Exactly 100 years ago today, the first contingent of just over 1000 Chinese labourers arrived in France.
Recruited to free front-line troops for fighting, in all around 140,000 men served, helping with a variety of tasks behind-the-lines. Although they were all non-combatants, around 2,000 members of the Chinese Labour Corps died during WW1, many from disease (including the notorious ‘flu pandemic of 1918).
The largest number of graves is at Noyelles-sur-Mer on the Somme. The cemetery contains 842 gravestones, all engraved with epitaphs in Chinese characters. Two stone lions – a gift from China – used to mark the entrance and now stand in the nearby village.
Here are some photos taken last year on my visit to the Somme:
The work of the Chinese Labour Corps – as well as the work of the men who stayed in France and Flanders after the war, finding and burying bodies, filling in trenches, is the subject of my book The Glorious Dead. Please do take a look, spread the work, pledge if you can: https://unbound.com/books/the-glorious-dead