Forgotten Chinese workers honoured

="forgotten chinese workers honoured"

Capt(N) Steve Waddell addresses the assembly of Chinese Canadian veterans at the William Head staff veterans’ cemetery.

Last week, Capt(N) Steve Waddell, CFB Esquimalt’s Base Commander, joined members of the Chinese Canadian Military Museum Society and William Head personnel for a dedication ceremony and  plaque unveiling at the William Head Institution.

The plaque was dedicated to First World War Chinese Labour Corps personnel who died and were buried at William Head, which at that time was an immigration entry point.

During the First World War, with thousands of casualties suffered by the Allies, 140,000 Chinese were brought to Canada and organized into Chinese Labour Corps to support the war effort.

Over 80,000 Chinese Labour Corps members were transported from China to William Head, then dispersed across Canada for training, and then shipped from Halifax to La Harve, France, to join the war effort.

“Neatly laid out here before us are 49 gravesites that have a hidden past,” said Capt(N) Waddell to those in attendance.

“These all-but-forgotten graves tell a history unknown to many of us, despite being only a half hour from Victoria.”

Thirty-five graves belong to Chinese labourers who succumbed to illness or mistreatment before being able to make the arduous journey across Canada by train, then embarking on ships to Europe.

The Chinese Labour Corps dug trenches, provided ambulatory services, and fixed equipment.

It’s estimated 20,000 Chinese did not survive the war. On the war’s completion, those that lived were returned to China.

“They endured terrible conditions – building trenches, repairing roads and railways, working in factories, building warehouses, and performing other manual tasks, all for pennies a day. After the war, they stayed in Europe clearing the battlefields of corpses, removing ammunition, unexploded bombs and grenades,” said Capt(N) Waddell.

The William Head Institution, CFB Esquimalt, and the Chinese Canadian Military Museum Society jointly supported this project, and created the plaque for placement at the grave sites to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War.

Many of the veterans of Chinese descent travelled from Vancouver to observe this ceremony.

“Canada, and her allies, owe the members of the Chinese Labour Corps a debt of gratitude for their service in the fight for liberty in Europe,” said Capt(N) Waddell.

Shawn O’Hara
Staff Writer

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