1st August 2014
Steve Lau writes:
Ensuring We Remember the men of the Chinese Labour Corps
Britain recruited 96,000 Chinese workers during the First World War who worked on everything from road building to recovering the dead. After the war the contribution of these men was simply forgotten, and none of Britain’s 43,000 First World War memorials commemorates them. The Chinese community in Britain are about to change all this.
After the crushing casualties of the first days of the Somme both the French and British realised that the war was going to be a protracted one, and be as much about maintaining numbers on the battlefield as it would anything else. Both Britain and France turned to China for the solution, jointly recruiting about 140,000 Chinese labourers that in turn would release their own men to fight. Told that they would not be placed anywhere near the fighting, Britain did in fact send almost all her recruits to the Western Front, digging trenches, building roads, railways lines, unloading ships and trains. About 1,000 maintained tanks in the tank workshops. After the war they were retained to fill in trenches, clear the battlefields of live ordnance, exhume the dead and rebury them in the new Commonwealth War Graves Cemeteries.
“It is sadly ironic that they undertook the most appalling tasks to help create the iconic places of remembrance that the Commonwealth War Grave Cemeteries have become, and yet they themselves have been forgotten.” Said Steven Lau, Chair of the Chinese in Britain Forum, “We believe our nation’s promise, never to forget, applies to them, as to any other.”
The Ensuring We Remember campaign launches on the 14th August 2014, the 97th anniversary of China declaring War on Germany. With the Chinese in Britain Forum of as the Lead Body, the campaign begins with seven Strategic Partners representing the largest ever coalition of Chinese community organisations, and representing the broadest cross section of the Chinese community. The aim is to unveil a national memorial to the Chinese Labour Corps on 14th August 2017 – the centenary of China joining the war as an ally.
Chair, The Chinese in Britain Forum