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Another
Traycle Mine Overseer


6250 Posts
Posted -  30/09/2004  :  13:33
Stanley's piece elsewhere about a touch of flu is relevant to an experience I had on holiday recently in Picardy.

We were staying about 50 miles from the main Great War battlefields of the Somme and on a number of occasions passed a road sign for "Cimiterie Chinoise. Noyelles sur Mer". My French is not brilliant but even I had managed to work out that this was a Chinese Cemetary and I wanted to know what this was doing in Northern France. On approaching the grounds it was clear that this was a military cemetary and was actually maintained to their usual high standards by the Commonwealth Graves Commission. Questions about when we British last invaded China to make it part of the empire/commonwealth were going through my mind but with few answers being generated.
Eventually from a museum in Albert I discovered that in 1916 the British brought a Chinese Labour Regiment to the Somme to work on access roads and railways. Most of these men worked well away from the front line yet over 800 Chinese are buried in the cemetary at Noyelles and most died between 1918 and 1922. 1919 appeared to be the worst period with many dying betwen February and April - presumably from the flu epidemic that Stanley refers to.
My daughter and myself spent some time in the peaceful little field thinking that these poor little chaps would not have had relatives or countrymen to visit their graves. If any of you ever get to the Bay of the Somme go and visit them too. Colin


Edited by - Another on 01 Oct 2004 10:30:43


" I'm a self made man who worships his creator"
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Stanley
Local Historian & Old Fart


36804 Posts
Posted - 01/10/2004 : 04:54
I'm reminded of Bee Vang, an American student, standing with me at the pill box in Tyne Cott and asking me why men came 10,000 miles to die on that slope up to Paschendale. No answer really. You're right Colin about the war graves people. Have you ever seen the German cemetery at Langemark? That's impressive, black markers and those three silent figures opposite the entrance at the back of the graves. When I went to the Museum I asked for a soldier's name and got Max Beckmenn, I was really pleased that they were recognising the German squaddies as well. They didn't want to be there any more that my grandad who was killed or my father who was wounded and gassed. Hugely evocative area...


Stanley Challenger Graham




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Leslie
New Member


3 Posts
Posted - 02/10/2004 : 11:16
Hello Colin. This is yet another member of the Graham tribe, Leslie. One of my main history interests is the First World War and I know a fair amount about the Chinese Labour Corps. I'm just about to post an article about them on the Misc History Topics section which you may find interesting. They weren't all small by the way. I've seen a film of one huge bloke carring 3 huge sacks, for the benefit of the camera I suspect. One little story about them has always amused me. At one site there was a sign in English, French and Chinese (Mandarin?) saying NO SMOKING. A visitor who spoke Chinese pointed out that the Chinese notice in fact said DON'T GET CAUGHT SMOKING! I have soft spot for these now almost unknown groups who did so much for us for when we needed help. You ask if their graves are visited. I certainly know of some Chinese visitors, and an aquaintance of mine always takes some Joss Sticks to burn on their graves. I also always keep an eye out for them as well, so they are remembered by some.

Leslie Graham


Leslie Graham

leslie@grahaml2.fsnet.co.ukGo to Top of Page

Stanley
Local Historian & Old Fart


36804 Posts
Posted - 02/10/2004 : 17:22
So pleased to see my brother Leslie has posted! He is a considerable historian of the Great War and I shall nag him to give us more.....


Stanley Challenger Graham




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Another
Traycle Mine Overseer


6250 Posts
Posted - 26/01/2005 : 19:34
I came accross this article about the colonial labour camps during the First World War published by The Western Front Association.

Forgotten Hands With Picks And Shovels
Introduction
Recently, A WFA-SWB colleague kindly loaned me a copy of a book, entitled, Death Sentences Passed by Military Courts of the British Army 1914-1918 by Gerard Oram,1998. F. Boutle, Publishers. Using this book, I planned to put names to and, hopefully, find some other background information about, the 10 Chinese Coolies, four Coloured Labourers and five Camp Followers I had listed as executed by the British Army in my October 2001 talk, Shot At Dawn - The real facts and figures.

