Military Labour During The First World War    

The Labour Corps

As the Army moved into Palestine and then Syria the ELC accompanied them supporting them and even being used to make the Turks think they were about to be attacked by a large force of men. Labour in Mesopotamia was administered through a Labour Directorate under Brigadier-General Frost, the Director of Labour. Frost and his staff of 250 British officers and about 1,500 Other Ranks was responsible for administering a native labour force of more than 150,000 men. The British troops attached to the Labour Directorate were not transferred to the Labour Corps but remained part of their own unit.

A number of different native labour corps existed in Mesopotamia. Over 60,000 Arabs and Persians served in the Arab Labour Corps and Persian Labour Corps, over 40,000 Indians who were brought from the Indian sub-continent in the Indian Labour Corps and the Indian Jail Labour corps, nearly 2,000 men in the Mauritius Labour Battalion, about 6,000 Chinese from Singapore and Shanghai, 8,000 members of the Egyptian Labour Corps and over 30,000 Prisoners of War. In addition casual Arab labour was recruited as needed to supplement men in the various labour corps.

Today the name Gallipoli conjures up an image of the campaign that took place on the Gallipoli Peninsula during 1915 with names like ANZAC, Suvla Bay and Helles springing to mind. What is often overlooked is the support required to mount the campaign both on the Peninsula and the nearby Greek islands. When in March 1915 General Hamilton arrived at, what was to be the base for the operation, Lemnos he found an island without adequate roads, piers, wharfs, a good water supply or enough local labour. By the time the British, ANZACs and French were evacuated from Gallipoli ten months later labourers had been brought from Malta and Egypt, Greeks recruited from islands in the area, the Indian Mule Corps moved from France and the Zion Mule Corps formed to support the campaign. In May 1915 two Egyptian Army Works Companies arrived at Imbros where they built roads and huts before being transferred to the Peninsula. Later both Egyptian and Maltese Labourers were to work alongside local Greeks and British troops maintaining the island bases.