Gold Ribbon Banner
Tuesday, May 21, 2019
Falklands medal

In 1932, the popular comedian and ukulele player George Formby released the song “Chinese Laundry Blues”

Now Mr Lu was a laundry man in a shop with an old green door,
He’ll iron all day your linen away, he really makes me sore.
He’s lost his heart to a Chinese girl and his laundry’s all gone wrong,
All day he’ll flirt and scorch your shirt, that’s why I’m singing this song,
Oh, Mr Wu, what shall I do, I’m feeling kind of Limehouse Chinese Laundry Blues!

But it was probably only a timely coincidence that Chinese laundrymen should start serving in HM ships six years later, when the Royal Navy had a large number of ships stationed in the Far East. Many were based in Wei-Hei-Wei, once a British concession in mainland China, as well as in the Crown Colony of Hong Kong. The tradition might well date back even further, to the turn of the century and the halcyon days of the China Fleet. What is certainly true, however, and to the surprise of many nearly eighty years later, is that Chinese laundrymen are still serving in naval ships.

For many years they were known as “unofficials” because, officially, they did not exist. But it is hard to imagine now how the Royal Navy could function without them. Officially, they had nowhere to sleep. Because naval architects never included berths for them, they usually slept on the deck, or in bunks unofficially rigged up in the ship’s laundry. Some have also been known to sleep on an ironing board or table. Officially, too, they were not fed. Unofficially, they bartered with the ships’ cooks for pieces of chicken, or bags of rice or vegetables.

HER MAJESTY’S CHINESE LAUNDRYMEN
These are Her Majesty’s Chinese laundrymen. They do the scrubbing and boiling, the pressing, ironing and mending that makes the Royal Navy the most immaculately turnedout of the British armed forces. Next time you watch a warship entering harbour, with her crew in starched white uniforms standing smartly to attention along the upper deck, you’ll know who has been working overtime!

The laundrymen go to war too. Many served in the Korean War, and there are ships with them on board serving in the Gulf and Mediterranean today. It is not that they want to savour the thrill of battle. On the contrary, when “Action Stations” is sounded they usually prefer to be shut in the laundry until the all-clear signal. That does not always make them safe, though. Two Chinese laundrymen were killed in the Falklands conflict. Lai Chi Keung was one of the 21 crew killed in early May 1982 when an Exocet missile hit HMS Sheffield. Kyo Ben Kuo was among the 24 casualties when HMS Coventry was bombed to the bottom of the South Atlantic. But like serving RN personnel, they are entitled to receive campaign medals for the conflicts in which their ships are involved.

WORLD LAUNDRY SERVICES
When Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, it was thought this could spell the end for the “unofficials”, as the majority of Chinese laundrymen traditionally have their homes there. But because of their loyalty and proven effectiveness it came as no surprise that they have now become recognised as “official” and are employees of WLS, World Laundry Services, which is a direct descendant of the old system. This firm, run by the Shao family – previously private contractors who made their own arrangements directly with ships’ captains – now provide laundrymen to all RN ships. So, whilst the arrangements have to a certain extent been formalised, and the days of freelance contractors are over, their working practices have not changed and business is thriving.

Smaller RN ships, such as frigates and destroyers, normally have two laundrymen. Bigger ships, like the amphibious assault ships HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, with crews of 325 officers and men, and 400 Royal Marines, will probably have up to 12 laundrymen, and sometimes a Chinese tailor, affectionally called Sew-Sew, as well. It is not difficult to appreciate that providing rapid turnaround laundry services to ships’ crews, both male and female, is a profitable occupation.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - February 2019 Issue
Click here to subscribe

Subscribe Graphic

Latest Issue - Look Inside!

Island Princess

Most Popular

  • 1
  • 2

Latest Products

Maritime Log

  • Move to Enlarge River Terminal +

    Grimsby River Terminal Associated British Ports (ABP) plans to expand its Grimsby River Terminal to enable it to handle the world’s largest car Read More
  • At the Helm of the RNLI +

    Mark Dowie A new Chief Executive has been appointed by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution to succeed Paul Boissier, who has held Read More
  • Keeping the Tyne Clean +

    Clearwater Each year, the Clean Tyne project removes around 400 tonnes of debris from the River Tyne between Blaydon and the Read More
  • First Part of Huge Port Investment Completed +

    Sheerness Port The 20-year Master Plan for boosting trade through the Kent port of Sheerness has reached a significant milestone with the Read More
  • Ship Sinks After Fire Breaks Out in Cargo +

    Grande America All 26 crew and one passenger were rescued after the roll-on,rolloff container ship Grande America, 56,642gt, caught fire and then Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • Houston Ship Canal Closed After Major Fire +

    Houston Fire The Houston Ship Canal reopened to daylight traffic after being closed for nearly a week due to a serious fire Read More
  • Back Home After Eventful Antarctic Season +

    Polar Star The US Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star arrived back at her homeport of Seattle, Washington on Mar 11 after an Read More
  • Four More Giant Cranes Arrive from China +

    Zhen Hua 31 Four new Super-Post-Panamax container cranes arrived at Tacoma, Washington, from China in early March, just over a year after the Read More
  • Two Hurt as Lifeboat Falls Overboard +

    USCG Reliance Two crew members of the tanker Chemtrans Nova, 73,870dwt, had to be flown ashore for treatment after the lifeboat they Read More
  • Cutters Seize $466mn of Drugs on Patrols +

    USCG Forward At Port Everglades, Florida, on Feb 5, some 34,780lbs of cocaine with a street value of $466mn was unloaded from Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Asia-Pacific

