We owe so very much to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (Commission) in relation to commemorating the fallen men of the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC), as a community, as a society and as a nation. For almost one hundred years the Commission carried the torch that ensured that the light that illuminated the CLC’s contribution was never completely extinguished. One could say that the fact the CLC were almost completely expunged from history is mostly down to the Commission, for without it we might have a history in which those men were completely forgotten. Two thousand or so headstones and markers across the world silently defy those who would rather they had been forgotten.
We have said before, it is truly ironic that the CLC, who were so instrumental in creating the iconic places of remembrance we now know as Commonwealth War Cemeteries were themselves forgotten. But it is also poetic that he Commissions later charged to manage and maintain those same cemeteries was the one body that kept faith with those men and their comrades who returned to China, many physically or mentally broken. It is the Commission that most consistently treated these men as equals.
The Ensuring We Remember campaign is, in essence, a campaign for the equal treatment of the men of the CLC, and to know that there is one organisation tried its best to treat them as equals means more to us who are passionate about their cause than we can find words to express. It is purely the Commission’s treatment of the fallen Chinese volunteers of the Great War that allows us the comfort of knowing that the dehumanising treatment they often suffered at the hands of the establishment in life was largely dismantled in death.
Whilst we could lament the fact that the Commission stands alone, we would rather appreciate that there were at least there. The Chinese are hardly alone in having been poorly treated during the Great War, it is not possible to now look back and understand the mindset that treated men and women in a way that seems to us so appallingly, from the Tommy to the Commonwealth soldier, attitudes were very different then.
Members of the Chinese community, whether having arrived in the UK from overseas, or having been born here, should take heart that in the Commission our country never totally lost sight of the humanity of the Chinese labourers.