The Chinese Labour Corps: A Somerset Connection

When volunteer Jan Shone brought in her grandfather’s photographs  from the post-war clear up of the railways, one photograph in particular stood out from the rest – an image of Chinese soldiers working alongside European soldiers. 

 Members of the Chinese Labour Corps working on 'A Slight Derailment'                           Courtesy of Jan Shone

Members of the Chinese Labour Corps working on ‘A Slight Derailment’                                                                                                                                                                     Courtesy of Jan Shone

The use of non-European labour in France and Belgium became necessary following heavy losses by the English and French troops due to the Battle of the Somme in summer 1916. A plan to recruit from China was put into place in August 1916 and direct recruitment begun in October 1916 when the War Office sent their representative Thomas J.Bourne to China. He had been the engineer-in-chief of the Beijing-Hankou Railway, working in China for 28 years.

Approximately 100,000 Chinese labourers were employed by the British Forces between 1916 and 1919. They were known as the British Chinese Labour Corps. An additional 40,000 men served with the French army.

Their work included unloading ships, building dugouts, and repairing roads and railways.  Some of this work continued after the Armistice, and this is evident from the photograph.

Whilst the Chinese Labour Corps were not involved in combatant service, it is estimated that 2,000 men died during the war. They are remembered in the French and Belgian war cemeteries and graves can also be found in the United Kingdom.

"Tombes commonwealth ascq 2009 lb" by Luc Beaumadier

“Tombes commonwealth ascq 2009 lb”  by Luc Beaumadier

Further information and Sources:


2 thoughts on “The Chinese Labour Corps: A Somerset Connection

  1. Thanks for your post about the Chinese Labour Corps

    As it happens, there was an article about the Corps in The Guardian one day last week.

    My father, Frederick John Wood, was a soldier in France during the First World War. He was born in 1899 and died in the early 1980s.

    I once asked him what regiment he was in. He replied ‘The Chinese Labour Corps’ As he was English I assumed that it was a joke. When he died and my brother and I went through his papers we found that he had indeed been a sergeant in the Corps.

    The paper that proved this was a reference to get work after the war written by the Major in charge of the Corps. In fact my father became a lifelong civil servant in London.

    David Wood


    Somerset Cricket Museum


    • Thank you David for your interesting response to our post.

      We are pleased to help highlight the role of the Chinese Labour Corps on the blog.
      There is a remembrance project for the CLC on Twitter @WW1CLC

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