The CLC camps

Once in Europe the Chinese workers were dispersed to perform different types of work. They did not come to Europe to wage war but to work and be paid wages in return for their labour. A worker was paid only a part of his wages, the balance was remitted directly to his family in China. Chinese workers toiled everywhere: on the railways and wharves; in tank workshops and supply depots; in forests, factories, mines and on the land.

The size of the camps to which the workers were allocated varied considerably. The largest camp was located in Noyelles-sur-Mer, on the estuary of the river Somme. This was the location where Chinese workers gathered before being deployed by the British to other camps in the French or Belgian war zones. The Chinese quickly lost the illusion of liberty that was enshrined in their work contracts. The Noyelles camp was enclosed by robust steel fences, and the camps in which they were subsequently accommodated were surrounded by fencing and barbed wire. The Chinese workers had to erect their own dormitory accommodation, army tents in which batches of fifteen men were frequently crammed together. If enemy bombardment threatened, dugouts were excavated to be used for sleeping accommodation but workers were not permitted to escape, even though their lives may have been at risk due to hostilities.

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  • Postcard from the "Peking Camp" of the 101st company of the Chinese Labour Corps, first quarter of the 20th century, postcard, In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres

    Contrary to what the caption says the camp was not located on Kemmel Hill. The mention “British Annamese » is totally erroneous too: the Annamese were the inhabitants of Annam (Vietnam), part of Indochina at the time and where soldiers and workers were recruited.

  • A group of Chinese workers passing through the ruins at Vlamertinge, October 1918, photo, In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres

    They did not walk when carrying water. They always broke into a sort of wambling jog trot, which I am informed made the burden easier on them. A chink carrying water - and singing as he jogged along always struck me as being a very pleasing picture.” Captain A. Mc Cormick.

  • A company of the Chinese Labour Corps en route to work, Oudezeele, 3 June 1918, photo, coll. BDIC

    The contracts of the Chinese workers under French command stipulated that they were hired for a period of five years on average, while their counterparts under British command were recruited for three years. They were paid to work ten hours a day, were fed and given a place to sleep.

Pekin Camp of the 101st company of the Chinese Labour Corpsa group of Chinese workers passing through the ruins at VlamertingeA company of the Chinese Labour Corps en route to work in Oudezeele