Lesson video

In progress...


Hi, and welcome to the fourth of six lessons looking at what kind of stories of the 'often forgotten armies' reveal about the Western Front.

Hopefully as you know by now I'm Miss Cusworth, and today we are going to be having a look at the Chinese Labour Corps.

So we've seen this quite a few times, you've been working really well in the last couple of lessons, thinking about what these stories can reveal, can sort of show us about the Western Front.

And today we're going to be looking at a group of men who are among some of the most forgotten people who's kind of worked and served on the Western Front.

And their stories, I think can reveal a couple of interesting things to us about the Western Front and about the First World War more generally.

So as you'll remember, we have been kind of going relatively chronologically through the war beginning and the rest to the sea and Ganga Singh story in the First Battle of Ypres And then looking at the Second Battle of Ypres and the experience of the Algerian soldiers and the gas attack.

And now we're in 1916 on our lesson today, and I'll look at this story of Chinese Labour Corps spans from really sort of 1916 and 1917.

That's going to be our focus.

But we'll also talk about their experiences a little bit after the war ended.

And as you'll know, the war ended in November, 1918.

So the situation in Autumn 1916, let's sort of begin there.

The battle of Verdun, which is down here, which was symbolically really important to the French.

It was like an armoured city by armoured I mean more like walls, like it was like a protected city and the Germans had attacked it.

And partly knowing that the French would work really really really hard to defend it.

And that battle because of the kind of extreme nature of the attritional warfare, like its been often described as like the meat grinder.

Which gives you a sense of how awful the battle was, the kind of loss of life, the difficulty of fighting there.

The battle of the Somme which is, kind of took place up around here by the Somme river, was drawing to a close.

And The Battle of the Somme was seen as maybe the most important battle of the First World War for the British.

It was, lots of people have often described it as like catastrophic at the beginning in terms of the kind of battle didn't go very well militarily.

A huge number of soldiers lost their lives or were injured on the British side on that first day.

Things were really tough on the Western Front, for all sides and almost 2 million men had been wounded or killed.

So this war that initially people thought was going to be over by Christmas was really taking its toll on European powers, but also their armies from around the world.

Both sides were really seriously weakened by the time you get into Autumn, 1916, both the Germans and their allies so the French, the British and their allies.

Now this is sort of by the Chinese Labour Corps come in and Olusoga who wrote the book, The World's War we've been looking at said of all the peoples who ventured to the Western Front, the Chinese are among the most forgotten.

At the moment the gunfire stopped, their part in the story of the war, was airbrushed out, he says, and their presence in Belgium and France, which continued on into 1919 and 1920 on the orders of the military authorities, it was almost instantly resented like people in the local area didn't want those people, those labourers from China their anymore.

And for me, their story also links, it wasn't unique just to China, There were men who were brought from different parts of the world who laboured alongside European men on the Western Front.

And so along with Chinese labourers, there're also a relatively big group of South African labourers and they're called the South African Native Labour Corps.

And so why they ended up on the Western Front was that the British kind of Imperial war cabinet, they wanted to use black labour from South Africa and from other colonies because of the shortage at the front.

Now maybe just have a pause, we'll have a pause point here.

Why this point in the war 1916, might there be a shortage of people, men labourers on the Western Front? Why might that be a shortage? Can you pause and think about that question for me? Okay.

So maybe you've said because of how badly certain battles were going for, for the British or for the allies, and maybe thinking about the, just the sheer number of men who'd been lost in the war.

There was a shortage of labour at the front.

So the South African government agreed, but they agreed only on the condition if black men had no combat role.

they weren't fighting, they weren't armed and they be kept separate from white people.

So the British government agreed to this, and these men said, as an example of some men in the South African Labour Corps, they came to the Western Front.

They didn't fight as soldiers, they worked, they supported other troops.

On the story of the Chinese Labour Corps has often kind of been forgotten.

And that's what we're going to be looking at today, focusing on the Chinese Labour Corps.

So they worked in a variety of different places.

They had a base in a place called Erin, and they really were to across the Western Front where they were needed, where there was work to be done.

And we see an image here of Chinese Labour Corps members, and British soldiers working together.

Maybe take a look and think about what they're doing, think about why they would be chopping down trees, what they might be using trees for.

And so, as we've been doing the last few lessons, I would like you to make a copy of this table, that's where you're going to keep your notes, when I read you the story, that's what you're going to come back to at the end of the lesson.

So if you haven't got a piece of paper or your exercise book or something to write with right now, go and grab it, pause the video, create this table, and then when you're ready to move on, unpause the video, we'll carry on with the lesson.

