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Launch [virtual] of 'The Forgotten', Government House

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

One of the very positive outcomes of the commemoration of the Centenary of Anzac was the recognition of the service and sacrifice by individuals and groups who had not been appropriately recognised in the past.

The recognition of the service of Indigenous men and women in our Defence forces was one such group. The book that I am launching today, ‘The Forgotten’, introduces us to another group of Australians who served — the Chinese-Australian Anzacs.

‘The Forgotten’ tells us of the story of several Chinese-Australians who served, many of whom were recognised for their valour.

What is also perhaps unknown is that many Chinese-Australians who served had faced racism, segregation and contempt in a very white Australia, yet they had presented themselves at the recruiting tables.

Approximately 250 Chinese-Australians served, of whom 46 were killed. As important as their story is, ‘The Forgotten’ is much more than this.

The book positions the story of the Chinese-Australian Anzacs on a broader canvas. It follows the arrival of the Chinese in Australia in the early 1800s and explains the contribution they have made to Australia’s development.

But, again, ‘The Forgotten’ delivers more, because it introduces us to another forgotten group in World War 1 — the Chinese Labour Corps that supported the massive logistics effort that sustained the Allies in the field.

Although estimates vary, it can be assumed that approximately 150,000 to 200,000 Chinese labourers assisted the French and British forces on the Western Front. Their presence freed up valuable manpower across the Allied countries, manpower that could be put in uniform.

The Chinese labourers were employed by the Allies to man ordnance depots and to conduct rail, road, power and telegraph systems maintenance, and vehicle maintenance. In many areas they were also used to dig trench systems.

The work was conducted behind the front line but not necessarily out of danger. Many Chinese lives were lost to artillery attacks. The Chinese also shared the deprivations of life in the field and, again, suffered casualties alongside the troops they were supporting.

Those serving for the British ceased their service in Europe in 1920 while those with the French in 1922. The story of their achievements, their treatment and their contribution deserves to be told and that is why this is an important book.

Stories of the achievements of individuals strengthen books that reach across great global events such as World War 1.

‘The Forgotten’ introduces us to:

  • 18-year-old Royden Tong, a postal worker from Ballarat, who had a letter from his father giving him permission to enlist
  • Billy Sing, the famous sniper on Gallipoli who, upon return to Australia, lived a lonely, itinerant life of hard work and low pay
  • Caleb Shang, who was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Bar and Military Medal
  • Leslie Langtip, who fought with the Light Horse at Beersheba. There is an amusing retelling of Leslie’s encounter with T E Lawrence.

This book informs us of the contribution of the Chinese-Australian Anzacs in two battles, Fromelles and Pozieres, which have shaped our understanding of the Anzacs service on the Western Front.

All up, ‘The Forgotten’ tells a proud story. We are indebted to Dr Will Davies and Albert Wong for their persistence in pursuing the research, writing and publication of this book. As Albert states in his Preface, he went from ignorance about the Chinese Labour Corps to being possessed.

Will and Albert have produced an important addition to the Australian military history collection and, perhaps as a first, a book printed in two languages in the same book.

‘The Forgotten’ informs us about our past, but there are aspects of that past that are very relevant today. Read the book to discover that world events and issues can be quite circular in nature.

I thank Wilkinson Publishing for producing such a fine book and for ensuring that today’s launch by virtual means occurred.

I congratulate all involved in this book, and I am proud to launch ‘The Forgotten’.