A nonpartisan campaign to seek apology for the forced repatriation of Chinese Sailors after Second World War

DN
29 Dec 2022
David Nam

Many thousand Chinese men served in the Chinese Labour Corps in France during the First World War and on the British Merchant ships that supplied Britain in both World Wars. They were renowned to be knowledgeable in their duties, hardworking but were paid less than their British counterparts. Many of them died alongside their British colleagues on land and at sea. At the end of the Second World War over 2000 Chinese seamen who had helped in the war effort lived in Merseyside.

The then Labour Government were concerned that they would stay permanently, also the Seamen's Union were worried that they would undercut their wages and take their jobs. In 1946 the Liverpool Constabulary carried out the orders from the British Government to deport Chinese sailors in Merseyside. They rounded up the Chinese seamen from lodging houses and from the streets under false pretences and forcibly deported them illegally to China. The men were told that they would not be able to return to the UK.

They had lived in Liverpool, married local women, had children but never saw their families again. With the civil war raging in China at this time communication with UK was almost impossible. Many women thought they had been deserted. Children never saw their fathers again. Many married women were made destitute as being married to a foreigner at this time they lost all their British rights for help.

The British Government did not acknowledge the forced illegal repatriation of the seamen for decades. It wasn't until 50 years later that it was revealed by declassified records that more than 1,300 Chinese sailors were put on specially assigned ships and sent to China without notice.

In 2006, a bilingual plaque erected in the Liverpool Dock to commemorate the contribution of the Chinese seamen and the effect of the repatriation had on their families.

Plaque in Liverpool to Chinese sailors WW2

The English translation reads:

TO THE CHINESE MERCHANT SEAMEN
WHO SERVED THIS COUNTRY WELL
DURING BOTH WORLD WARS

FOR THOSE WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES
FOR THIS COUNTRY - THANK YOU

TO THE MANY CHINESE MERCHANT SEAMEN
WHO AFTER BOTH WORLD WARS
WERE REQUIRED TO LEAVE

FOR THEIR WIVES AND PARTNERS
WHO WERE LEFT IN IGNORANCE
OF WHAT HAPPENED TO THEIR MEN

FOR THE CHILDREN
WHO NEVER KNEW THEIR FATHERS

THIS IS A SMALL REMINDER OF WHAT
TOOK PLACE. WE HOPE NOTHING LIKE THIS
WILL EVER HAPPEN AGAIN

FOR YOUR MEMORY
23RD JANUARY 2006

In 2018, an Exhibition at the Williamson Art Gallery in Birkenhead in collaboration with the "Dragons of the Pool" (a community campaign group comprising of the descendants of the repatriated seamen) was organised by the Edge Hill University highlighting the forced repatriation with photographs and stories from some of the descendants of this immoral forced repatriation.

In 2022, the Home Office released an internal report acknowledging the coercion and racial element to the repatriation programme. Whilst this is progress it is far short of an apology by the Government.

I believe as Chinese Liberal Democrats and our Parliamentary team we should work with the other Parliamentary parties to seek a full apology for this tragic misplaced event.

Labour MP's Kim Johnson MP for Liverpool Riverside and Sarah Mei LI Owen MP for Luton North have already been involved in seeking this. We should also seek the help of Alan Mak, a Conservative MP of Chinese heritage, and our counterparts in the other parties, namely East & S E Asians for Labour (formerly Chinese for Labour) and the Conservative Friends of the Chinese.

A non partisan all Party approach to the Government for an apology will be more likely to be successful.

See also: The secret deportations: how Britain betrayed the Chinese men who served the country in the war.

* David Nam is a former Liberal Councillor in Wales (1976-1987) and current executive member of the Chinese Liberal Democrats.