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RSS FeedsA British scheme moved tens of thousands of Chinese labourers to war-torn France. They came through Canada on secret trains
(The Star Toronto Raptors)


10 november 2019 15:56:48

A British scheme moved tens of thousands of Chinese labourers to war-torn France. They came through Canada on secret trains
(The Star Toronto Raptors)

His name was Chou Ming Shan and his final resting place will come as a surprise to most.That’s because he was buried in an unmarked grave during the First World War at Camp Petawawa, northwest of Ottawa. A native of northeastern China, Chou Ming Shan was only 25 when he slipped into a coma and died of “chronic malaria” while on a secret train near Chapleau, Ont.His death and what brought him to Canada is part of a much larger wartime story that has been mostly overlooked by Canadian historians. Indeed, avid readers of Canadian military history are usually shocked to learn how this country quietly participated in a massive British scheme to transport tens of thousands of Chinese labourers to war-torn France.Approximately 81,000 members of the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC) passed through Canada on secret trains between early 1917 and the spring of 1918. Roughly 3,500 other members of the CLC, who had also landed on Canada’s West Coast after crossing the perilous North Pacific, boarded a steamship, the Empress of Asia, which, after passing through the Panama Canal, sailed to Liverpool via New York City.From Britain, the men were transported across the Channel to northern France, where they were put to work behind the lines to keep the war machine in motion — digging trenches, stacking ammunition, hauling supplies, repairing military vehicles, and the grisly job of cleaning up the battlefields. The work continued well after the Armistice of Nov. 11, 1918. When it was finally time for the men to go home in 1919 and 1920, more than 40,000 returned via Canada, transported once again on trains from East to West.Chou Ming Shan begun his journey at a dusty recruitment depot in northeastern China, but he became one of nearly 50 men who died during their brief time in Canada.The largest collection of CLC graves in Canada is found in a cemetery at William Head on Vancouver Island. The location, which is now within a federal minimum security prison, ...

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