Thursday, 19 February 2015

Mary Riter Hamilton and the Chinese Labour Corps in WW1

As today (19th February 2015) is Chinese New Year, I would like to remember the members of The Chinese Labour Corps who worked on the Western Front during and after the First World War. Many of the workers died and are buried in France. 

In May 1919, Mary Riter Hamilton, a Canadian artist, was commissioned by the Canadian War Amputees Association to go and paint what she saw of the desolation left by the conflict. Mary lived for three years in a tin hut among the Chinese workers who cleared away the mess. Can you imagine what it must have been like to live there back then? The water table had become contaminated early on in the war and food was scarce. As local people began to return to the area, they shared their food with Mary but it obviously was not like the food you can get if you visit the area now! 

Nothing daunted, Mary painted on, in spite of being attacked by some of the members of the gangs of bounty hunters, etc that roamed the area in the immediate aftermath of the war. Her health suffered and she lost the sight of one eye.   Some of Mary's amazing paintings went on display in London and Paris.
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When she returned to Canada, Mary donated her 300+ paintings to the National Archives and never painted again. Photo: one of Mary Riter Hamilton's paintings on the Western Front. 

You can see more of Mary's WW1 work on and find out more about the Canadian War Amps
Photos:  One of Mary's paintings and her exhibition panel on display at Fleetwood Library, Lancashire, UK in November 2014.

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