In April 2017 a was launched to raise awareness of the role played by Chinese workers during the First World War. The eighteen month project aims to leave a lasting legacy of remembrance for an estimated 100,000 Chinese Labour Corps who assisted British forces on the Western Front.
The project was launched on 19th April by the Meridian Society, which aims to promote Chinese culture. The date was important as it was the centenary of the first contingent of Chinese Labour Corps (CLCs) arriving in France during World War I. Director Peng Whelan told those who attended “Our purpose is to honour this vast body of men who went to the Front and contributed to the cause. A labourer with his shovel is no less a man, no less a hero, than a soldier with his gun. And his work is no less a contribution to the cause.”
For nineteen months CLCs carried out a number of essential tasks for a British army that was severely depleted after more than two years of heavy fighting and losses. They included digging the trenches and unloading munitions and supplies, putting themselves at risk of being caught in the crossfire. The CLCs had already endured a hazardous voyage to Europe taking up to three months which involved crossing the Pacific Ocean, journeying through Canada by rail, then taking another ship from Halifax to Liverpool.
When armistice was signed in November 1918 CLCs, who had been contracted for three years, remained in France and Belgium to clear munitions from battlefields, recover dead soldiers and lay out cemeteries. It was estimated that 2,000 CLCs died in Europe, many of them as a result of the Spanish Flu pandemic that came soon after peace was declared.
There are five CLC graves in Liverpool’s Anfield Cemetery, three of them having died at Belmont Road Military Hospital after falling victim to a mumps outbreak. On 28th March 2017, representatives from the academies of Liverpool and Everton football clubs attended a special service there along with members of the See Yep Association. White flowers were laid at the graves, the Last Post was played on a Chinese flute and candles lit adorned with the crests of both clubs.
The CLC Project has been awarded a lottery grant of just under £100,000 and is supported by the Chinese Embassy, Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Imperial War Museum. It aims to produce a film and booklet for distribution to libraries, museums and schools so the contribution of the CLCs can be remembered for generations to come.