Walsall’s Poet Laureate ready to tell tales of region’s Chinese labourers

The newly-appointed poet laureate of a Black Country town has been commissioned to write a play on a Chinese working group.

Walsall’s poet laureate Ian Henery is set to write a trilogy for China West Midlands, telling the story of Chinese people living in Walsall and the surrounding area, ahead of Chinese New Year at the start of February.

Mr Henery was commissioned to do the role as part of his role as poet laureate, a role he was appointed to by Mayor of Walsall, Councillor Rose Burley, during her term in office.

He said the first play would tell the tale of the little-known Chinese Labour Corps, who volunteered to serve the country and its allies during the First World War.

He said: “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.

“They have been whitewashed from history books and their contribution is forgotten.”

He described how these civilian volunteers left their families and travelled half way around the world: 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.

He said: “”Some died on their way to France or simply thrown over the side of the ship to rest in unmarked graves, their families never knowing where their mortal remains were laid.”

Two years after the Armistice, he said they were still on the Western front picking up the bullets, filling in the trenches and recovering the decaying bodies of the dead.

Mr Henery said the play, which is to be premiered at The Blue Orange Theatre for Chinese New Year between February 1 and 2, dealt with the subjects of love and hope, even at a time of war.

He said: “This play deals with notions of time and place, family and sacrifice, identity and home from British and Chinese perspectives.

“On the Western front, a nurse from Birmingham and a Chinese Labourer chose to open their hearts and pay the price for having it smashed to pieces.

“The bill is always worth it, even if it cripples us, even if it scares us, even if it kills us and nobody knows what the future will bring, but we can choose to love.”

To find out more about Ian Henery, go to ianhenerypoet.com

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