On the China Station

Britain was the first of many foreign powers to take advantage of Chinese weakness to secure rights to trade and settle in treaty ports, concessions and enclaves along the coast of China and major rivers. The process began with the Treaty of Nanking at the end of the First Opium War (1841-2) and the ceding of Hong Kong to Britain and accelerated with the fall of the Quing dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China in 1912. Russia, France, Germany and Japan acquired treaty ports from the weak government. By 1920 there were 60,000 foreigners living in the International Settlement at Shanghai, China's largest city on the delta of the Yangzte. All these powers had warships on the China coast and along the four thousand mile long Yangzte River to protect their ports and citizens.

The situation became even more volatile when
Sun Yat Sen's Kuomintang (KMT) Nationalist Party lost control in Peking and regional war lords seized control of much of the country. In 1926 the KMT's National Revolutionary Army (NRA) headed by General Chiang Kai-shek began the Northern Expedition to reunify China. The Admiralty reinforced the China Station with the Third Destroyer Flotilla from the Mediterranean Fleet but cancelled plans to send the 4th DF to the China Station in December. 

There was large scale rioting against foreign interests
when the NRA captured the treaty port of Nanking (Nanjing) on the Yangzte in March 1927. In response to the "Nanking Incident"  the British Navy sent the heavy cruiser HMS Vindictive, the light cruisers HMS Carlisle and Emerald and the flotilla of V & W destroyers to bombard the city and rescue foreign residents.  The Times reported that by the end of May there were 102 warships from seven nations on the Yangzte with half at Shanghai. They included HMS Keppel, the Flotilla Leader, and HMS Wishart at Shanghai and further up river HMS Verity (Chinkiang), HMS Wild Swan (Kiukiang) and HMS Veteran, Wanderer and Witherington at Hankow (Wuhan).

A new destroyer flotilla, the 8th DF, was established on the China Station in 1927 and remained there until May 1939. In 1931 the eight S Class destroyers in the Flotilla were replaced by V & Ws: Verity, Veteran, Whitehall, Whitshed, Wild Swan, Wishart, Witch and Wren. When they were replaced by modern D Class destroyers in 1934 the ships' Companies changed ships at Singapore and remained on the China Station while the V & Ws took over the duties of the 1st Destroyer Flotilla in the the Mediterranean. Lord Louis Mounbatten, the CO of HMS Daring, took command of HMS Wishart and described the role of HMS Veteran and the V & Ws in the 1st DF in the Mediterranean
on the website of HMS Wishart.

The political situation in China changed rapidly during these years. The KMT split with the Communists and i
n 1931 the Japanese invaded Manchuria from Korea and by 1934 Mao was leading the Communist Party on the Long March North to escape the Nationalist KMT. Throughout this period the Royal Navy's cruisers, destroyers and riverboats were there to defend British interests. The Nanking Massacre took place when the city was taken by Japanese forces in 1937-8. Hong Kong fell in December 1941 followed by the capture of Singapore and the crushing defeat of allied naval forces at the Battle of the Java Sea on 27 February 1942.


HMS Veteran on the China Station

Veteran sailed in Chinese waters in 1926 as part of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla which was ‘on loan’ to the China Fleet. In 1927 she departed Shanghai for Nanking on the Yangzte carrying the Commander in Chief China Fleet, Admiral Sir Edwyn S. Alexander-Sinclair KCB MVO (1865 - 1945), and arrived at Nanking on the 13 January where she transferred the C in C to the River Gunboat HMS Gnat. Veteran remained on the China Station until July 1928 when she
returned to Britain with the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla via Port Said and Malta arriving at Devonport on the 1st September. She rejoined the 3rd DF in the Mediterranean until going into Maintenance Reserve at Chatham in April 1930.

HMS Veteran at Hong Kong
HMS Veteran D72 lying alongside a sister ship at Hong Kong with the hulk of HMS Tamar (1863) behind
HMS Tamar was scuttled in 1941 to stop the Japanese getting it and after the war the naval base shore  took on its name

The photograph believed to have been taken by William Arthur Booth (1901-77) an engineer in the RAF
Courtesy of his grand daughter Nikki Bennett

Greg JeppLeading Seaman Herbert Charles Jepp JX 125487 (right) joined HMS Veteran when she recommissioned with a Chatham crew for service with the 8th Destroyer Flotilla on the China Station on 16 December 1931 arriving there in March 1932. His grandson provided the photograph of the ship's company taken on the China Station in 1934. LS Jepp is the tall figure standing slightly apart top right. Get in touch if you recognise a member of your family in this photograph.

usually served with the river gun boats and some of the submarines. One of the favourite trips during the Hong Kong summer was a visit to the British base at Wei Hai Wei, where the crews had an easy time, with picnics ashore and shooting competitions on the rifle range. There was also a canteen ashore, where it was possible to buy a pint of beer and a roast chicken (called a Wei Hai Wei Runner) for one Hong Kong dollar (about 7p).
She ‘Paid off’ at Hong Kong on the 6th April 1934 and immediately recommissioned as was the custom on the China Station thus ensuring that there were experienced “China Hands” aboard for each commission. Half the crew stayed with the ship while a new crew took over from the other half, who went on leave.

On the 17th of December 1934, Lt Cdr Selby left the ship and Cdr G.N. Oliver assumed command. Veteran, paid off and recommissioned, with the crew of HMS Diana, replacing the crew of Veteran; Veteran’s old crew took over HMS Diana and remained on the China Station until the outbreak of war. Veteran, with her new crew, became part of the First Destroyer Flotilla based at Malta as described on the website of HMS Wishart.

Ship's Company of HMS Veteran 1930s
The Ship's Company of HMS Veteran while based on the China Station in 1934
The CO, Lt Commander I.R.H. Black, with lieutenants E.A.C. Ball, J.G.D. Hill, G.R. Carver, A.B. Cluett (Comm Engineer) and T.A. Porter (Guns)
Double Click to view full size and to identify faces
Courtesy of Greg Jepp, the grandson of LS Herbert Charles Jepp JX125487

Commemorative scroll for HMS Veteran
The "Crossing the Line" certificate issued by Neptunus Rex to LS Jepp is dated 2 February 1934
Veteran must have crossed the line on many occasions while visiting the ports of call recorded on the certificate

Courtesy of Greg Jepp
Greg Jepp
Leading Seaman H.C. Jepp is seated beneath the barrell of A Gun
Courtesy of Greg Jepp
1st DEF (1935)

HMS Daring arrived at Singapore at 0930 on the 11 December 1934 to find "8th Destroyer Flotilla, with whom ships were to be exchanged, already there".  On the 15 - 16 December the two Flotillas carried out a joint exercise "Attack on Singapore". Wishart came alongside Daring at 1200 on the 16th and the following day the officers and crews were transferred. The Flotilla Leader of the newly formed 1st DS was was HMS Keppel with Captain Baillie-Grohman D.S.O., O.B.E as CO and Captain (D). The First Division consisted of Wild Swan, Whitehall, Veteran and Verity. HMS Wishart was in the Second Division with Witch, Whitshed and Wren. Their COs signed their names alongside their ship on the "visiting card" above.

Visit the website of HMS WIshart to find out more about HMS Veteran and the 1st DF in the Mediterranean in 1935-6.

If you want to find out more about the wartime service of a member of your family who served on HMS Veteran you should first obtain a copy of their service record
To find out how follow this link:

If you have stories or photographs of HMS Veteran you would like to contribute to the web site please contact Bill Forster

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