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The campaign for a national memorial to the 96,000 volunteers of the Chinese Labour Corps
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We have to congratulate the British Library on raising the profile of volunteer Chinese labourers who assisted Britain during the First World War. The work of these labourers played an important role, both on the Western Front as well as in Mesopotamia (notwithstanding one charge of them being "absolutely useless"). There are citations of excellent work undertaken by the Chinese, and perhaps including one of these would have given more of a balanced view. It is worth noting that the recruitment of labourers for the Western Front, and for Mesopotamia were two entirely separate ventures, with recruitment for the Chinese Labour Corps taking place predominately in Shandong, over a thousand miles from any recruitment for Mesopotamia. Workers recruited for the Inland Water Transport were never incorporated into the Chinese Labour Corps. The Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC) are mistaken in their assertion that the Chinese buried there were members of the Chinese Labour Corps. Regarding the burial of those Chinese who died in Mesopotamia. It is certainly true that the Chinese were perhaps reduced to numbers more often than we would find comfortable with today. However, it is unlikely that the 227 Chinese casualties would have been buried without their names having been recorded. The cultural significance to the Chinese of paying respect to the dead, and of remembering them, makes such a state of affairs just about inconceivable. We have previously contacted the IWGC in an attempt to understand why so many Chinese bury unidentified in Basra. I quote their response in part, “I am afraid that we have no other information further than that the graves were lost, by the time the Registration units carried out their work, and in that context 'could no longer be maintained'.” There is a degree of ambiguity in this response. Taken literally the word “lost” would suggest that the location of the graves were no longer known. A place of burial for 227 Chinese in Basra a year or so on from the last burial is unlikely to have literally been lost. Although we cannot know for certain, we think the following scenario best explains the situation.. Chinese casualties in Mesopotamia were buried by their compatriots, and their graves although marked by a cross, would be inscribed in Chinese – a photo of a burial of a member of the Chinese Labour Corps and a photo of original crosses at the head of such graves, both of which we will be publishing as part of a collection of rare photos, show in those particular instances the burial was attended exclusively by Chinese, and the crosses marking Chinese graves were only inscribed in Chinese characters. With little reason to believe the practice would be any different in Mesopotamia, one explanation is that by the time the Directorate of Graves Registration and Enquiries came to register the graves in Basra, the Chinese characters on those temporary markers had weathered and become illegible. Although records of the buried must have been held elsewhere, for whatever reason, the Directorate had no access to them. As stated, we may never know for certain, but this is certainly one feasible explanation. Steve Lau Chair Strategic Partnership Board Chinese Labour Corps Memorial Campaign – Ensuring We Remember
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Jul 24, 2015