Battleground Clearance

row2

Why did so many of the Chinese Labourers buried at Noyelles die after November 11th 1918? One simple reason was that many of them were given the job of battleground clearance. Such an innocuous sounding task: such a deadly reality.

As soldiers were demobilised, the Chinese Labour Corps (and other labourers) were left behind to return the French countryside to its pristine state. That meant clearing bodies and reburying them in the neat cemeteries with which we are so familiar today. It also meant clearing battlefields of the detritus of war, some of which was still liable to explode when disturbed.

It is perhaps no surprise then that, with the war officially over, labourers continued to die in their hundreds right through to 1920. This Remembrance Sunday, spare a thought and a prayer for these poor men who died thousands of miles from home long after the fighting had stopped.

The Chinese Labour Corps

Sign

The gravestones in my previous post can all found at the remarkable Chinese cemetery at Noyelles-sur-Mer at the mouth of the River Somme. Why here? Because Noyelles was the base of the Chinese Labour Corps during World War I. Here are some more photos of the cemetery and its fine Chinese arch.

arch

Arch2

The South China Morning Post has a fine introduction to the Chinese Labour Corps here. Something like 150,000 labourers left China to work in France, Russia, and elsewhere, digging trenches, working in munitions factories, and repairing tanks among many other tasks. They provided invaluable service to the allied cause. 

However, we need to understand why these labourers were still dying in their hundreds after the Great War came to an end. That will be the topic of my next post.

Armistice Day reconsidered

11th Nov

Spare a thought for this member of the Chinese Labour Corps who died on Armistice Day, November 11th 2018. How unlucky can you get?

Well, quite a lot more unlucky in actual fact. Here’s another grave: this time the date of death was November 12th 2018. 

Nov12And here are a few more from November and December 2018:

Nov

Ok, so they were really unlucky, lingering on for a few months after the fighting stopped. But what about this stone from 1919?

1919

Or this one from 1920?

1920You get the picture. Something’s up. November 11th 1918 wasn’t quite the terminal point that is usually suggested. In a series of blog posts over the next few days and weeks, I’ll be explaining more. There’s an intriguing tale to be told.