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East London memorial to honor China's World War I contribution

By Bo Leung in London | | Updated: 2017-12-08 01:19
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An artist's impression of the planned monument to the Chinese Labor Corps in East London. [Photo provided to]

The 96,000 Chinese men who volunteered to serve alongside British forces during World War I will be remembered with a permanent memorial in London.

The Chinese Labour Corps comprised around 140,000 men who were recruited in 1916 by the British and French militaries. Around 44,000 of them served alongside French forces.

The volunteers provided support to frontline soldiers at a time when casualties meant there was a desperate need for manpower.

As many as 20,000 members of the CLC are believed to have died during the war years, but their sacrifice was barely recognized at the end of the war and there is still no monument to them among Britain's war memorials.

The Ensuring We Remember Campaign was set up to rectify the situation and announced on Thursday that a memorial honoring the Chinese Labour Corps will be built in East London, at the new ABP business park at the Royal Albert Docks.

Steve Lau, chairman of Ensuring We Remember, said: "I'm pleased and relieved that this is happening. We have been looking for a site for so long and we came to doubt we would ever find it … At last, we can say we will remember them."

The monument, or huabiao, will be a 9.6-meter-high marble column that will stand at the entrance to the business park. It will be unveiled on Sept 6 next year – the sixth day of the ninth month which represents the 96,000 volunteers.

The column will face toward Jinan, the capital of Shandong province in Eastern China, which was where most of the laborers came from.
The monument will cost 400,000 pounds ($536,000) and fundraising is underway. So far, the campaign has secured some 230,000 pounds.

"The huabiao is something quite special," Lau said. "You don't just look at it and think it's beautiful or it looks nice; to Chinese people it has so much more meaning. When we build it here, it's almost a sign of friendship and welcoming."

The Chinese Labour Corps kept troops supplied with munitions, water and fuel and also built and maintained roads and railway lines,in addition to repairing tanks and digging trenches.

When the war ended, the Chinese workers helped rebuild war-torn Europe before returning to China. They have since been largely neglected by the history books.

Nick Bourne, the parliamentary undersecretary of state for communities, said, against the backdrop of escalating casualties and the fear the allies could lose the war, "the Chinese came to Britain's assistance in her hour of greatest need".

"I am delighted that the campaign for the long overdue memorial to the brave men who served in Chinese Labour Corps has had such a tremendous impact," he said. "They formed the largest contingent of workers recruited for the war effort, but too little is known of the dangerous-yet-essential work they carried out on the Western Front, so it's right that we remember and honor their contribution."


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