Okay, so what I'm thinking that table is done, let's have a think we've gone through this a little bit before, but these aren't things necessarily to write down, these are things to watch out for.

So you're watching out for where are their machine guns, where are their shells, where their tanks? Was there gas, right? So watch out for that as I, or listen out for that, as I go through the story.

In terms of military strategy, do you see trench warfare? barbed wire? No Mans land? Treatment of troops, maybe you're thinking, okay, well, I know that these troops where there as labourers, rather than soldiers, maybe you're thinking about how were they treated? how were they maybe treated differently to soldiers perhaps? And then thinking about the psychological effects of the war.

Do we see examples of what was known then as shell shock? So I'm going to read through the story.

You might want to be taking notes on your table as we go through, we'll have a chance to pause at the end as well.

And again, thank you to Ms. Worth, who has written this and has kindly agreed to that use.

So the story of the Chinese Labour Corp.

Oh before I begin, sorry, there is also the text is on the Oak website.

So if you want to read it along with the text, you can go and pause video, grab that text now, and then come back or else you can just listen to me.

The story of the Chinese Labour Corp.

Chinese government was excited by Britain's declaration of war.

They were desperate to modernise the nation.

In 1914, the Republic of China was only three years old, it had been established after the overthrow of the Chinese royal family.

China was semi-colonized, this meant that China had been forced by Europe and America to sign trade deals that were very unfair to China.

The trade deals made European countries rich at China's expense.

I'm just going to pause a second and just say, we can kind of see that in this cartoon here, you can see the Queen Victoria, the Kaiser, and then you can see this kind of really unpleasant image, which is supposed to be representing China.

And you can see that sort of carving up China among themselves.

And that's supposed to represent the sort of semi-colonization of China for different European and Japanese kind of powers carving up China for their own gain.

By playing some role in the war, the leaders of China hoped Europe would start to see China as a strong nation, a nation where there is fair treatment.

So the Chinese offered soldiers to fight for the British and French.

The offer was rejected, the British didn't need them.

They preferred soldiers from the more modern Japan.

China's government tried again in 1915, this time they offered Chinese labourers, or workers rather than soldiers, the French excepted, but the British was still uninterested.

Then The Battle of the Somme started in 1916.

The huge scale of the losses at the Somme shook British confidence.

In July 1916, Britain finally accepted China's offer.

The British recruited men from the North of China.

These men were told to strip naked and were examined for 21 medical conditions.

If they qualified, they were covered in disinfectant and their head were shaved.

The first group of the Chinese Labour Corps arrived in France in April, 1917, the Chinese became specialists in digging trenches, and were soon regarded as being very quick and very capable, other labourers became involved in the following, artillery maintenance, maintaining railway lines, repairing motorbikes and tank maintenance.

After each battle, the tanks were cleaned, stripped and repaired at tank hospital in a place called Erin.

Many Chinese labourers worked here.

In the frantic buildup to the battle of Cambrai in November, 1917, the Chinese Labour Corp worked nonstop.

A total of 476 machines were prepared for the battle.

The Chinese mechanics built 110 tank road sledgers, which were use to carry equipment into battle.

Great efforts were made to keep the Chinese segregated so separate.

The Chinese were often housed in separate huts, away from the British.

Even Chinese hospitals were sealed off.

The Chinese still needed to go into shops however, and sometimes this caused problems with the local people, racial prejudices, national rivalries, and personal differences with the other troops from other nations for example, combined with alcohol and shell shock created violence behind the front lines.

There are graves on Northern France of men killed in bar room fights.

In total around 140,000 Chinese labourers worked behind the lines in Northern France between 1916 and 1920.

These graves here aren't necessarily of men who died in bar room fights, even though they were behind the lines, so they weren't on the frontline fighting.

There were still times when they were affected by the conflict, when there were things like face of artillery that were unexploded, that they were digging or they hit and then like mines for example, they were killed.

So it wasn't a job that was without risk and many men from China lost their lives and are remembered in the cemeteries.

So now that have read the story for you, what I would love you to do is to pause the video and to start thinking about what could we fill in.

So maybe if I give you a bit of a clue for the first box.

Think about what technology did the Chinese work really hard to kind of prepare and get ready, why did they become real specialists in getting ready and maintaining.

So pause the video, see what you can fill out, and then when you're ready, unpause and I'll go through some of my thoughts with you.


Sorry a little technical difficulty there.

Welcome back.

Weapons and technology we talked or we saw in the story, I mentioned about railways, about artillery, which is like what you shoot out of a gun, motorbikes, they maintain motorbikes, they maintain tanks, and the tanks were increasingly essential.

As the war went on, tanks first started to be used, and then by 1917, they were used in the first kind of mass attack of tanks in The Battle of Cambrai.

