Speech by Cheng Ling
Grandddaughter of Chinese labourer Bi Cuide


A hundred years ago, my grandfather, Bi Cuide, lived with his family in the quiet mountain village of Shangyu Village in Shandong Province. Shortly after my father was born, Grandfather was recruited by the British Army into the Chinese Labour Corps. 11 men were recruited from our village. 10 returned at the end of the war. Those who came back said that their sea journey from Canada took 49 days before they arrived in Europe. My grandfather was killed in France by artillery fire on 27th September 1919 and was buried there. His medal was brought back by the survivors. My Grandmother was an old lady with a fiery temper. She performed traditional rituals to reclaim grandfather’s soul from Europe and a grave was erected in his honour. When she eventually died in 1948, she was buried in the same grave.  


For many years, this medal has been the only object that has kept my Grandfather’s memory alive. Although we knew Grandfather had died in Europe, we knew nothing about how or when or why and we had no way of discovering the facts. When my own father passed away in 1990, the link grew even weaker. But it was this medal that started my search for my Grandfather’s grave .

I learned that medals like this were issued by King George V of Britain to members of the CLC. The number 97237 on the edge was my grandfather’s roll number. So we turned to England to search further. As it happens, my daughter came to study in the UK in 2001 and I told her to look for information about her great-grandfather. She soon wrote back saying that she had found it through the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, who gave her a full list of CLC members killed during World War I. The list gave details of the specific date of death of my Grandfather and his place of burial - a British cemetery called Beaulencourt in northern France. Since then, I have visited my Grandfather’s grave three times and, on each, occasion, I find that the headstone has been updated with more information. Last April, during my last visit to France with the Meridian Society, I discovered his name had been engraved in Chinese. Now at last, he is not just a number, but a name, a person with an identity. For this, I thank the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

During World War I, more than 140,000 Chinese travelled across the oceans to Europe and fought side by side with the Allies under extremely difficult conditions. They made an important contribution with their lives towards ending this great human catastrophe . Through this, they paved a solid foundation for Sino-British and Sino-French friendship. Today, we come to Plymouth to pay homage to these departed souls, to show that they have not been forgotten by their compatriots. Hopefully, they will not be forgotten by the people of Plymouth. Thank you.