British Chinese call for memorial to WWI labor corps

Updated: 2014-08-15 07:48


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British Chinese call for memorial to WWI labor corps

Former Chinese foreign minister Li Zhaoxing visits a cemetery of Chinese workers who served on the Western Front during World War I in Noyelles-sur-Mer of France in this July 15, 2014 file photo. [Photo / China Daily]

LONDON - British Chinese communities on Thursday launched a major campaign in London to push for the establishment of a national memorial to the Chinese Labor Corps recruited by Britain during the First World War (WWI).

The Chinese Labor Corps was a force of workers recruited by the British government in WWI to free British and Commonwealth troops for frontline duty by providing logistic support and manual labor.

Up to 140,000 Chinese workers served on the Western Front during and after WWI to support the Allies' troops, among whom some 96,000 were recruited by the British government to undertake a wide range of essential logistic tasks, such as digging trenches, building roads and bridges, constructing fortifications, transporting supplies, maintaining tanks and so on.

Thousands of them died during the war. After WWI many workers 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.

However, the contribution of the Chinese workers was rarely mentioned in Britain after WWI, and none of Britain's 43,000 WWI memorials commemorates them, according to the Chinese in Britain Forum, a British charity dedicated to promoting greater participation by members of the Chinese community in Britain's national life.

"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, chairman of the Chinese in Britain Forum.

The Chinese in Britain Forum is teaming up with leading British Chinese associations to push for a national memorial to the Chinese Labor Corps on Aug. 14, 2017, the centenary of China joining WWI as an ally.

On Thursday, they launched the Ensuring We Remember campaign in London on the 97th anniversary of China declaring War on Germany during WWI.

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