Original Chinese-Language Article by: 犀利呱 (Xi Ligu)
(Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)
Translator’s Note: It is my understanding that the British government deported around 20,000 Chinese men from the Liverpool (and other areas) in 1919 – directly after WWI. These men had bravely fought on the frontline in the Labour Battalions which were unarmed but had to do all the manual work in all areas of the battlefield. A racist backlash led by the British right-wing press (the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and The Times), etc, demanded that this was a ‘White’ victory and that the UK should be purged of its non-White citizens. This pattern was repeated in 1946 under the British Labour Government – but the expulsion of the Chinese in 1919 and 1946 is directly traceable to the racist attitudes of Winston Churchill. He pulled the strings behind the scenes and the governments of the day acted. Although this article focuses on Liverpool in 1946 – the Chinese men of China Town in the Docklands suffered a similar fate of mass roundups and deportations – this process effectively ended the Chinese presence in East London. Would not be until the influx of Hong Kong Chinese in the 1950s that Gerard Street would become the home of the new China Town. ACW (25.7.2021)
There are always some people worthy of our memory, even if they have been long gone; there are always some betrayals that need to be remembered, because that is part of history.
This year (2021) marks the 75th anniversary of the secret round-up and expulsion of heroic Chinese sailors who helped Britain defeat Nazi Germany during World War II.
Kim Johnson, a Member of Parliament for the famous British port city of Liverpool, asked British Prime Minister – Boris Johnson – to apologize to those Chinese heroes for the insult committed against them 75 years ago, but to no avail (during early March of this year).
Recently, Liverpool MP Kim Johnson once again made the same request to the British Parliament asking the British government to formally apologize to the Chinese heroes.
During the Second World War, more than 20,000 Chinese sailors participated in the bloody battle between Britain and Nazi Germany, and countless Chinese sailors died in the war.
However, the Chinese sailors, who were respected as heroes by the British government during the war, were betrayed just a few months after the victory in over Nazi Germany.
In October 1945, the United Kingdom formulated a top-secret plan to secretly round up, forcibly deport and ship more than 2,000 Chinese seafarers (who participated in the war) to their places of origin. All at once and through this callous action, more than 2,000 Chinese seafarers who had achieved great feats during World War II – were scattered to the wind!
This period of history was listed as the “Top Secret” by the British government, and it has been sealed for more than half a century.
Now, when these “Top Secret” files have been declassified, this period of collective (historical) betrayal by the British government has finally been exposed to the scrutiny of the world in the most unbearable way! However, the British government is still looking for excuses to refuse to apologize.
If it had not been for this declassified document (from the London Historical Archives), perhaps kind people all over the world could not be able to believe that this terrible history is ‘true’ and really happened to the Chinese people!
The timescale goes back to May 8th, 1945, when Nazi Germany signed a letter of unconditional surrender, Britain and even Europe finally ushered in a period of long-lost peace.
However, no one in the world would have imagined that just five months later, a large group of Chinese seafarers (who spilt their blood and gave their lives for Britain during World War II) will soon usher in the darkest moment in their lives!
On October 19th, 1945, in Whitehall, England, an extremely evil and dirty secret meeting was held.
A total of 13 British dignitaries attended this meeting. The meeting was presided over by Courtney Denis Carew Robinson, a senior official of the British Ministry of the Interior. Participants in the meeting included the heads of a series of government departments such as the Liverpool Police, the British Immigration Inspection Service, the British War and Transport Department, and the British Foreign Office.
The level of evil and sordidness of this secret meeting was vividly demonstrated from the so-called “discipline principle” announced before the meeting:
1. All discussions and final results of the meeting shall not be disclosed to any part of the public.
2. All discussions and final results of the meeting shall not be disclosed to any media.
3. All discussions and final results of the meeting shall not be disclosed to Parliament, government and other departments, including but not limited to the British House of Lords and the British House of Commons.
The evil “achievement” of this meeting was originally marked with the code name “HO/213/926 Top Secret Minutes” because the secret level was too high. The official name of the top-secret document was not known until more than half a century after being excavated and exposed by descendants of the survivors:
“Compulsory repatriation of undesirable Chinese seamen”.
