An official representative of Queen Elizabeth II paid tribute on Friday to the tens of thousands of Chinese men who played a key, but largely forgotten, role in the First World War.
A national event took place in Liverpool to remember the almost 100,000 members of the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC) who were recruited by the British government during the 1914-1918 conflict.
Mark Blundell, Lord Lieutenant of Merseyside, addressed a large gathering at Liverpool's Anfield cemetery where five members of the CLC are buried. The audience included high-ranking British military officers, civic leaders, representatives from the Chinese Consulate General in Manchester, and members of Chinese organizations in Britain.
"Theirs was a civilian army which deserves as much respect and recognition as our army of soldiers, those men who travelled thousands of miles across continents and under the harshest of conditions to help our troops on the Western Front," he said.
Blundell said the CLC, consisting mostly of men from poor farming communities in China, was recruited to help with manual work during the war.
"What they did was neither easy nor glamorous, yet it was essential. Sadly, their story is little known," he said.
Blundell added: "On behalf of Her Majesty the Queen, I should like to say thank you to the men of the Chinese Labor Corps. We shall remember them."
Brigadier Peter Rafferty, Colonel of the British Army's Duke of Lancaster's Regiment said the CLC men arrived in Liverpool from China, and were dispatched to keep vital supplies moving to the front lines, digging trenches and fences, even retrieving the dead from the battlefields.
They also built roads and railways and worked in munitions factories.
By the end of the war, he said, there were 195 CLC companies carrying out dangerous work.
Rafferty said that the official record showed that of 2,000 CLC members were killed, but the figure could be as high as 20,000.
"The contribution made by the Chinese Labour Corps was barely recognized at the end of the war. There is no tribute to them among Britain's 40,000 war memorials, and most of their records were destroyed during the Blitz of World War II."
"These men deserve better, and our nation's promise never to forget should apply to them as much as any other allied contingent," said Rafferty.
An official representative from the Chinese Consulate General in Manchester praised the way the men of the CLC were saluted for their deeds.
"We are here to represent a new generation of Chinese people, and to remember the men from the CLC who died a hundred years ago. We are now far from war or turmoil and hard times, and we believe we will continue to be a supporter of peace so that the men of the CLC can finally rest in peace," said the representative.
Karen Soo, whose grandfather Soo Yuen Yi served as one of the men in the CLC during the war, was at the event. Soo Yuen Yi survived the war and continued living in Britain, eventually opening a laundry before becoming a businessman.
The event in Liverpool was organized by Peng Wenlan of the Meridian Society to raise awareness in Britain of the CLC's work.
An exhibition of the CLC, featuring photographs from the W.J. Hawkings Collection, is on display in Liverpool until Aug. 18.