It was quickly apparent that it would be impossible to separate out the Coloured Labourers and the Camp Followers as individuals since there were no such classifications in Oram's book. Or, as far as I can ascertain elsewhere, other than the original documents at the Public Records Office, Kew. In Oram's book, all these persons had been lumped together in the category, Civilians. I leave it to other interested persons to delve into to this Civilian group.

However, the Chinese Coolies were either clearly listed as such, or, in two cases, as Chinese Labourers. The 8 Chinese Coolies and 2 Chinese Labourers listed by Oram as paying the death penalty, were all shot by the British for murder, or offences resulting in murder. An 11th individual, who was not quoted by name - only his coolie number (Anon #4976) - committed suicide whilst under sentence of death for murder. All these 11 Chinese were sentenced between 1918 and 1920 and all the offences had occurred in France or Flanders. None of the offenses had taken place in 1917. Military justice on the Western Front tended towards the expeditious. The mean time between the time these 10 offences were committed and execution was 43 days: the minimum being 12 days and the maximum 276 days. The first sentence was carried out on one Wang En Yung on 26th June 1918 and the last on Hei Chi Ming and K'ung Ching Hsing, both of whom were executed on 21st February 1920. All are buried in marked war graves in established Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemeteries in France and Belgium: Les Baraques Military Cemetery, Rouen, France (5); St. Sever Military Cemetery, Calais, France (3); Poperinghe Old Military Cemetery, Belgium (1) and St. Etienne au Mont Community Cemetery, Boulogne, France (1).

I already knew, following a visit to the Ayette Indian and Chinese Military Cemetery in France, which is located on the D919 (Arras - Puisieux) road, that Chinese had been employed by the British Army in Chinese Labour Corps since early 1917.

Genesis of Chinese and other labour corps
On the 30th December 1916 an agreement was signed between the British and the Chinese Governments for the employment of Chinese men for a labour force on the Western Front. From 1917 onwards, large numbers of Chinese (altogether 100,000) were recruited by the British in Shantung Province, China, as volunteers under military discipline. Recruitment in Shantung Province, largely from the town of Weihaiwei, was facilitated by the enrolment of British missionaries, traders and their families as interpreters. The close personal contact these expatriates had with the local Chinese community also proved to be extremely useful in getting the required number of recruits to come forward. The first batch of volunteers left by sea for Le Havre, France, in January 1917 - amid fierce protestations by the Germans from their embassy in Peking - and arrived in April 1917. The initial British Chinese Labour Force encampment on the Western Front was at Noyelles-sur-Mer, on the Somme estuary. It was located on the D40 road about 12km from Abbeville. By the end of 1917 there were 54,000 Chinese in the British Labour Force on the Western Front.

Chinese coolies, and other colonial labourers, were also widely used by the Allies elsewhere. Ten thousand Chinese were employed by the Russians in the construction of a railway linking Murmansk to Petrograd, and 2,000 Chinese and Africans were employed in military installations at Folkestone, in Southern England.

The French military authorities allowed private contractors to hire Chinese and Ammanese (Vietnamese) but the French employment conditions were less regulated and the numbers are less reliable. However, it is known that 15,000 were recruited in 1916 for a Chinese Auxillary Labour Force and were employed in the construction of road works in Northern France.

Conditions of work and pay
Conditions of work for the Chinese Labour Corps on the Western Front was rather onerous even for the time, with contracts stipulating a seven-day working week of 10-hour days. Daily rates of pay for the coolies ranged from 1 to 3 French Francs, with 5 French Francs for supervisors and interpreters. To deter fraud, fingerprints of the entire British Chinese Labour Force were registered by Scotland Yard. Lloyd George, in his memoirs, made particular note of the imperturbability of the Chinese coolies under the harsh and dangerous conditions of war at the Front.

Apart from a few demonstrations demanding better working conditions and food - a notable example being the one at Etaples in 1917 - which were ruthlessly suppressed by British troops, there was generally little in the way violent protest or strikes. From the start there was a mutual understanding that the celebration of certain essential Chinese customs, such as Chinese festivals and the ceremonial disposal of the dead, would be allowed. On the other hand, there was a strict policy of maintaining the segregation of the Labour Force from the military canteens and the civil population, particularly white women. Accordingly, other than when working, the labourers were rigorously contained within their camps.

