New Zealand's Chinese Anzacs - A buried history

From Voices, 12:30 pm on 25 April 2016

By Lynda Chanwai-Earle

It has taken almost 100 years but the contribution of the 55 New Zealand-born Chinese enlisted with the NZ Expeditionary Force 1914 to 1919 is now being acknowledged.

Their stories have finally been recognised in by London-based author Alistair Kennedy's (MBE) Chinese ANZACS publication with assistance from the Auckland War Memorial Museum and Dunedin-based Historian Dr James Ng.

And the official public launch of the book, with Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae and Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon, took place at the Dominion Museum, Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in Wellington and followed by book launches at 14 of the NZ Chinese Association’s branches across the country.

About 100 dignitaries were also gathered at the museum for the launch.

This highly prestigious event recognised a long overdue and overlooked story in our history and acknowledged the pride the Chinese community have in their Anzacs' contribution.

Around 30 soldiers' stories were honoured in the 2nd edition of Kennedy's Chinese ANZACS, with assistance from the Auckland War Memorial Museum and Dunedin-based Historian Dr James Ng.

There was a solemn hush as the Honour Roll Call was read by Richard Leung and Meng Foon - who is also and National President of the New Zealand Chinese Association.

There were several Chinese families across New Zealand who had members serving with the Anzacs; including the Mongs, Lo Keong and Alloo’s, the Sew Hoys from Dunedin and Appo Hocton’s family from Nelson.

James George Paterson, who was of Chinese descent, served in the NZ Expeditionary Forces (NZEF) enlisted at the very start of the war in 1914 and joined the Auckland Infantry Battalion.  

Chinese Anzacs

Photo: RNZ/ Lynda Chanwai-Earle

He sailed for Europe on 16 October 1914 and was one of the first NZEF men to land on Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. He was also one of the first New Zealanders to die there and his name appears on the Lone Pine Memorial in the Lone Pine Cemetary.

Eng King How Chow of Gisborne was a New Zealand-born Chinese in the NZ Expeditionary Forces. Decorated for bravery he enlisted in January 1917 with the 4th Battalion, 3rd NZ Rifle Brigade and was mentioned for distinguished and gallant services and devotion to duty from 1918 to 1919.

Governor General Sir Jerry Mataparae said the experience of Chinese Anzacs was similar to Māori.

"It's really interesting that we're learning our heritage, in this case our Chinese heritage. One of the first to be killed in Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 was a Chinese New Zealander, how powerful is that?"

RSA National Senior Vice President Bob Hill said it was special because the memory of the Chinese who volunteered did this in spite of the anti-Chinese sentiment at the time.

Marie McCleod who played the bugle at this event said she had no knowledge of Chinese Anzacs until this commemoration.

Vice President of the New Zealand Chinese Association Richard Leung noted that his children were Anzac descendants and that the book would be part of their legacy.

Although none of these Anzacs are alive today, many descendants are proud to see their stories finally recognised.

While walking around the tomb of the Unknown Soldier Meng Foon reflects on the poignancy of the occasion.

"We’re standing right underneath the monument of Pukeahu, the monument to the unknown soldier, now that we know Chinese Anzacs served at Gallipoli, Somme, Pashendale ... I couldn't help thinking what were their families thinking when their sons left? It's great to be laying a wreath for those brave souls."

Chinese Anzacs 'overlooked'

Chinese Anzacs

Photo: RNZ/ Lynda Chanwai-Earle

Alistair Kennedy is a retired British Army officer who qualified as an interpreter in Mandarin at the University of Hong Kong; his subsequent career covered many of the Chinese speaking parts of South East Asia. Alastair is now an Australian citizen based in Canberra.

Widely writing on the Military History Society of Australia he published the first edition of Chinese ANZACS – identifying and describing the service of Chinese-Australians in the armed services of the Australian colonies and the Australian Imperial Force.

Kennedy said he quickly realised that the experience of the NZ-born men of Chinese descent who enlisted in the NZ Expeditionary Forces had been overlooked.

Currently in London researching his new book about the British Chinese during the war, Alastair said the 2nd edition of Chinese ANZACS, honouring the contribution of the NZ Chinese men serving in the Great War, came about with support and collaborative research with the NZ Chinese Association, New Zealand's Chinese community, historians such as Dr James Ng, academics like Dr Manying Ip and the National Archives.

Chinese ANZACS is available at all libraries and major booksellers across the country and online.

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