February 10th - March 18th 2018, The Williamson Art Gallery in Birkenhead was the site of the opening show of Dragons of the Pool exhibition. The exhibition now continues its tour at Edge Hill University's Arts Centre from 8th of October to 23rd of Novermber 2018.
The exhibition chronicles little-known history of Chinese seamen who were secretly deported from the UK after WW2. Hundreds of men were repatriated, some without warning, taken on board cargo ships bound for China. Over a thousand Chinese seamen disappeared from their family homes in Liverpool, never to be heard of again.
These men were not criminals, nor had they committed any offence. Rather, they were war heroes – merchant sailors who had risked their lives on the Arctic convoys which kept Britain alive during the darkest days of the war.
Many families had lived in the belief that their husbands and fathers had simply disappeared. It wasn’t until the release of declassified records 50 years later that it was revealed that over 1,300 Chinese sailors had been put on specially assigned ships and sent to the Far East without notice.
Some of the children of the deported seamen were told that their fathers drowned at sea and the mothers, who were often left destitute, had to give some of their children up for adoption. Families were split up, rumours were hushed and confusion prevailed. The emotional impact on the now grown children of the seamen is evident from their stories. Many are still trying to understand the betrayal of the British establishment towards their family and their fathers, who served on the dangerous Atlantic convoys during the war.
Thanks to a Heritage Lottery grant, this year-long project has captured video interviews with the seamen’s descendants, who are now in their seventies. The recordings help archive this important part of British Chinese history for future generations.
Actor David Yip (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Entrapment and Chinese Detective), whose father was a Chinese seaman, introduces the exhibition. There will also be a rare chance to see Bert Hardy's iconic photographs of Chinese seamen in Liverpool taken in 1942. The photographs provide a context, showing the squalid living conditions that the Chinese sailors lived.
The project’s research will be then be archived in Birkenhead Library.
It is hoped the project will help participants share their stories behind their fathers’ disappearance and educate the wider community about the shocking events of post war Britain.