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Last Updated: Monday, 11 April, 2005, 13:52 GMT 14:52 UK
Liverpool's lost Chinese sailors
Ship at Liverpool docks (archive picture)
Many ships bound for Asia left from Liverpool docks
A BBC Radio 4 documentary has shed light on the legally questionable ways in which British government officials dealt with Chinese sailors after World War II.

"When I was a baby, he was sent back to Shanghai. I've had to grow up without a father," said Margaret Taylor.

"I try to put it out of my mind because I know I'll never meet him."

The treatment of Chinese sailors in the UK port of Liverpool 60 years ago was one of the most shameful episodes in the history of UK race relations.

Wives were left without husbands, and children without fathers.

Only recently has the truth fully come to light, and only recently have those now grown-up children learned that their fathers did not desert them all those years ago.

Despite their bravery during World War II, these Chinese sailors were summarily kicked out of the UK after the war, and sent back to China.

Seafaring tradition

For 80 years or more, Liverpool was home to large contingents of foreign sailors, ever since the Blue Funnel Line (The Ocean Steamship Company) began plying its trade between Britain and the Far East.

He just went out to the shop, and my mum was waiting for him to come home, and he never came
Linda Davis

The Holt family, who owned the line, began a long tradition of recruiting seafarers in mainland China - especially the below-deck and engine-room crews.

The Holt family took a paternal interest in the well-being of the crews, which was summed up by a Liverpuddlian rhyme: "Paint my tunnels tall and blue, and make sure you look after my Chinese crew."

When World War II began, Liverpool's foreign seafaring population swelled to around 20,000.

The Chinese contingent served on the Atlantic convoys, Britain's merchant fleet, which brought armaments and food from America.

Some died on the high seas, trying to keep Britain's lifeline open.

Many of the survivors, on shore-leave, put down roots in Liverpool, married British women and sired children.

Dock workers in Liverpool (archive picture)
Liverpool was home to large contingents of foreign sailors

But as soon as the war was over, during a series of police swoops on the Liverpool dock area, deportation orders were served on the Chinese sailors.

"He just went out to the shop, and my mum was waiting for him to come home, and he never came," Linda Davis said of her father.

The operations were carried out by the Liverpool Constabulary under the watchful eyes of the Special Branch.

The initiative came from the UK Home Office, as proven by official paperwork that has recently been discovered.

Within 48 hours the Chinese sailors were on their way back to China.

As far as records show, there were no reviews of individual cases, or appeals.

The aftermath of these events left families devastated, and some of the effects are still being felt today.

"I'm close to tears now, just talking," Margaret Taylor said.


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