A contemporaneous report on the Chinese Labour Corps




The fine work done behind the lines in France by the Chinese Voluntary Labour Battalion was described by Dr. E. J. Stuckey, O.B.E., of the Union Medical College, Pekin, in an interview yesterday. Dr. Stuckey, who is at present touring New Zealand in connection with the London Missionary Society, in an effort to increase public interest in Chinese affairs, has spent 14 years in China, and was decorated for his war service in connection with the Voluntary Labour Battalion. The hundred thousand Chinamen who formed the battalion, says Dr. Stuckey, were recruited in China by the British Government for service behind the lines, and volunteered for a three years’ engagement. The first party, consisting of some 2000 men, left their native country in January, 1917, bound for France, via the Cape. Similar contingents left at regular periods, and Dr. Stuckey was among the first party which went by the cross-Canada route.

Immediately after arrival in France the men were sent to special camps at various points behind the lines, and set to work, loading and unloading at the docks, forming roads, making charcoal in the Argonne forests, cutting fascines for artillery roads, digging reserve trenches and doing salvage work after an attack.

A special company of Chinese mechanics was sent to the tank headquarters where they were given the repair work. Dr. Stuckey said that these workmen held the record for fast work, and were able to complete repairs in half the time required by European mechanics. The Chinamen had a good reputation as workers, and one authority had estimated that the volunteer workmen released 150,000 British and French recruits for service. As an illustration of the Chinaman’s industry and resource, Dr. Stuckiy recounted an experience he had in the war area. A gang of the men, while digging a reserve trench, came upon a huge boulder. The officer in charge went for tackle to aid the work of lifting the stone out, but when he returned the rock was nowhere to be seen. Questioned as to where it was, the head ganger smiled placidly, and pointed into the trench. The industrious Chinamen had dug a hole beside, the stone at the bottom of the trench, and rolled it in out of the way. In their own special camps, the Chinamen received treatment similar to that accorded the regular British ” Tommy.” The camps were superintended by English officers, many of whom had had previous knowledge of Chinese customs and affairs, and British Army officers and non-commissioned officers “were in command. The only natives in positions of control were the gangers, who supervised the working parties. British army equipment and food, with an increased rice ration, were served out, and each man was paid one franc a day. He also received 10 dollars, Mexican (about £2 at the present rate of exchange), a month as allotment for his next of kin. ” I accompanied the fifth contingent from China as a medical officer,” said Dr. Stuckey, “and 18 out of 20 such officers in the battalion had also seen service in China as medical missionaries. The health of the battalion was generally good, but unfortunately two or three men, infected with trachoma (granulated eves), were allowed to leave China. This” resulted in about 10 to 15 per cent, of the battalion being ultimately affected, and the medical authorities had the greatest trouble in preventing it from spreading to the regular army or to the civilian population in the fighting area. “The Chinese hospital, in which I worked as ophthalmic surgeon for two years, was established at the mouth of the Somme. and it quickly grew in size until at the conclusion of the war it covered 12 acres of ground and carried 1500 beds.”

” When I left in March,” concluded Dr. Stuckey, ” there were still 90.000 men of the battalion engaged in France clearing up and doing general salvage work in the old war area.”

Source: <a href=”http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&amp;d=NZH19190929.2.118″ target=”_blank”>New Zealand Herald, Volume LVI, Issue 17277, 29 September 1919, Page 9</a>

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