Feature: Photo exhibition in London commemorates WWI Chinese Labour Corps

by Liang Xizhi

LONDON, Nov. 7 (Xinhua) -- A photo exhibition is being held this week in London's China Exchange, commemorating the 140,000 Chinese workers serving on the European battlefield during the First World War.

One hundred years ago, up to 100,000 Chinese workers joined the British ranks in the First World War to provide logistical support. Sent on a gruelling three-month journey to Europe, the bewildered workers were assigned to work digging trenches, building docks, laying tracks, unloading ships and repairing tanks.

But their story has been all but wiped from memories of the war. In this centenary year of the war, more and more people in Britain and the European continent are campaigning for their legacy to be remembered.

Ma Hui, an official with the Chinese Embassy in the UK, said after viewing the exhibition that the Chinese workers were a part of the history of World War I and they had made an indelible contribution to the early end of this devastating war in human history.

"Chinese workers in World War I was part of Chinese-British relations. After the war, their story has been forgotten for decades. In recent years, the contribution of Chinese workers in World War I has begun to be recognized and valued by mainstream British society and people from all over the world. Looking back at this history will help us cherish the peace in today's world," he said.

Cheng Ling, an exhibition guest and granddaughter of a Chinese worker from Shandong Province, shared the painful experiences of finding her grandfather's grave in France 90 years after his death.

"My grandfather Bi Cuide passed away and I only learned it later. I didn't know it after I discovered my his medal. I started searching through the number on this medal and I did not find where he was buried," she said.

Cheng later searched on the Internet and found out the medal was issued by British King George V. She then turned to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and was told that her grandfather was dead in France. In 2008 she went to her grandfather's grave for the first time.

"Eleven people from my village went to the war field, 10 returned except my grandfather. My grandfather was killed by a bomb. This medal was brought back by them," she said, stressing that it is important to remember the history and sacrifices of Chinese workers during the WWI.

Some of the photos shown on the exhibition were provided by John De Lucy. His grandfather, Lieutenant William James Hawkings, was a British officer in the First World War and was in charge of a Chinese labor force.

De Lucy happened to discover a collection of glass slides images which documents the untold lives of Chinese workers who moved over 5,000 miles away from their hometown during the First World War, where they had to dig trenches, unload freight and take munitions to the front.

"It was only three years ago when I found the box of his glass slides and you see me there holding one of them from the same day that I heard the night TV program about six graves of Chinese workers. That was the day I opened my cupboard in the dining room, saying I must sort out these photographs of the Chinese Labour Corps," De Lucy said.

De Lucy also expressed his admiration for the hardworking Chinese labour during the exhibition, saying that he is honored for having the chance to present these photographs and publish them to let more people know the history.

"There's been many comments about what a good contribution they made to the First World War. So I'm very pleased to be able to show the photographs to help people remember what a good contribution they made," he said.

"They were so forgotten about, that by publishing the photographs in a book I'm hopeful that people will begin to realize. And this exhibition here (shows) what a good contribution they made to the First World War."

[ Editor: WPY ]
 

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