Deportation and Repatriation

Chinese seamen in Liverpool in 1942. Photograph: Bert Hardy/Getty Images

The Government acts to expel the Chinese seamen

At a meeting on 19th October 1945 at the Home Office the Government decided to take action to remove the Chinese seamen calling them ‘. an undesirable element in Liverpool….’

This statement by the Home Office directly conflicts with report after report, letter after letter from the Liverpool and Birkenhead Chief Constables. Going back to the early years of the century they repeatedly praise the law-abiding nature of the Chinese.

We have looked through the local Liverpool newspapers covering the dates of World War Two. We can find nothing that supports what the Home Office memo says.

Perhaps more relevant is that the records of the Home Office meeting show that
‘… Liverpool authorities were anxious to secure the use of the housing accommodation which the Chinese occupied’. Understandable in a city that had been heavily damaged during the War but the consequences for our parents were to be disastrous.

Few of the Chinese seamen could be legally deported. They had done nothing to justify such action and the Government acknowledged this. To force them out they decided to vary the men’s landing conditions so that they would be required to leave by a certain specified date. Those who did not leave could then be rounded up by the Police, placed on ships waiting in the harbour and taken away.

Things then moved fairly quickly. A letter from Holt to Butterfield and Swire in Hong Kong dated 29/11/1945 shows that an agreement had been made between the Ministry of War Transport and the Chinese Embassy on repatriation. Under this agreement members of the Chinese seamen’s Pools not needed to man vessels were to be repatriated on basic pay plus £5 per month.

Our fathers – muddle, confusion and forced repatriation

There seems to have been a lot of confusion as to what was to be done with the married men.

We read that deportation orders were not to be made against men with British born wives. However, legal deportation orders could and were only made against around a dozen gangsters.

A note in the Home Office files dated 30th October 1945 states that men with British born wives and families were not to be included in the first list of those to go. Rather they were to be reported on individually, whatever that may mean.

In another memo we learn that they were still to be told that they must leave by a specified date but that their cases would be investigated.

Significantly, they were not to be given any indication that a man married to a British-born woman had a claim to stay in the UK. Our parents were not to be told that our fathers had a right to remain in Britain.

The only concession to be afforded them was that they were not to be made to leave on the first ship due out on the 10th December 1945.

But was action already being taken to remove men from the UK? We have found Crew Agreements now in the National Archives at Kew that show that ships were leaving before this date carrying men being repatriated.

The pressure to force out our fathers was increased. Instructions were issued that married men were to be prevented from taking up shore employment. They were not to be allowed to land for discharge for that purpose.

Nor were the married men able to get sea employment on British ships for discharge in the UK. Holt and the other big shipowners were pressuring those companies that would employ the men on National Maritime Board rates of pay. Holt remained determined to keep its labour costs as low as it could.

The situation began to disturb those who were supposed to act against the men.

J. R. Garstang, the Immigration Officer at Liverpool, protested that men were being forced to sign on ships under a new Chinese Agreement or be paid nothing. Those rates of pay were half what they were during the war. A man married to a British born wife could not hope to support his wife in Britain. The wives were being forced to go to China with their families. Where, as we have already seen, the rates offered would not allow them to live either.

S. E. Dudley of the Home Office objected that this was ‘…enforced repatriation…’ He complained that the Chinese Pool managers were placing off pay all Chinese seamen married to British born women who refused either repatriation or to sign on vessels for discharge in the Far East.

Our fathers and our mothers were being forced out of Britain.

More confusion on numbers and the unmarried

Officialdom did not even know how many Chinese seamen were married to British women. Various figures were quoted. At one point in the Home Office papers the figure was given as 117. At another time the number was said to be 59. And yet another figure of 74 was given.

Of these 74 couples, in 22 cases either the men or/and their wives had said they would go to China. Sadly, we have no information on who these people were and whether they did go to China.

There was also confusion as to what to do with those who had co-habited but married shortly before the men were made to leave. The records mention two or three couples that had been together for a number of years. They had children and had got married before the men were due to leave. These men were withdrawn from the lists of those being made to leave the UK and their cases ‘investigated.’ We have not found any further reference to these people.

But what of those who were not married?

Those British women who married non-British men, or aliens, lost their citizenship. They too became aliens. They lost their rights as British citizens and became subject to the same restrictions as other aliens. In contrast, the foreign wives of British men were not subject to these restrictions.

We have examples of the Aliens Cards that our mothers and our fathers were forced to carry.

Some women, therefore, chose not to marry the fathers of their children. The penalties appeared too great. But, as it turned out, the penalties for not doing so were even greater. Their partners had no legal right to remain in the UK. The varying of their landing conditions was sufficient to force them out of Britain.

More of our fathers were forced to leave with no rights ever to return to their partners and their children.

The men ‘leave’

The Home Office files show that 800 had been repatriated by 23rd March 1946 of which 231 had to be ’rounded up’. By 11th July 1946 a total of 1362 men, including the 800, had been repatriated. Fifteen had been rounded up in a two-day search at the end of this period. The figure of 1362 may include voluntary repatriates.

Government officials argued that no Chinese seamen married to a British born woman had been forcibly repatriated. We have evidence that this was not true.

At least one married man with three children was ’rounded up’ and deported.

Even where this was not so the effect of official action and inaction combined with the behaviour of the Shipping Federation had achieved the same result.

It seems that by the middle of 1946 the men had gone.

Official oblivion

In a note to file one C. Parkinson of the Home Office wrote that all satisfactory Chinese seamen married to British born women before 1/9/45 who did not want to return to China, should be permitted to take shore employment. The Secretary of State had set this date as the cut-off for marriages allowing aliens marrying British women to remain in the UK.

The matter is not seen as being worth action at other than the lower levels of the system. Parkinson suggested that the decision should be left to the Immigration Officer, Liverpool. Where that officer believed that both husband and wife were respectable and it was a genuine marriage he could vary the landing conditions to allow the man to remain.

No official action seems to have been taken on this and the men were already being made to leave.

When a meeting of the wives and partners of the Chinese seamen left destitute in Liverpool did not lead to any political repercussions, the file was archived and the issue was consigned to official oblivion.