  • Three Main Courses Being Plotted for MOL +

    MOL Triumph The major Japanese shipping line Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) has unveiled a number of new objectives aimed at improving its Read More
  • Cargo Ships for Bass Strait Service +

    Tasmanian Achiever II The first of two 700 teu cargo ship for the Bass Strait route between the Tasmanian port of Burnie and Read More
  • Race to Save Coral Reef After Grounding +

    Solomon Trader A major anti-pollution operation was launched in the Solomon Islands after the bulk carrier Solomon Trader, 73,592dwt, with a cargo Read More
  • Special Place for Tanker in Port History +

    Pro Alliance The largest fuel tanker in the 220 year history of the Australian port of Newcastle, NSW, arrived on Mar 18 Read More
  • Data Recorder Recovered From Ore Carrier Wreck +

    Seabed Constructor The Stellar Daisy, owned by Polaris Shipping, of South Korea, was carrying a cargo of iron ore from Brazil to Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • US Navy Seeks Faster Ship Delivery +

    FFGX Rendering American News The future frigate program for the US Navy is getting fully underway and some idea of the urgency Read More
  • HMS “Dragon” in £75 Million Narcotics Seizure +

    HMS Dragon British News Whilst on patrol in the Gulf, the Type 45 destroyer HMS Dragon seized and destroyed ten tonnes of Read More
  • New Generation of Enterprise Confirmed +

    USS Enterprise American News On 31 January, the US Department of Defense announced the awarding of a block buy contract with Huntington Read More
  • Brazil to Take Over HMS Clyde +

    HMS Clyde British News It has been announced by the Brazilian Government in early December that the Falklands Patrol ship HMS Clyde Read More
  • Navy And NASA Complete Recovery Test +

    USS Anchorage American News In what might be seen as a return to the heady days of NASA’s Apollo moon program, the Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • Favourite Claymore +

    Claymore A poster of Llandudno pier prompted a memory from ex Calmac chief engineer Charlie McCurdy as he took another trip Read More
  • Baltic Battery Power +

    Aurora Scandinavian and Baltic operators seem to be leading the way in reducing ferry reliance on fossil fuels. Read More
  • Electric Solutions +

    Polarkunsult Ferry A new ferry will replace the 1992-built MF Herjólfur to the Westmann Islands and will be in line with Iceland’s Read More
  • Variety of New Builds +

    Red Kestrel I am gratified to hear at Cammell Lairds and Red Funnel have a particularly good record in ordering from UK Read More
  • Scottish Ship Shuffling +

    Caledonian Isles To Scotland now, and Calmac continue their shuffling of ships between routes, this time Arran’s mainstay Caledonian Iles having rudder Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • Thames Tributary Barges +

    Lady of the Lea Most of the rivers flowing into the Thames had their own barge type. Read More
  • Dry Rot and Dry Dock +

    HMS Victory For some time Victory, the 110gun ship of the line, has had trouble with dry rot and is in danger Read More
  • Everards Eulogy +

    Greenhithe Scottish maritime interests particularly may mourn the loss of Geo Gibson. Read More
  • Welsh Port Gentrification +

    Penarth In the Victorian era, there were many coastal places where craft worked off open beaches. Read More
  • Sussex Sterns +

    Edward and Mary and Valiant In the Victorian era, there were many coastal places where craft worked off open beaches. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • Red Funnel’s New Ferry Arrives +

    Red Kestrel Red Kestrel, the newest addition to Red Funnel’s fleet, arrived at her new home in Southampton on 18 April. Read More
  • Keeping an Eye on the Weather +

    Royal Charter storm I was intrigued to read recently about the career of Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy (1805-65). Read More
  • Port of London Trade at 10-Year High +

    DP World London Gateway Trade through the Port of London reached 53.2 million tonnes last year, a level last seen over a decade ago. Read More
  • Northlink Celebrates Apprentices +

    Paul Wheelhouse NorthLink Serco Northlink Ferries has been commended by the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, Paul Wheelhouse, for developing young Read More
  • An Auction with no Buyer +

    Falls of Clyde I was reading recently about the unsuccessful auction to find a buyer for the Falls of Clyde, the last remaining Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • Seadream Yacht Club to Build New Ship +

    SeaDream Innovation For over fifteen years, the SeaDream Yacht Club has operated two yachtlike ships, on 7 to 15-day voyages. Read More
  • Tradition Plays Its Part +

    Prana by Atzaro If ever proof was needed that traditionally built craft can still play a part in the luxury charter market in Read More
  • MV "Magellan Explorer" +

    MV Yet another new and modern expedition vessel custom built for Antarctic air-cruises will make her debut in 2019. Read More
  • The Saga Continues +

    Saga Discovery Saga Adventure SAGA Cruises has announced it is taking up an option for it’s second new ship to be built at the Read More
  • Reconstruction of “Danah Voyager” +

    Danah Voyager Reconstruction of redundant offshore oil industry tonnage turning them into luxury superyachts is not a new phenomena, but recent photographs Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

Victoria

Victoria High and Dry

Five-hundred years ago, Ferdinand Magellan sailed out of Seville, Spain, on one of the most memorable discovery voyages ever made, Read More
Christina O

From Warship to Superyacht

Rescued twice from the scrapheap, Captain Michael Howorth charts the fall and rise of one of the world’s best known Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features

SS Eastern (2)

MT Arthur Foss

“The last vessel to escape Wake Island before Japanese forces captured the island” Read More
SS Eastern (2)

Rescue of Crew Member From Tanker Avanti

Captain A J Murdoch served with Eastern & Australian Steamship Company until he retired in 1982. Hailing from Melbourne, during Read More
  • 1
  • 2