Scroll to content
St Francis de Sales Catholic Junior School home page

St. Francis de Sales Catholic Junior School

Non Excidet

29/11/2018: 'Chinese Labour Corps' Seminar

Chinese Labour Corps 

Today, Year 6 were visited by Peng Wenlan and Hi Ching, who were representing the legacy of the Chinese Labour Corps. You would be forgiven for not knowing the significance of the CLC during the First World War, as they have been labelled as the 'forgotten of the forgotten'; however, they played an essential role in the logistical side of the Great War. The children of Year 6 were fascinated as they listened to Wenlan deliver her seminar and loved dramatising what they had heard with Hi Ching! 


95,000 Chinse farm labourers volunteered to leave their remote villages and work for British forces during WW1 (a similar sized force also volunteered to serve the French forces). At the end of the war, their contribution was barely recognised and even resulted in the outbreak of the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War: a tragedy that led to the death of around 20 million Chinese people. 


Returning to the First World War, recruitment of the Chinese began in 1916 as ever escalating casualties meant labourers became disastrously scarce. Many came from such remote farms that when they reached the tall buildings and busy waterfront of Shanghai, they thought they had arrived in Europe. In fact it was only the start of an appalling journey on which many died – by ship across the Pacific, six days crossing Canada in sealed trains to avoid paying landing taxes, on by ship to Liverpool, by train again to Folkestone, and on to France and Belgium, where they lived in labour camps and worked digging trenches, unloading ships and trains, laying tracks and building roads, and repairing tanks.


Some who died on the voyage are buried in Liverpool, and 2,000 more lie in Commonwealth war graves, but some sources believe 20,000 died. They worked 10-hour days, seven days a week, and had three holidays including Chinese New Year. When the war ended and other men went home, they worked on until 1920, clearing live ordnance and exhuming bodies from battlefield burials and moving them to the new war cemeteries.


Their contribution to the war effort must not be forgotten and the children of SFDS will play their part in ensuring the forgotten of the forgotten will be remembered.