Map of Shatt-Al Arab at Margil, near Basra, Mesopotamia showing a Chinese Labour Corps cemetery


This map shows the docks built on the south bank of the Shatt-Al Arab at Margil (Al Ma‘qil), near Basra, Mesopotamia (Iraq).

During the First World War, British forces had occupied the city of Basra. The map reveals the plans of the Inland Water Transport (IWT, a branch of the Corps of Royal Engineers) to expand the area into a vast dockyard, capable of building enough vessels to support Britain’s campaign in Mesopotamia against the Ottoman armies.

The Chinese Labour Corps (CLC) in Basra

From late 1916 onwards, the British recruited over 4,000 skilled mechanics and 1,000 unskilled labourers from Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai, to construct some 200 steamers, vessels and pontoons in Basra. These Chinese labourers, and the vessels they constructed, supported the Indian Expeditionary Force D in Mesopotamia.

The set of four Labour Corps camps in the top right-hand side of the map would have been their accommodation. They were provided with basic food rations, accommodation and clothing, although there was little entertainment beyond the occasional Chinese film shown at the camp cinema. Disease and malnutrition were also a problem in Basra’s hot desert climate.

The nature of their work was heavy and arduous, and inevitably resulted in fatalities. Seen amongst the wharves, sidings and workers’ camps there is a small patch of land, identified as a Chinese Cemetery, where the bodies of 227 unnamed Chinese citizens have been interred. The 227 fatalities suffered amongst the estimated 6,000 Chinese labourers at Basra equates to roughly one death among every 26 members of the Chinese Labour Corps in Mesopotamia.

Other features and facilities shown on the map include:

    • dock infrastructure, including shipping berths, wharves, water channels, depots and railway lines; 
    • various camps, including labour camps and prisoner-of-war camps, huts and tents, accommodation for ordnance personnel, and a camp for stevedores (a type of dockworker); 
    • date gardens; 
    • civilian villages; 
    • other military sites, including a brick field and recreation area.


[1] 'Basra War Cemetery’, Commonwealth War Graves Commission <> [accessed 23/10/2018]

Full title:
17 February 1919
Indian Expeditionary Force D, P A & C
Usage terms

This material has been published under an Open Government Licence.

Held by
British Library
IOR/L/PS/20/35, f 56

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