Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Navy farewells its Number One

Laundryman kept uniforms shipshape for over 57 years

Rear Admiral Jack Steer says Shiu Hang Che, 88, is a part of the navy's history after outstanding service. Photo / NZDF
Rear Admiral Jack Steer says Shiu Hang Che, 88, is a part of the navy's history after outstanding service. Photo / NZDF

The Royal New Zealand Navy has lost its "number one" after the retirement of possibly its oldest employee.

Shiu Hang Che, 88, has been a navy laundryman for 57 years and two months, and was farewelled at the Devonport Naval Base yesterday.

To the sailors, the man who had ensured their uniforms were laundered and crisp since 1957 is known as "Number 1".

"He's known as Number 1 simply because he's the top dog," said Geoff Phibbs, 66, a retired warrant officer who sailed with Mr Shiu between 1966 and 1989.

Mr Shiu hated navy food and often cooked his own Chinese meals when they were out at sea, Mr Phibbs recalled.

"He's a great cook, and we got to eat what he prepared which was always such a treat."

China-born Mr Shiu had been at sea since May 1947, but joined the New Zealand navy 10 years later when he worked on HMNZS Royalist. During his career, he served on 10 RNZN ships and six Royal Navy ships - and was awarded the Queen's Service Medal for public service in the Queen's Birthday Honours in 1988.

He spent most of his career separated from his family, who remained in Hong Kong while he worked in the navy ships.

"We only got to see him once a year, usually around Christmas time," said daughter Wai Lai Shiu, 57, who was at yesterday's farewell.

"We are always happy to see him and we feel proud about his job with the New Zealand navy and everything he has achieved."

Ms Shiu said her father would tell them what a great country New Zealand was and how Kiwis were "the most friendly people" each time they saw him.

Warrant Officer Ricky Derksen said the couple's philosophy was "she stayed at home to bring the kids up and he earned the money".

Mr Shiu became a New Zealand citizen in 1989, and three years later brought his wife and one daughter to live in New Zealand.

His wife has since returned permanently to Hong Kong where they have three other sons. One was the head of a hospital and two are senior police officials.

Chief of Navy Rear Admiral Jack Steer said Mr Shiu was a part of the navy's history.

"When I joined the navy Mr Shiu was always there ... and it was quite a different thing going to sea then, you knew that you didn't have to worry about your civvies or your uniform being unironed or unwashed."

Mr Shiu's last sea posting was in 1996 on the Leander-class frigate HMNZS Wellington. Since then he has been working at the Devonport Naval Base, operating a small laundry and providing support to the chefs and engineers.

- NZ Herald

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