Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Commemorating the Chinese Labour Corps

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 13th September, 2016

chinese-labour-corps-1As Britons this year have been remembering the fallen of the Battle of the Somme 100 years ago, scant mention has been made of the largest group of foreign labourers who helped dig the trenches, unload ships and trains and make roads: the Chinese Labour Corps. About 96,000 predominantly rural workers from China volunteered to help the British in the war effort, enduring a grueling journey by ship from Shanghai, then six days in a sealed train across Canada before another ocean voyage, eventually reaching England and being transferred to France. Once in the war zone they worked ten hours a day, seven days a week, with only a three day annual holiday entitlement, and they were looked down on as “coolies” by many of the fighting men. But their loyalty and bravery were exemplary and many who survived stayed on until 1920, to carry out the distressing task of digging up human remains and reburying them under the neat rows of headstones in war cemeteries. across Flanders. Those cemeteries have become places of pilgrimage and remembrance, especially in this centenary year, and in Britain there are 40,000 memorials of one kind or another to the fallen of the First World War. Yet there is no memorial as yet to the Chinese Labour Corps, even though an estimated 20,000 perished. That includes over 500 who died when a German submarine sank the French ship Athos, bringing labourers to the battlegrounds, after which China declared war on Germany in August 1917. However, a project, spearheaded by Steve Lau, Chairman of the Ensuring We Remember Campaign, is now underway to ensure that the members of the Chinese Labour Corps get just recognition with a memorial to be erected somewhere in London. Last night I attended a fundraising dinner in Chinatown, along with Merlene Toh Emerson of Chinese Liberal Democrats and a number of other politicians, including DCLG Minister Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth and London Assembly member Shaun Bailey. Further details and an opportunity to donate can be found at http://www.EnsuringWeRemember.org.uk

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