What is staggering is the use of the following phraseology:
The “harmful Chinese seafarers” referred to in this British top-secret document were precisely the 2,000 Chinese seamen survivors who defended the British maritime lifeline during World War II. Just one year ago, in 1944, these Chinese seamen were also filmed as a propaganda film by the British government, and they were called the “Heroes of the fourth service” in England.
Looking back at this declassified past, this is a history in which the seeds of tragedy may have been planted a hundred years before-hand.
In 1866, the famous British port city of Liverpool established a huge shipping group called Alfred Holt & Company. The core business of this company was the import of silk, tea and porcelain from China at that time, which were popular products in Europe and the world at that time. As a result, the company employs a large number of seafarers from all over China, and most of these seafarers began to marry and settle down in the UK through their dealings with the British company.
With the well-known hard work and endurance of Chinese seafarers, they have won praise from Liverpool and the entire British maritime industry. Many British captains believe that Chinese seafarers “do their best” and are the best workers. After nearly a hundred years of multiplication and development, by the time of World War II, as many as 15% of the seafarers in the British merchant fleet were Chinese. Although the Chinese seamen in the UK are of good character, their political status has always been at the bottom in the chain of British oppression of the working-class.
For nearly a hundred years, the UK has been full of inexplicable discrimination against these Chinese seafarers living in the UK. This is evident from the British government’s classification of these Chinese seamen into the “Aliens” category. This word does have the meaning of “foreigner”, but it also has the meaning of “incompatible”, “unwanted”, “alien creature” and so on. Therefore, Chinese seafarers at that time must carry their own identity documents at all times and must register and report to the local government of the United Kingdom on a regular basis. Such a judicial status determines that even after hundreds of years of struggle, Chinese seafarers in the UK at that time still cannot have a minimum British citizenship. Such normalised discrimination paved the way for Britain’s betrayal many years later.
Despite the racism and corruption of the British government, the righteousness of the cause of the Chinese sailors cannot be ignored wiped-out so quickly. On September 1st, 1939, Nazi Germany blitzed Poland. Two days later, on September 3rd, Britain and France declared war on Germany on the same day. That is, at 9 o’clock on the night when Britain declared war on Germany, the German U-30 submarine sank the British cruise ship “Athena”.
Everything is full of symbolism:
The sunken British cruise ship “Athena” departed from Liverpool, England, to Montreal, Canada. At the same time, the sinking of the cruise ship also opened the prelude to the cruellest submarine battle in the history of World War II. As early as after the blitz on Poland, when Britain and France had not actually engaged in war with Germany, the German navy had already sunk 11 British ships, most of which were British civilian ships such as the “Bosnia” and the “Imperial Temple”.
As Nazi Germany rushed through Europe, the United Kingdom began a national mobilization.
At that time, Britain’s only combat power that could form a deterrent against Germany came from the navy. Therefore, all the seamen of all merchant ships in the United Kingdom had been included in the naval reserve – and needed to deal with increasingly heavier war missions.
But for an island country, an unprecedented scale of war means an unprecedented scale of logistical supplies. The lack of seafarers in wartime was undoubtedly revealed before the outbreak of the war. At that time, there were indeed many seafarers from other countries in the UK, but Chinese seafarers were the only ones who had no real legal status, but more importantly, Chinese seafarers were skilled, non-drinking and trouble-free, and easy to manage, so they were the best seafarers in the UK during the war. Up to more than 20,000 Chinese seafarers were thus incorporated into the British war machine against Germany and became the humblest screw in this grand war.
