Colonne de Công Binh (ouvriers-soldats) arrivant du Vietnam. Image du film « Công Binh, la longue nuit indochinoise » de Lam Lê.@ credits
The law about the organisation of the country in time of war (loi sur l’organisation générale de la Nation pour le temps de guerre) of the 11th of July 1938 planned that in case of general mobilisation, workers unit from the colonies could be send to France to work in private proprieties to help France’s economy. Around 20,000 workers from Indochina went to France during the period 1939-1940 to supply in the war factories the departure of the conscripts. Also called O.N.S (Ouvriers Non Spécialisés), they are from Tonkin, Annam, Cochinchine and in a smaller measure Cambodia.
1,100 of them arrived in Marseilles in 1940 in board of the ship Athos-II, and lodged in the prison des Baumettes, which was supposed to welcome German prisonner. With the armistice, they’re sent a bit everywhere (Bourges, Bordeaux, Bergerac…) working for factories, underpaid and most of the time considered as inferior to the French population. They were also lodged in aweful barracks, not fed enough and beaten. They depended from the Vichy bureau of the M.O.I (main d’œuvre indigène).
Some of them could leave France after the war but the majority remained stuck in the metropole. Their return would only take place between 1948 and 1952, two years before Dien Bien Phu, but most of them would then be considered as traitors for working with the French