Context to the national memorial
The story of the Chinese Labour Corps of the First World War is not a happy one. Recruitment practices by the British in China meant that the true situation to which these volunteers put themselves forward were not made clear. Indeed it is unlikely that any of the men who left China had any real idea of what they were getting themselves into. Prevailing attitudes of the time meant the Chinese were treated extremely poorly. Kept on after the Armistice, they were given some of the most gruesome and dangerous tasks. The incidence of insanity among the Chinese was described as, “inexplicably high”. As locals returned to their homes after the war, the Chinese workers were scapegoated, blamed for anything and everything that went wrong. Such was the public attitude towards them in Belgium that by 1920 the Belgian government ordered that they leave. Indeed, leave was all they had wanted to do since November 1918, but for this they had to wait on the British to provide passage.
At the Paris Peace Conference former German territorial concession in China were handed by Britain, France and the USA to Japan. Dismayed at this betrayal the Chinese were the only ally not to sign the Treaty of Versailles.
Whilst waiting passage home many labourers were killed by the Spanish flu -which the locals accused the Chinese as having brought with them from China. The workers eventual return home was less than glorious, and certainly not a heroes welcome. Forgotten in the UK, and not wanting to remember in China, the contribution of the Chinese Labour Corps to Britain’s war effort was almost forgotten. But with the centenary of the war upon us, it is one story which is increasingly catching the imagination of the British public. Those men deserve better, and our nation’s promise, never to forget, applies to them as to any other.
Design Principles and Location Guidelines
The Strategic Partnership Board of the Ensuring We Remember Campaign wishes to see a world class memorial that is a fitting tribute to the men of the Chinese Labour Corps.
- The footprint of the actual memorial is open to discussion, with the current concept being one of an upright structure requiring a relatively small area.
- The memorial will be designated a ‘national memorial’ and its impact should reflect this.
- The memorial is to all the 96,000 volunteers of the Chinese Labour Corps, not only those who died in service.
- The memorial should be distinct from other memorials.
- The memorial should have an intrinsic aesthetic value in addition to its role as a memorial.
- The memorial should be culturally appropriate to both British and Chinese audiences.
- The site shall preferably be within a wider public space that will allow visitors to stay and reflect without causing obstructions to either pedestrians or traffic.
- The local environment of the location should offer a fitting context to the memorial, and we are particularly keen to avoid the memorial being within the vicinity of betting shops, casinos or other gambling establishments, adult stores or areas with existing problems of anti-social behaviour.
- The location shall ideally be in commercial rather than residential area.
- The location should be easy reached by public transport.
- The site should be in a location in which the local authority is, in principle, not opposed to the erection of a memorial.