In the Second World War, the German submarine warfare hit Britain, almost completely destroying this once wide empire. In 1939, just two months after Britain declared war on Germany, Germany had sunk 288,600 tons of British ships. By 1940, when Germany began its full attack on Britain, Germany had sunk British merchant ships, with a tonnage reaching 2.43 million tons. By 1941, Germany had sunk a British merchant shipping with a tonnage of 2.83 million tons; in 1942, Germany had sunk a British merchant shipping with a tonnage of 3.5 million tons… Because the German navy was far inferior to the British navy, Germany began the wolf pack tactics of submarine warfare which targeted British merchant ships. This is why British merchant took the brunt of the German attacks. As Chinese sailors served on these ships – an unknown number of Chinese servicemen gave their lives fighting for the UK! The risk of death and injury was much higher for the Chinese sailors every time they boarded the British ships! The only reason Britain could receive any supplies at all from abroad was because of the bravery and sacrifice of these Chinese sailors! As the UK is a small island – its safety and well-being is entirely dependent upon shipping and the regular replacing of supplies by the merchant fleet. In order to defend this British lifeline, Chinese seafarers devoted all their courage, sweat and even their lives.
During the war, a British merchant ship staffed by Chinese seaman Poon Lim (潘林 – Pan Lin) was sunk by the German navy in the South Atlantic. This tough and brave Chinese seaman lay on a small raft, drifted at sea for 133 days and survived. In 1944, even the war propaganda department of the British government shot a British propaganda film entitled “The Chinese in Wartime Britain” in order to boost morale. The film said in sensational words:
——”Chinese seamen fought side by side with British seamen as comrades and participated in the greatest battle in naval history.”
“Liverpool Daily Mail” published a report that year containing similar praise:
——The Chinese are “a group of brave people”.
In a book published by the United Kingdom that summarizes the importance of British merchant shipping to Britain’s victory in World War II, it is very straightforward reality to evaluate: Although the British made a series of compliments in order to inspire Chinese seafarers during the most critical period of World War II, these Chinese seafarers experienced another kind of “London gentleman’s demeanour” in their usual dangerous and heavy work, which was extremely unfair. Because the British government had never considered giving Chinese seafarers a formal identity even when the British Isles were most in danger, the Chinese seafarers who dedicated their lives to defend the British lifeline discovered that: Those who go to sea with their heads held high all the time – earn less than 50% of their British colleagues’ wages, and none of the Chinese seafarers receive the “war hazard allowance” issued by the British government. However, these Chinese seamen often do the dirtiest, most tiring, and most dangerous work in the Atlantic Ocean, which is full of artillery fire.
The huge war pressure and humiliating work even made these Chinese seamen go on a strike in 1942! Not only that, but the Chinese seafarers who suffered from discrimination, even if they were sunk by the German navy and died in the war, their pensions and compensation were completely incomparable with ordinary seafarers – with many receiving nothing! How many Chinese sailors died in this anti-fascist war? This is a much-disputed area of research, but there are indications that can be used.
On October 19th, 1945, after the evil and dirty “13-person secret meeting”, the top-secret document entitled “Forced Repatriation of Harmful Chinese Seamen”, which was formed by it, was secretly distributed to the British Foreign Office at the time. The accompanying guidance read
Do not divulge any content to any media or the public.
However, in view of the huge sacrifice of the British Merchant Marines in defending the British lifeline, and the outstanding courage and reputation of Chinese seafarers in the British Merchant Marines, the execution of this top-secret order encountered some resistance at the operational level.
According to the current British laws and war regulations:
‘Although these 2,000 Chinese seamen are not soldiers, they are under the management of the Royal Navy. Unless these Chinese seamen are expelled from the merchant fleet or the British navy for crimes, the civil department cannot legally expel these Chinese seamen.’
As a result, the British police department launched a “secret screening” – that is, proactively searching for various so-called “criminal evidence” of these more than 2,000 Chinese seafarers on a large scale.
But after a time-consuming “secret screening”, the British police department reluctantly discovered that even if they were “screened” according to “unnecessary” means, only 18 of the more than 2,000 people met the requirements of British law and the conditions for deportation. However, the “secret meeting of 13 people” was obviously a national decision. Whether or not the 2,000 Chinese seafarers who survived the naval battle were found guilty, they would face a tragic fate.
The first step of the relevant departments of the British government is:
Forcibly depriving all Chinese seafarers of their normal and legal work, that is, “ensure that these Chinese end their employment relationship with the British Merchant Marines and the British Navy.”
