Chinese Shot At Dawn (British Army WWI)


‘Also included in the pamphlet was the statement of a former private in the 1st Battalion, the Buffs, who formed part of the firing squad when one of his friends was shot in a double execution:

“We were told that the only humane thing to do was to shoot straight.  The two men were led out blindfolded, tied to the posts driven into the ground, and then we received our orders by sign from our officer, so that the condemned men should not hear us getting ready.  Our officer felt it very much, as he, like me, knew the fellow years before.  The other fellow I never knew but his case was every bit as sad as he was only a boy.”‘

(The Thin Yellow Line: By William Moore, Wordsworth, [1999] – Page 212)

Despite the British Army, comprising as it was of the British working class, was one of the best disciplined military forces in the world, whether territorial or professional, the British High Command under Kitchener, decided that those who dropped their guns (even by accident), who had shell-shock, or who could not run at German machine guns, must be tied to a post and shot at down by their friends.  The above photograph is of one of those brave working class British man, immediately following his ‘execution’.  When his wife went to the post office to pick up his pay – she was told that all pay was now forfeit as her husband had been shot for ‘cowardice’.  How disgusting it was to treat the British workers in this manner, who were dying in their tens of thousands every week in France and Belgium.  At home in the UK, their wives and children were plunged into a ‘disgraced’ poverty that expanded the punishment beyond the WWI battlefield.  Quite often the relatives of such executed men became targets of harassment and abuse as the news spread.  This ‘Death Penalty’ was also inflicted upon Chinese ‘Coolies’ who made-up the ‘Labour Battalion’.  These brave men worked up at the front-line but were not allowed a weapon to defend themselves.

Coolie F Y Wan, Chinese Labour Corps, executed 15/02/1919 for murder, plot S. 1. E. 2.

Coolie C M Hei, Chinese Labour Corps, executed for murder 21/02/1920, plot S. 1. F. 1.

Coolie C H K’hung, Chinese Labour Corps, executed 21/02/1920 for murder, plot S. 1. F. 6.

Coolie C. C. Wang, Chinese Labour Corps, executed for murder, 08/05/1919, Plot 2. O. 54.

These men were arbitrarily tried under British Martial Law with no access to any Chinese language translation, or legal representation.  The British High Command presumably thought it important that the condemned men be shot by their friends – but as the Chinese Labour Battalion was ‘unarmed’ – these men could not be executed straight away, but had to wait for ‘armed’ British soldiers to become available before they could be killed.  in the case of the four above named Chinese men, this took until after the war, in 1919!  This was the year of an immense racial backlash against Chinese people on the British Mainland that saw the government of the day round-up 20,000 Chinese people at bayonet-point (to general applause across the country) and deported on ships to China. I suspect the above named men were the victims of British racism – even at the time of their loyal service to the country.  Although in 2006 the New Labour government announced pardons for 306 British soldiers shot at dawn, this only applied to those killed for cowardice or desertion, but not those found guilty of murder. Research suggests that there were 3077 death sentences passed (3342 including civilians and others) and 343 executions (438 including civilians and others) between 1914-1924 (Gerard Oram). It seems that these Chinese men who bravely served the UK remained ‘tainted’ by what happened to them in another era.

Shot At Dawn: British Army Executions During WWI

WWI Execution Pardons

UPDATE: The political rightwing is comprised of ‘White’ middle class men sat in the leafy suburbs of Kent or Surrey, etc, who due to their privileged status, brain-wash predominantly ‘White’ (and poorly educated) young working class men into carrying-out various hate-crimes and crimes of a sexually perverse or violent nature.  These young men (and sometimes women) are exploited into believing that all the problems they encounter in life are the consequences of immigrants, gays, women  or even the Disabled, and are never taught to look at the middle class and its behaviour.  Part of this rightwing ‘false consciousness’ is the worshipping of war and the eulogising of death and destruction.  It is an eternal truth that the working class fights the wars, whilst the middle class sits-back and watches.  WWI (discussed above) was simply a clash of two European empires – nothing more.  It was a battle to establish which version of White privilege and White supremacy would rule in the world, and to establish this, the middle classes of Britain and Germany sent their respective working class populations to their doom.  This is nothing to be proud of and is a tragedy of epic proportions.  At the below link is an example of the contemporary far-right trying to influence my leftwing critique of bourgeois war – and failing miserably:

Rightwing Bothering – Chinese in WWI!

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