Dismore calls for recognition of WW1 Chinese Labour Corps

At today’s City Hall Plenary meeting, Labour London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden Andrew Dismore AM called for recognition of WW1 Chinese Labour Corps, when speaking in the debate to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War.

After the debate Mr Dismore said:

‘The Chinese Labour Corps made a long forgotten but tremendous contribution to the allies’ cause on the Western Front.

‘A total of about 140,000 Chinese workers served on the Western Front during and after the War. Among them, 100,000 served in the British Chinese Labour Corps. About 40,000 served with the French forces, and hundreds of Chinese students served as translators.

‘The workers, mainly aged between 20 and 35, served as labour in the rear echelons or helped build munitions depots. They were tasked with carrying out essential work to support the frontline troops, such as unloading ships, building dugouts, repairing roads and railways, digging trenches and filling sandbags. Some worked in armaments factories, others in naval shipyards, for a pittance of one to three francs a day. At the time they were seen just as cheap labour, not even allowed out of camp to fraternise locally, dismissed as mere coolies. When the war ended some were used for mine clearance, or to recover the bodies of soldiers and fill in miles of trenches. Men fell ill from the poor diet and the intense damp and cold.

‘After the Armistice, the Chinese labourers, each identified only by an impersonal reference number, were shipped home.

‘The number of deaths could be as high as 20,000, victims of shelling, landmines, poor treatment or the worldwide flu epidemic.

‘Their contribution went forgotten for decades until military ceremonies resumed in 2002 at the Chinese cemetery of Noyelles-sur-Mer.

‘These men deserve better and our nation’s promise never to forget should apply to them as to any other. That is why I support the campaign for a national memorial to these men from China who gave so much.’