Members of Britain’s Chinese community have launched a campaign to commemorate members of the Chinese Labour Corps who served in the First World War.
More than 100,000 men volunteered for the corps, with the first arriving on the Western Front in 1917 and some remaining with their units until 1920 – engaged in clearing unused ordinance and exhuming the bodies of the fallen.
Their work could often be exhausting and dangerous and involved moving ammunition, long hours and occasional bombardment.
Five Chinese Labour Corps soldiers were awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for bravery and, after the war, the British government sent a War Medal to every member of the corps. This was like the British War Medal issued to every member of the British armed forces, except that it was made of bronze, not silver.
The largest First World War Chinese cemetery on the Western Front is at Noyelles-Sur-Mer, near St Valéry at the mouth of the River Somme.
Guarded by Chinese dragons it has been planted with trees, shrubs and flowers native to China. Inscriptions on the 842 headstones are limited to four proverbs: ‘Faithful unto death’, ‘A good reputation endures forever’, ‘A noble duty bravely done’ and ‘Though dead he still liveth’.
While around 5,000 members of the Corps are believed to have remained in France after the war, few, if any, settled in the UK.
The campaign to create a permanent memorial in central London, to be unveiled in 2017 sited either in Southwark or Westminster, is backed by the Chinese embassy and the Chinese in Britain Forum.