And then increasingly they became really important and essential to warfare on the front line.

For military strategy, you might have noted that it changed after The Battle of the Somme.

You might have written down a reason for that, there were so many men killed and injured in The Battle of the Somme.

The British then started to become a bit more favourable, to the offer of the Chinese government.

You might also talk about how there was an element of segregation in the military strategy that you had some people who were seen as soldiers and fighters.

And then there were some people who were seen as labourers, and weren't seen as being maybe capable of being soldiers, and maybe this potentially links them with this idea of racism that like the Chinese were unwanted at first, that they weren't seen as able to be soldiers, they weren't seen as capable, and you saw that as well, examples of racism in the South African Labour Corps and how their government said, we will give you black workers or black men, but only if they are workers and and are segregated, rather than soldiers serving side by side with other troops.

They were covered in disinfectant that maybe reveals something about how they were treated or like attitudes towards them.

And then they were segregated, they were kept separate, there were big efforts to keep them separate.

In terms of the psychological effects of war, violence, we see examples of violence of bar room fights of graves, and it's talking the story about the kind of dangerous mix of alcohol and shell shock as it was then called, or maybe now we might call it trauma.

And those things kind of together mixed with prejudice often, or sometimes ended in violence.

So we're going to do a bit of a mix and match, so here there's a part of the story, here there's maybe what it could reveal, and you've got two options here, either you can draw this out, if you would like into your exercise book or your piece of paper, or you could just pause the video and match it, point on the screen to where you think it goes.

Either way, I'm going to say, to pause the video now to do your matching, and then unpause when you're ready and we'll go through the answers.


So I heard Britain said no to Chinese soldiers, it might be an example, it could reveal to us potentially a kind of racist attitude or a kind of prejudice against a certain group of people.

Bar room fights, I said could also link into sort of racism and racial prejudice of two sides, or like two different groups not getting on.

And the reason why they didn't get on a pop, the reason why they didn't get on might have been to do with prejudice.

Ball room fights, wars had a psychological impact on people, and they created trauma and then Chinese specialised in tank repair.

I put that one as the importance of technology on the Western Front, that it reveals that technology was changing and was important.

So we come to our questions and question number one is, which country were the labourers we studied today from? What country? At first, the British turned down the offer of workers.

What happened that changed their mind? What sort of work did the Chinese Labour Corps do? What battle did they really help prepare for and how? And then number five, how were the Chinese Labour Corps treated? Give maybe some examples that, you might want to also say potentially what you think that could reveal.

So as usual I'll pause the video here, and then when you have written down your answers, do your best to put them in full sentences, then we can continue on and I will give you some suggested answers.

So pause the video here.


So which country were they from? They're from China, it would be a good answer, if you put that into a full sentence.

At first, they turned down the offer of workers, why did they change their mind? It was really about The Battle of the Somme, but it'd be better if you had explained that the British suffered really huge losses at The Battle of the Somme.

And that was a big reason why they changed their mind and accepted China's offer of labourers.

What sort of work did they do they? They dug trenches, they repaired things, or you could be a bit more specific and you could say, they were really well known for digging trenches and the quality of them.

They also did artillery maintenance, maintaining railway lines, repairing motorbikes, looking after and maintaining tanks, getting them ready.

They really helped at The Battle of Cambrai because they got the tanks ready.

So give yourself a tick, if you put anything like that, or you could have been a little bit more detailed, maybe taking your answers or getting some more detail, from the reading sheet about just how many machines they got ready, any details like that, give yourself a nice big tick.

And lastly, how were they treated? Give yourself tick if you put something around, like they were treated badly and kept separate, a better answer maybe would have a little bit more nuance to it potentially would say that they were recognised as being really great workers, but they also have experienced prejudice and racism.

That their efforts were made to keep them separate.

They were housed away from the British and we saw that there was violence towards them maybe to deal with racial prejudice, and the pressure of war.

Give yourself a tick if you put some of those details in.

So today's extension activity is maybe a little bit different.

let me move my head a little bit.

It's a mix, ah, no, it's not a mix and much sorry.

It is a kind of fill in the gaps, so you have the answers or the kind of words here, and if you want to go through and even you might just want to do this in your head, or you can write it down on your piece of paper and take the words and fill them, in the right space.

I'd recommend that you do that, I feel like everybody should have a go at that.

Even if you don't do the extension activity, make sure that you do the end of lesson quiz, so you can check your understanding from this lesson.

Thank you so much for joining me, I look forward to seeing you next time, when we're going to look at the story of a really interesting, fascinating soldier.

So I hope to see then.

All right, see you later.