Deprivation of work with the British merchant fleet and navy was not a big deal for the Chinese seafarers at the time. The industrious and skilled Chinese seafarers could also seek jobs such as fishing at sea. However, the strategy of relevant British departments is to prohibit any British enterprises, institutions and individuals from hiring these Chinese seafarers on the grounds that the identities of these Chinese seafarers are unknown. After cutting off the livelihoods of more than 2,000 Chinese seafarers, the British Home Office immediately took the second step:
Secretly round up Chinese seamen.
Led and planned by the British Ministry of the Interior, the British Immigration Inspection Department, the local police department in Liverpool, and the British shipping company carried out the specific implementation of the secret round up of more than 2,000 Chinese seamen.
One of the immigration officials involved in the secret round up faithfully records in a declassified document in 1946:
“It took two full days to conduct intensive searches and arrests of approximately 150 swimming pool boarding apartments, private boarding apartments and private houses…”
Even worse is:
‘When rounding up these Chinese seamen, the British government did not disclose any information to their family and friends in order to keep them secret. The wives and children of many Chinese seafarers do not know whether their relatives are alive or dead or where they have gone on the day they die.’
In this way, a large number of Chinese seamen disappeared forever in Liverpool, England, and their wives and children have to bear the ridicule of being “abandoned” by their husbands and fathers, and the pressure of unsustainable lives. Because some local British women married Chinese seafarers, they were also classified as “foreigners” by the British government and were unable to receive state aid. These women were even discriminated against by their families because they had married Chinese seafarers. Many women had to send their children for adoption, and some even tried to commit suicide. In the end, a large number of Chinese seafarers’ wives had to remarry others, and the children of these Chinese seafarers were sent to orphanages or adopted by others in large numbers, causing a series of human tragedies.
The daughter of a Chinese seafarer is now in her early years. She sadly said that she had never seen her father since she was a child. She could only see her father’s name on her birth certificate, which made her extremely sad and angry. She said:
“The lies of the British government made my mother never know that her father was arrested, but just thought she was abandoned.”
After this appalling large-scale secret round up, the British government also seized all the documents of all Chinese seafarers in order to completely obliterate these people. After that, they were stuffed into ocean-going cargo ships like cattle, and deported back to their places of origin. British Bill Anderson was a merchant mariner, and his father-in-law – Lin Sheng (林胜) – was the cook on board. Bill Anderson has repeatedly listened to his father-in-law telling the terrifying and tragic story of these Chinese seamen more than half a century ago:
“They were taken from the street, from their homes, and then taken to the pier. They were locked into the cargo hold like livestock, not even the ordinary cabins.”
“Even animals shouldn’t be treated like this. For many years, this story has been unknown, and now it can finally be told.”
From the decrypted British Home Office documents, it shows:
As of March 23rd, 1946, 800 Chinese crew members had been repatriated, and 231 of them were even searched and arrested by the government. By July 11th, 1946, the number of Chinese seafarers deported had risen to 1,362. However, in the face of these historical truths unearthed by the descendants of Chinese seamen, the British elite and even the British government are still looking for excuses.
Some British elites defend their country. Their reasons are:
At that time, Britain was in the post-war recovery phase. Hundreds of thousands of people died, millions were homeless, unemployment and inflation rates soared… The British Parliament was eager to make room for soldiers returning from the battlefield…
“Free up the house”- this became a shady excuse that Britain sought to evade responsibility.
“Countless families suffer from this in their lives. Many people don’t know the truth about their loved ones until they die. Their offspring are still looking for answers, looking for lost loved ones.”-Liverpool MP Kim Johnson when he proposed a formal apology to Parliament. However, even if there was an “apology” for this tragedy, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson only gave a cold-blooded response:
—— “Of course, our entire country is very grateful for the outstanding contributions made by the Chinese community. Kim Johnson’s message is very clear, and we have heard it.”
Only silence from the British government.
This year is the 75th anniversary of the expulsion of the more than 2,000 heroic Chinese crew from the UK.
I hope that the children and family members of Chinese seafarers who are very old can get the complete truth that they should have received long ago.
I hope that those Chinese seafarers who are in all probability dead – their memory can benefit from a late apology from the British government.
History is not a burden; history is also a source of power.
Only by facing up to history can we truly face the future.
I hope that the distant British government and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson can read this article from China.