In all, thirty-two camps were established on the Western Front for the British Chinese Labour Corps. The Corps was headed by Lieutenant-Colonel Faixfax who had been brought back from retirement in 1916 for this specific task. Within these camps efforts were made by the administration to maintain and support Chinese cultural practices. Seven camps, which were located in the Pas de Calais and Somme Departments, were in continuous use for the remaining duration of the war. Special hospitals were established near these camps to serve the British Chinese Labour Corps. The British Chinese Labour Force also participated in the clear-up and recovery operations after the Armistice and sustained many further casualties from unexploded munitions and the like. Almost 80,000 of them were still at work on the former Western Front in May 1919.

Casualties
British Chinese Labour Force deaths totaled 1,612 (i.e. nearly 2%) and these were routinely interred alongside Allied soldiers in 20 military cemeteries across France and Flanders. Two cemeteries were specially designated as having Chinese graves and/or memorials. One, already mentioned, was the Ayette Cemetery that contains the remains of 10 Indian Army soldiers, 42 Indian Labour Corps labourers, 1 German POW, and 27 British and 7 French Labour Corps coolies. The second, located at Nolette on the road to Fliheaucourt has 842 Great War war graves and the Noyelle-sur-Mer Chinese Memorial, commemorating 41 men of the Chinese Labour Force who died on land or sea and who have no known grave*. The Ayette Cemetery is unique in the Western Front Military Cemeteries as it does not have the usual Cross of Sacrifice; a pagoda of eastern design dominates the entrance. A similar oriental-type building in the form of a portico was erected at the Noyelles-sur-Mer cemetery at Nolette. The Noyelle-sur-Mer cemetery was designed by the renowned architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. The second largest British Military Cemetery in Flanders, at Lijssennhoek, contains Chinese Labour Force graves with inscriptions in Chinese. Other similarly inscribed head-stones, usually in both Chinese and English, are found elsewhere on the Western Front and, and in accordance with the practice for Commonwealth Graves, bear one of four standardised Chinese dedications chosen by their relatives and carved by a selected group of their colleagues.

Conclusions
Despite the large numbers of Chinese coolies employed by the British on the Western Front, and elsewhere from April 1917 onwards, there were no capital courts martial of Chinese coolies in 1917 and, thus, no executions in that year. In 1918 seven Chinese coolies were given courts martial sentences for which the death penalty was confirmed and six were executed by shooting. (As related earlier, one of the condemned committed suicide whilst awaiting execution). Two more Chinese coolies/labourers were executed by shooting in each of 1919** and 1920.

Nevertheless, there is no apparent explanation for the sudden increase of capital crimes in 1918. Perhaps, even the stoic but socially isolated Chinese workers eventually succumbed to traumatic stress disorders brought on by the war and turned to violence, rape and murder in despair and loneliness.


* Neither Rose Coombs nor The Holts make mention of this cemetery, and the Chinese Memorial, in their well known books on the Western Front. Indeed, in Coombs' book, a legend box blots out the whole area of the map where the cemetery is located.

** The execution post on display at Poperinghe Town Hall is said to be that used on 8th May 1919 for Wang Ch'un Ch'ih of the 107th Chinese Labour Corps. He is buried at Poperinghe Old Military Cemetery.

Dr. David Payne





Edited by - Another on 26 Jan 2005 19:35:57

Edited by - Another on 26 Jan 2005 19:36:57


" I'm a self made man who worships his creator" Go to Top of Page
Stevie
Mad Woman of Thornton


834 Posts
Posted - 27/01/2005 : 00:07

So many lives lost, all were someones father/son/brother or husband ... so very very tragic!

Since this site started, one of the things I find so worrying is just how little I know about so many subjects and what a small and sheltered bubble I seem to live in!

Thankyou Colin for taking the time to raise our awareness.Go to Top of Page
Stanley
Local Historian & Old Fart


36804 Posts
Posted - 27/01/2005 : 07:48
Thanks for that Colin. I shall make sure leslie knows you have posted, I am sure he will be interested. Stevie, don't worry about feeling ignorant of so many historical matters. A very eminent historian once told me that the way you know you are reasonably intelligent and curious is when you realise how little you know. Join the club!


