• October 30, 2021

Chinese merchant seafarers were, the Liverpool Daily Post reported shortly after the end of WW 2, a “gallant body of men whose service to the Allied cause, through the Merchant Service, is greatly appreciated”. This sense of indebtedness and comradeship was sincerely felt by many Britons. Then the Atlee government deported those who had survived!

I was totally unaware of these events which took place less than 100 miles from us three quarters of a century ago I found via Working Class History (WCH).

It tells the story of the deportation of Chinese residents of Liverpool in 1945/46 many of whom had come to the UK to assist in the war and sailed as seafarers on the dangerous Atlantic and Arctic convoy routes risking their lives. The decision was made on this day in 1945

“On this day, 19 October 1945, the UK Labour government decided to deport hundreds of Chinese seamen who were living in Liverpool, 20,000 of whom had been brought to the city to assist the war effort in World War II. The Home Office claimed they were “an undesirable element” in the city. However, in reality the law-abiding behaviour of Chinese migrant workers had received much official praise.

Government records show the real reason was that local “authorities were anxious to secure the use of the housing accommodation which the Chinese occupied”. The government had no legal justification for the deportations, so to expel them authorities varied the sailors’ landing conditions so that they would have to leave by a certain date. Any still in the city beyond that point could then be arrested and sent back to China. Even many men with British wives and British-born children were deported, and they were not informed that they had the legal right to stay. Some of their wives were then stripped of their citizenship and forced to leave as well. For others, and unmarried couples, the men were forced to leave their partners and children in Britain, never to see them again.” (WCH)

“During the war, as many as 20,000 Chinese seamen worked in the shipping industry out of Liverpool. They kept the British merchant navy afloat, and thus kept the people of Britain fuelled and fed while the Nazis attempted to choke off the country’s supply lines. The seamen were a vital part of the allied war effort, some of the “heroes of the fourth service” in the words of one book title about the merchant navy. Working below deck in the engine rooms, they died in their thousands on the perilous Atlantic run under heavy attack from German U-boats. (The Guardian)

A day of great shame for the United Kingdom and those who facilitated it and said nothing when it happened.

Acknowledgement: Working Class History and The Guardian Pictured: Chinese seafarers in Liverpool 1942. Many of these men died in the Battle of the Atlantic; those who survived were deported by the Labour government of Clement Atlee.

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Bernard Moffatt

AGS Celtic League (19th October 2021)

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