Chiu Yiu Nam GM RFA

Chiu Yiu Nam

Medals awarded to Seaman Chiu Yiu Nam GM RFA



During the Falklands War on the afternoon of 8 June 1982, Chiu Yiu Nam was serving as a seaman on the RFA Sir Galahad, one of five Landing Ships Logistics (LSL) which ferried troops and stores around the Falkland Islands, and were manned by British Merchant Navy officers and Hong Kong Chinese crewmen. Chiu, as one of the helicopter flight deck party, was also trained in firefighting.

In an attempt to outflank Argentine positions, RFA Sir Galahad and her sister ship RFA Sir Tristram had been sent to Port Pleasant, on the south coast of East Falkland, and elements of the Welsh Guards were waiting to disembark when the ships were attacked by five Skyhawk jets of the Argentine air force.

Three aircraft dropped bombs on RFA Sir Galahad, one of which penetrated an open hatch, its explosion generating a fireball which swept through the tank deck, where many troops were and where ammunition and petrol were stowed. A second bomb exploded near the galley area, killing Chiu’s friend, the ship’s butcher, Sung Yuk Fai, and injuring many others.

As the stores on the tank deck began to ignite and explode, causing intense local fires, the master of RFA Sir Galahad, Captain Philip Roberts RFA, was reluctantly considering whether to give the order to abandon ship. Chiu, meanwhile, realised that there were soldiers trapped inside. Wearing a protective asbestos suit, he fought his way through the smoke and flames into the bowels of the ship, where he was confronted by scenes of confusion and devastation. After leading out one man, he went back for another. He continued to return, bringing men to safety until he realised that there was no one left alive. Only then did he obey the order to abandon ship. In all, 48 seamen and soldiers were killed and many more badly burned. Of those who survived, at least 10 owed their survival to Chiu.


Falklands War 1362

RFA Sir Galahad (1) on fire after being attacked

Chiu was remarkably modest about what he had done: on the journey home in the tanker British Test, Capt Roberts RFA quizzed his crew about their role during the bombing of Sir Galahad without discovering Chiu’s heroism. It was only later that the Commanding Officer 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, Lt-Col Johnny Rickett (who had disembarked the night before the air attack), interviewed his guardsmen and heard about an unknown rescuer whose identity had been hidden behind a protective hood. Further inquiries revealed that this had been Chiu.

He remained reluctant to be recognised officially for his bravery. In 1983, however, he agreed to fly from Hong Kong to London, where the Queen invested him with the George Medal.

Chiu Yiu Nam was born in 1949 in Guangdong province, mainland China. He represented one of the last generations of locally-recruited sailors (others were from places such as Goa, India, Malta and the Seychelles) who had helped man the Royal Navy’s ships for hundreds of years. He retired from the RFA in 1989 for health reasons, and lived quietly with his mother and younger brother in Hong Kong. He declined an invitation to fly to London for the 25th anniversary of the Falklands conflict, but was flattered to receive a handwritten letter from Margaret Thatcher at a reception organised by the local branch of the Royal British Legion. He also met the Duke of York, who visited Hong Kong in 2010, and the Earl of Wessex, speaking to both princes through an interpreter.

Locally-entered seamen like Chiu do not receive pensions, and when he died on 14 February 2012 he was dependent on monthly financial assistance from the Hong Kong government. His cremation was paid for by the Hong Kong and China branch of the Royal British Legion.


Chiu Yiu Nam and Duke of York

HRH the Duke of York and Seaman Chiu Yiu Nam GM RFA



Baroness Margaret Thatcher, LG, OM, DStJ, PC, FRS, HonFRSC in a letter dated 8 June 2007 wrote to Seaman Chiu Yiu Nam in which she said –

‘Over these coming days, we here in Britain will be remembering and honouring those who fought so bravely to liberate the Falkland Islands and their people. For those who served in the South Atlantic this will be a special time; a time to reflect on the suffering and the sadness, and on memories of friends and colleagues who did not return. But it is also a time to celebrate remarkable achievements and outstanding courage.

Twenty-five years ago, on 8th June, you found yourself amidst the blazing wreckage of RFA Sir Galahad. Heedless of the imminent danger you were in, you worked to save the lives of others as the flames took hold. Your courage that day ensured that many more families were spared the grief of mourning. And your actions are a reminder to us all of the best and noblest aspects of the human spirit. Britain will never forget your service or your heroism.’

Vice Admiral Sir James Kennon, KCB, CBE, in a letter dated 13 June 1983 also wrote to Seaman Chiu Yiu Nam in which he said –

‘I was delighted to learn that Her Majesty the Queen has awarded you the George Medal in recognition of your extremely brave actions in saving the lives of several soldiers in the aftermath of the bombing of RFA Sir Galahad. Your courage and total disregard for your own safety was an inspiration to all those who witnessed or have since learnt of your deeds on that awesome day.’