Tributes for Falklands hero who saved 10 lives

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 March, 2012, 12:00am


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Tributes have flowed for the only Chinese man to be awarded one of Britain's highest civilian honours for bravery, Hong Kong's Chiu Yiu-nam, following his death at home.

The extremely modest Chiu ignored orders to abandon ship and saved 10 Welsh Guardsmen from the blazing Royal Fleet Auxiliary's Sir Galahad during the 1982 Falklands war between Britain and Argentina.

A merchant seaman, Chiu was on the vessel on June 8 when it was hit by Argentinian bombs. A fireball swept through the vessel and the order was given to abandon ship.

But Chiu, trained in firefighting, knew that many personnel were badly injured below decks. Clad in a protective suit, he fought his way through the smoke and flames and led out one man after another.

He saved the lives of at least 10 Welsh Guardsmen and in 1983 was presented with the George Medal by Queen Elizabeth.

Chiu told the South China Morning Post in August 1983 that his bravery was inspired by a Chinese proverb that he lived by: 'To save a life is more pleasing to Buddha than to build a seven-storey pagoda'.

'Life is so precious, and there was no reason for me to miss any chance of saving it,' Chiu said. 'I never thought of any reward I might get.'

Chiu also said he had been on the ship for over 14 months so knew his way around better than the Welsh Guardsmen.

After the war he did a second tour of duty in the Falklands on board the RFA's Pearl Leaf.

He returned to Hong Kong in 1989 and lived quietly with his family.

The British Ministry of Defence invited Chiu to attend an event in London in 2007 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Falklands conflict but he was unable to attend for family reasons. But he did attend a lunch in Tai Hang arranged for him by the Royal British Legion, bringing him back into the ex-servicemen's fold.

'Mr Chiu was an extraordinary hero and an incredibly modest man. He declined all financial assistance from us,' said Brigadier Christopher Hammerbeck, president of the Royal British Legion in Hong Kong and the mainland. 'We also offered to apply for a UK disability pension ... for him, but he declined that as well.'

Chiu lived in Aberdeen with his elderly mother until he died in his sleep aged 62, on February 14.

'He became a very much beloved character to us all. His death is not just a sad loss to us but to Hong Kong,' Hammerbeck said.