Britain’s Forgotten Army

I felt very privileged to be asked to represent the Chinese Lib Dems at this historic centenary of the arrival of the Chinese Labour Corps on the Western Front of WWI. The story was made more poignant by the fact that they did not know they were being sent into a theatre of the most devastating war of the 20th century. I was particularly saddened to hear the stories from some of the descendants that these men were not appreciated even at the time of their hard labours and continued to this very day.

Luckily, through the records, diaries, and photographs of people of British Chinese descent, we have come to know their stories. We are extremely grateful to the Western Front Association who have given honour back to these Chinese labourers because they need to be commended for their bravery in coming to a distant land to work in such harsh, dangerous conditions.

I feel great pride that the Chinese can be remembered for something heroic. We can all be proud that we are able to take such a prominent role in British society and be recognised for our talents such as the Arts, Literature, Academia. Law, Medicine, Science as well as Commerce.

This will be the first of many years of recognition by Britain with regard to what the Chinese have done to preserve freedom and democracy in this country.

As an adopted child of a British father and a Chinese mother, I have never known my roots. The story of Chinese orphans is centuries old as there has been a tradition of children being brought up by adoptive parents for all sorts of reasons. It leaves one with a sense of not belonging to either one or the other society. However, with a growing cadre of Sino British citizens now living here and the gradual realisation of Chinese history and achievements, I feel that our time has come.

* Marguerita Morton is a Tunbridge Wells Borough Councillor and an Executive Member of Chinese Liberal Democrats.

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  • Richard Warren 14th Nov '17 - 9:22am

    Thanks for sharing this Marguerita. I knew nothing about this, and I lived in Hong Kong! Definitely needs highlighting, as does the current fight for democracy in Hong Kong. We really ought to have given full British passports to Hong Kong people.

  • nigel hunter 14th Nov '17 - 9:48am

    Yes we should remember them, Yes they should be seen as candidates more,

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Nov '17 - 11:36am

    I watched this documentary on Channel 4, Britain’s Forgotten Army. It was touching to see and it is right that the labourers are honoured. They were often placed in dangerous positions which they did not know they would be before they signed up.

    It was also a shame how in that great painting of World War 1 the Chinese labourers were literally painted out. Finally they are being recognised.

  • They were paid a pittance for long hours of work as my grandfather said, “They earned their money”. My grandfather was in the army working at the supply dumps behind the western front and he always spoke fondly of the Chinese workers.

  • Ronald Murray 15th Nov '17 - 12:04pm

    This is a great shame on this country and the allies. A memorial should be erected in a prominent place. Ideally the National Memorial Arboretum.

  • Sean Hyland 15th Nov '17 - 2:28pm

    Interesting and welcome piece on the forgotten debt we owe the Chinese Labour Corp. We as a nation are mot always very good at recognising the sacrifices and efforts of “non – british” subjects in our name.
    It would be the least we could do to ensure that a fitting memorial and acknowledgement of their work is made now. We are in the midst of 4 years of remembrance of the First World War and now would be as good a time as any.

  • @ Ronald Murray and Sean Hyland

    There is in fact a campaign for such a memorial. Search on the item below for their contact details and up to date information.:

    Ensuring We Remember: The Chinese Labour Corps

    You may also wish to read more by downloading an article on PDF by Brian Fawcett.

    “The Chinese Labour Corps in France 1917-1921” by Brian C. Fawcett ……/chinese-labourers-in-northern-france-...

  • Merlene Emerson 16th Nov '17 - 4:00pm

    Thanks Marguerita for your moving blog which I have posted on . You may all be interested to know that a memorial has recently been erected in Poperinge in Belgium. Chanced to see the photos tweeted by the British Ambassador to Belgium @alisonrosefco.

  • Simon Banks 3rd Jan '18 - 5:06pm

    I knew about Indian and African soldiers in this war and also about Black British soldiers, but I did not know about the Chinese Labour Corps. Thankyou Marguerita. However, our local party President is partly of Australian Chinese descent and one of her relatives died aged eighteen on the Western Front in the Australian army, but as a combat soldier.

  • Jayne mansfield 3rd Jan '18 - 6:25pm

    @ Marguerita,
    Thank you so much for educating me on the subject.

    You have every reason to feel proud. By sharing the information, and by addressing my ignorance, I can now give new found, posthumous respect to the Chinese Labourers.

    I intend to watch the youtube video and read the article kindly provided by David Raw, so that I can further deepen my knowledge and understanding of the sacrifice that the Chinese labourers made.

    Shamefully, I realise that I know very little about Chinese history and achievements, something that I must now address. I particularly want to know about the history of Chinese orphans.

    I too was adopted. I have some sketchy details of my biological parents, given to me in my mum and dad. But despite the manner of my discovery, I always found the fact that I was adopted, liberating. Although European in appearance, I felt like a child of the world, free of cultural expectations and conventions.

    Some of my own children have a different appearance to me, and have experienced some of the sense of not completely belonging to one culture or another that you describe. Rather than them feeling rootless, we encouraged them to see themselves as pioneers of a new and brighter world.

    I have no doubt that your time has come. I am delighted that there are a growing number of Sino British citizens in the UK and that they are flourishing. May you spend the rest of your life enjoying being you, and once again, thank you.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 3rd Jan '18 - 10:02pm

    Meguerita , a warm and special article.

    What a fine piece and with it excellent contributions.

    Yes to a monument, no to conscription.

    What a terrific effort on behalf of the British and Chinese, and since, British Chinese, the Chinese Liberal Democrats seem to make their norm. Very welcome, as with the piece from Merlene too.

    David , indeed highlights how good it would have been if the leader of the Liberal party, in 1906, Sir Henry Campbell- Bannerman had lasted much greater time, or if his stance on the wretched Boer war had prevailed in other crises too.

    We should memorialise these forgotten greats. I have long advocated for a statue for Leslie Howard, the great actor , writer , and war hero shot down by the Nazis, doing war work, and on Hitlers hit list.

    I am doing so too, advocating, for a tribute, a memorial , to make up for the bypassing, of the late great Audrey Hepburn, who was lost to this world 25 years this month, given no honours, Damehood for example, by a uk that I believe did not realise, as with other refugees, and immigrants to here, that this wonderful lady was officially British.

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