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Priest and ordinands lay wreath at Cenotaph for ‘Forgotten Army’ of Chinese labourers

19 November 2021

THOUSANDS of Chinese labourers recruited into the British army in the First World War were remembered at the Cenotaph in London last week.

Three members of The Teahouse — a network of Chinese-heritage clergy in the Church of England — were invited to lay a wreath, alongside Chinese community organisations (News, 5 November).

About 140,000 men were recruited into the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC) after the Battle of the Somme, during which Britain suffered heavy casualties. Members of the Corps were involved in maintaining supply lines to the front, digging trenches, and clearing mines and bodies. Up to 20,000 members of the Corps lost their lives in the war, killed by the poor living conditions in camps or by artillery fire, or in the 1918 flu pandemic. Some died in ships en route to Europe.

Despite the contribution of the CLC to the war effort, there is no memorial to them, and they have been dubbed the “Forgotten Army”. Members of the Corps were given bronze medals for their contribution, but the medals were not engraved with each person’s name.

The Revd Mark Nam, an Assistant Curate of Oldland and Longwell Green, in Bristol diocese, was one of the three C of E clergy invited to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph. Ordained priest this year, he formed The Teahouse to bring together Chinese-heritage clergy to talk about their experiences. He was joined for the wreath-laying by two ordinands, Kenson Li and Joanne McCrone.

Mr Nam said: “To lay a wreath was a wonderful opportunity to rectify this injustice and provide positive representation. This is particularly significant, given the rise in recorded hate crimes against people of East Asian appearance in the UK has increased 300 per cent since the pandemic began. Stories that raise awareness of Chinese contributions to the British war effort make a positive difference, and it’s good to see members of The Teahouse raising awareness.”

The wreath that he laid was provided by the Bitton and Oldfield Branch of the Royal British Legion in Bristol, and had at its centre the logo of the CLC.

Mr Nam said: “I chose a verse from Numbers 10 on the card, because it mentions moon feasts, which would resonate with many Chinese [the Lunar New Year is a significant festival], and also for the words ‘over your . . . fellowship offerings’, because their lives were given in fellowship and solidarity with the UK.”

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