly I have the medal he was awarded by King George.

"I also have a three-foot model of HMS Amethyst which took me two years to build and it is ready to go.

"But despite the promise made to Andrew Bannister and myself by HMS Caroline that they were going to do this display, they now seem to be dragging their heels. For the past three months all we have heard is 'We will get back to you' and we are being passed from pillar to post and it is very frustrating. Both Andrew and myself feel the story of what happen on the Yangtze River in 1949 will soon be lost to history.

"This month marks the 70th anniversary of the attack and it will be commemorated for the final time in Plymouth because all the survivors of the attack, including our fathers, have passed away."

Mr McCullough said that while he knew that his father had been a war hero, growing up in with the backdrop of the Troubles meant it wasn't talked about.

He said: "We were aware of what my father had been though but because we were growing up during the Troubles we couldn't really talk about it. He didn't discuss it too much and always told us to keep quiet about it.

"It wasn't a safe time for a family like ours to have been seen to be involved in the military.

"Even during his funeral people were coming up and saying to us that they didn't know our father was a war hero.

"Andrew's father was taken prisoner and tortured [as] my father remained on board the ship helping to take care of the injured but they went through hell for three months.

"My father was from Ardglass which is a fishing village so joining the Navy was natural for him and he was only 16.

"My father couldn't have the recognition he deserved when he was alive and my mother is in her 80s, and Andrew's mother isn't well either, so it would mean so much to have this display in place on HMS Caroline."

HMS Amethyst was attacked while travelling up the Yangtze in China during the Chinese Civil War in 1949. It was on its way from Shanghai to Nanking to guard the British Embassy in the city when it came under fire from the People's Liberation Army.

The ship was so badly damaged that the crew had to evacuate her. Many survivors were taken hostage.

Eventually the captives were allowed back on to the Amethyst but the PLA continued to hold the ship.

Eventually, after changing the silhouette of the ship using tarpaulins, the Amethyst made a dramatic dash for freedom on July 30 under the cover of darkness. The story was told in the 1957 film The Yangtze Incident.

A spokesperson for HMS Caroline was asked to comment, but had not responded by the time of going to press.

Belfast Telegraph

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