This is the astonishing account of an entirely forgotten episode of World War One – the over 100,000 Chinese labourers who went to Europe in order to provide vital industrial and field support work for the Anglo-French war effort.
Working in mines, factories, farms, docks, munitions depots and on war-related infrastructure projects, they were frequently exploited, mistreated, bullied, and short-changed – and just as often exposed to German bombardments and air raids. Even after the war ended, many did not leave Europe until 1922, being used for tasks that ranged from the reconstruction of destroyed farming land to the recovery of battlefield casualties.
Britain deported all its Chinese labourers; France enabled about 3,000 to stay in the country, where they formed the core of the now thriving Franco-Chinese community. Tens of thousands returned to China traumatised or disabled by their experiences, and were soon swallowed up by the poverty and civil conflict they had hoped to escape through their enlistment in the Labour Corps.
China, which had hoped to gain diplomatic benefits, including the recovery of territories lost in 19th century colonial wars, was shamefully betrayed by the Allies and left to contend with a far more dangerous imperial power – Japan.
Approximately 3000 died in service and are buried in segregated cemeteries in France. A powerful, if tragic, piece of modern history.
(c) Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2018. All rights reserved.