Stanley Challenger Graham




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Cathy
Senior Member


4249 Posts
Posted - 27/01/2005 : 08:42
Lest We Forget.......Go to Top of Page
Another
Traycle Mine Overseer


6250 Posts
Posted - 14/02/2010 : 13:57
Brought this one back as its related to another topic currently attracting attention. Nolic


" I'm a self made man who worships his creator" Go to Top of Page
Stanley
Local Historian & Old Fart


36804 Posts
Posted - 14/02/2010 : 17:02
I mailed Leslie but I know he has things on his mind at the moment.


Stanley Challenger Graham




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stanley at barnoldswick.freeserve.co.uk Go to Top of Page
Another
Traycle Mine Overseer


6250 Posts
Posted - 17/09/2010 : 15:51
Brought up for a new member researching the Chinese labour corps. Nolic


" I'm a self made man who worships his creator" Go to Top of Page
Stanley
Local Historian & Old Fart


36804 Posts
Posted - 18/09/2010 : 05:10
Good, if he wants to correspond with Leslie I'll put him in touch.


Stanley Challenger Graham




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Gwailo
New Member


1 Posts
Posted - 10/06/2011 : 14:21
I am English, an Ex Soldier so with an interest in Military history. My wife is Chinese Malaysian. Many of our friends are British Chinese.

A couple of weeks ago the wife and I went off to Northern France for a long weekend. We picked up a book about the Chinse Labour Corps from the museum in Ypres and ending up spending most of the weekend exploring various cemeteries where these chaps are buried.

We have both been searching online and found this information which may be of interest to others. http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-people/miltary-justice/874-forgotten-hands.html

It refers particularly to the 10 Executed Chinese as:

  • 26/06/18. Coolie # 10299. Wang, E.J.
  • 26/06/18. Coolie # 10272. Yang, C.H.
  • 23/07/18. Coolie # 53497. Cheng, S.K.
  • 09/o8/18. Coolie # 46090. Chao, H.I.
  • 12/09/18. Coolie # 42476. Hui, I.H.
  • 15/02/19. Coolie # 5884. Wan, F.Y.
  • 08/05/20. Coolie # 44785. Wang, C.C.
  • 14/02/20. Coolie # 16174. Chang,J.C.
  • 21/02/20. Coolie # 97170. Hei, C.M.
  • 27/02/20. Coolie # 44340. K'ung. C.H.
This is a topic we are determined to find out more about and to make sure that our British Chinese friends know about too.


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Travis
Regular Member


91 Posts
Posted - 10/06/2011 : 21:08
Hello Gwalio,  if you've been to Ypres then perhaps you should be know as Gwalia? 

The subject of SADs has been a well covered subject on WW1 forums over the past few years,  whatever the Nationality.

I have a problem though, visit a WW1 cemetery on Flanders and you can spot the SADs, their headstones are full of paper poppies/plastc crosses. Alongside them are hundreds, probably thousands who were wounded or died actually facing the enemy. Just normal men from towns like Barlick who did their duty.

We seem to spend too much time looking for the downtrodden from the past, move on...WW1 was nearly a century ago......

Regards, Andy.


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Stanley
Local Historian & Old Fart


36804 Posts
Posted - 11/06/2011 : 06:54
Welcome Gwalio. Just for a laugh look up 'Sons of Gwalia oneguyfrombarlick' on Google. That search term makes it site specific and you may be interested in what I found out. Andy, sorry can't agree with moving on. What happened then is happening now and in the long run the only way we learn is to remember the mistakes of the past. Besides, My grandad is buried out there and his death is as meaningful to me 90 years later as it was to his family then.


Stanley Challenger Graham




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stanley at barnoldswick.freeserve.co.uk Go to Top of Page
Stanley
Local Historian & Old Fart


36804 Posts
Posted - 11/06/2011 : 06:58
Gwalio, I pulled Horace Thornton 14 out of the archive for you. Refers to the Sons of Gwalia.


Stanley Challenger Graham




Barlick View
stanley at barnoldswick.freeserve.co.uk Go to Top of Page
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