Tribute to Robert Monteith Mitchell (83), Lesmahagow

HMS Amethyst...the  boat and its brave crew were the subject of the 1957 film Yangtse Incident: The Story of HMS Amethyst (Submitted pic)
HMS Amethyst...the boat and its brave crew were the subject of the 1957 film Yangtse Incident: The Story of HMS Amethyst (Submitted pic)

ONE of the most distinguished residents of Lesmahagow’s Auchlochan Retirement Village, a man who played a part in one of the mid-20th century’s biggest news stories, died recently.

Robert Monteith Mitchell was 83 years old.

He was one of the last surviving members of the crew of HMS Amethyst, the Royal Navy frigate trapped by the Communist Chinese in what became known as The Yangste Incident, the subject of a 1957 feature film.

Born in Glasgow, he was called up for his National Service in the Navy in 1947, being transferred to the Amethyst two years later as a radar operator.

He was on board the ship when it made its fateful patrol up China’s Yangste River, sailing, unwittingly, into an area which had been occupied by the Communist People’s Liberation Army.

Gunfire from the shore killed the captain and twenty other of Robert’s shipmates before a temporary ceasefire was arranged.

This left the Amethyst trapped in the river with Communist guns on all sides; there were 40 wounded from the first day of what would become a 100 day siege and the ship was badly damaged.

The Royal Navy made repeated attempts to rescue the stricken vessel without success before the acting captain decided that there was no alternative but to make a break for the sea; this the Amethyst did at the dead of night, camouflaged and disguised as much as the trapped crew could manage.

Despite coming under heavy fire when the Chinese realised an escape attempt was on, the Amethyst – and Robert – made it to open water and safety. He was among the members of the crew who personally received a special bravery medal from King George VI for his conduct.

Eight years later the gallant story was told in the hit film The Yangste Incident.

He returned to Scotland after his dramatic service to study physics at Strathclyde University and became a keen hillwalker, proudly wearing a kilt on his long treks, no matter what the weather.

He stood just once for a council seat as an SNP candidate but served the party well for many years in a backroom capacity. He was a highly respected figure and spoke at the dinner to mark Nicola Sturgeon’s winning of the Govan Scottish Parliamentary seat.

Her retired to Lesmahagow where his impeccable manners and warm nature won him many new friends.