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University of Wolverhampton historian to feature in Channel 4 ‘Forgotten Army’ documentary


A University of Wolverhampton historian will feature in a Channel 4 documentary discussing the forgotten history of the Chinese Labour Corps in the First World War.  

For the first time on television, Channel 4 will reveal the untold story of the army of 140,000 workers who travelled from China to Europe in 1917 to form the backbone of the Allied war effort. They risked their lives building vital roads and trench systems, repairing railways, maintaining tanks and even dismantling unexploded bombs. Yet their pioneering contribution was painted out of history.

Dr Spencer Jones, Senior Lecturer in Armed Forces and War Studies at the University of Wolverhampton, was contacted by programme makers for his expertise.

He said: “"The Chinese Labour Corps have been described as 'the forgotten of the forgotten'.  Until now their contribution has been all but written out of history.  The focus has traditionally been on the efforts of soldiers at the front and workers at home.  In that process, the unglamorous, essential, yet back-breaking work carried out by the Chinese has been ignored.  Yet these men, all of whom were volunteers, carried out essential war work and made a significant contribution to Allied victory.

"After the War, they remained at the front carrying out battlefield clearance and removing unexploded ordnance.  This was dangerous work that cost several workers their lives.  After that, they were returned to China and a curtain was drawn over their efforts.  The British establishment seemed to want to forget the role that they had played.  It is only a century later that their story is being explored in detail for the first time."

The documentary, Britain’s Forgotten Army, will be broadcast on Sunday (Nov 12) and examines a treasure trove of recently discovered unpublished letters, diaries and documents which reveal how and why these unsung heroes were recruited by Britain and France.

It follows the campaign, championed by many including the late Sir David Tang, Joanna Lumley, and the Ensuring We Remember campaign, to get the first ever public memorial erected to commemorate the Chinese Labour Corps in Britain, 100 years after they first arrived in Europe to serve in the First World War.

There are over 60,000 memorials in the UK commemorating the First World War – including memorials to animals and Germans - but there are none for the Chinese Labour Corps.

Jazz Gowans, CEO, Transparent Television says: “They worked 10-18 hour days, seven days a week, with only three days holiday a year, and yet their contribution was repeatedly erased from history. This story needs to be told and their contribution recognised.”

Britain’s Forgotten Army airs on Channel 4 on Sunday 12 November at 7pm.

The film has been commissioned by Rob Coldstream from Transparent Television and Argonon International are the international distributors for the programme. The director is Simon Chu and the executive producer is Jazz Gowans.

Further information

Pictures courtesy of Channel 4. 

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