Speech by David Wood
Son of Sergeant Frederick Wood

Lord Mayor, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Ni hao - I hope that is nearly 'hello' in Mandarin.

My name is David Wood.  I am here with my sons, Richard and Nicholas. My father, Frederick John Wood, was a member of the Chinese Labour Corps.

He was born in January 1899 and volunteered for the British Army in 1916. We were not a military family, although his grandfather had fought at the Siege of Sevastopol in the Crimean War.  He also had an uncle who returned from South Africa to fight in Europe; he won the Military Medal but was killed in 1917.

When I was a teenager in the 1950s, I asked my father which regiment he had been in. After a slight pause he said 'The Chinese Labour Corps'. I had never heard of it and thought that it was the sort of answer a soldier would give when he didn't want to talk about what he had seen and done in that appalling war.

After training, he was declared suitable for clerical duties and in 1917 joined the Corps. He remained with it until he left the Army in 1920. I am afraid we know nothing of what he did in the Corps, except from what we learn from the reference given to him when he left for civilian life by his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel E C Fry.  It said that his conduct was exemplary, that he had been specially selected to be Depot Headquarters Clerk and Typist, that he had carried out his duties in a very efficient manner and that he was clean, smart, steady and very reliable.
'Efficient, clean, smart, steady, very reliable.'  Nobody has ever said that about me!
After the War he joined the British Civil Service, where he remained, working at relatively low levels, for the rest of his working life.

During the Second World War, he worked in central London and, in the evenings, he was a volunteer Air Raid Warden in East London - both areas of some danger.

After the War, he devoted hundreds of hours helping people damaged by the war to claim pensions, grants and other benefits and trying to trace relatives of families torn apart by the war in Europe. He was a member of the British Red Cross, but I have here a certificate given to him by the Royal British Legion in 'sincere appreciation' of his assistance to ex-servicemen and their dependents. And I have another, more splendid, certificate appointing him to be a Serving Brother of the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem.

He died in 1981.  He was a gentleman in every sense of the word.

Lord Mayor, ladies and gentlemen, it has been a privilege to be a part of this ceremony and to publicly record the life of a member of the Chinese Labour Corps.

David Wood, 5 November 2018
Efford Cemetery, Plymouth.