A local solicitor, poet and playwright is celebrating after receiving additional Arts Council England funding for his play based on the largely ignored story of the Chinese Labour Corps who served thousands of miles from their homeland in the foreign mud and trenches of the Western Front.
It is estimated that between 1917 - 1920 over 140,000 Chinese young men volunteered to serve Great Britain and her Allies in the First World War. Historians claim that 20,000 of these civilian volunteers died and some even after the First World War had ended.
They died of disease, starvation and unexploded shells as they removed dead bodies, spent ammunition and unexploded bombs.
Two years after the Armistice they were still on the Western front picking up the bullets, filling in the trenches and recovering the bodies of the decaying dead. Ian Henery was commissioned to write a trilogy of plays entitled "Home" from English and Chinese socio-economic perspectives from the present day, the 1950s and beginning with the little-known story of the Chinese Labour Corps.
"The Chinese Labour Corps left their families and travelled half way around the world "explained Ian" "by ship across the Pacific, quarantined in British Columbia and then by cattle truck under armed guard across Canada before being shipped across the Atlantic. Some died on their way to France, simply thrown over the side of the ship to rest in unmarked graves, their families never knowing where their mortal remains were laid".
"Work in progress began with drama students" explained Ian "and we had a standing ovation at the Chinese Community Centre in Birmingham. We also performed developmental work for Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority in front of our Chinese community partners and corporate sponsors. We were very grateful for Andy Street`s support and he has written kind endorsements of what this project is about in the media."
There are over 60,000 war memorials to the First World War in the UK including memorials to animals and Germans but none to the Chinese Labour Corps. They have been whitewashed from history books.
Their contribution is forgotten. The first in the trilogy, "The Chinese Labour Corps", was due to premier in June 2020 at the Birmingham Hippodrome but was cancelled due to COVID-19 and the whole project was put in moth balls. "We had an Arts Council England grant to stage workshop presentations" explained Ian "and we were grateful to the Birmingham Hippodrome for giving us a platform with the Chinese community plus an exhibition. However, we were caught in a global pandemic and everything went into lockdown".
Undeterred, Ian and the theatre company staging the project, Blue Orange Theatre, held two workshop presentations for a specially-invited audience of VIPs, community leaders and corporate sponsors at the Blue Orange Theatre in Birmingham and then streamed those presentations free of charge for a limited period. "We wanted to gauge people`s reactions to where we had got to in relation to the work" explained Ian.
"We had an Arts Council England research and development grant and we wanted feedback. What we received from our audience who attended both performances and who watched online was very positive. We then took all of that on board and applied for further Arts Council England funding." Arts Council England have decided to fund the second stage of the play.
"I have to say," explained Ian "to get that level of funding on a first application is very rare and very impressive. Blue Orange Theatre are currently tied up with theatre festivals but I think we should push the performance to coincide with Chinese New Year in February 2022".
Member since: 4th February 2019
Managing Director of an award winning law firm
Ian Henery Solicitors Ltd
Award winning poet and playwright