The Commonwealth of Nations is a unique but underrated fellowship that we have degraded in our pursuit of a supposed European dream (now nightmare). As a nation we need to rediscover and strengthen this association. Many are mature parliamentary democracies which share our love of freedom and fair play, live by statute and common law, are respectful of, even affectionate toward, Britain while rejoicing in their individuality, speak our shared mother tongue and have a similar approach to business and trade. They are family.
In 2014 we should remember with overt pride and gratitude how this family helped Britain in its time of greatest need. Our post-war Continental adventure with what is now the EU ― that Collective of Counterfeit Comrades ― has served to alienate our real friends and it is time to make amends.
In 1914, as conflict looked inevitable, Australian Prime Minister Joseph Cooke said: “If there is war, you and I shall be in it.” Sir Robert Borden, Canada’s Prime Minister, offered Britain his backing along with 30,000 fighting men, prompting Australia to match the figure when war was declared on 3rd August.
The resources of the empire made Britain the most formidable power engaged in WW1. The thousands of young men who rushed to the recruiting stations in the summer of 1914 were matched in the dominions. At war’s end the total of imperial soldiers, sailors and airmen numbered 8.5 million: from the UK 5.7 million (4/5 from England); India 1.4 million; Canada 630,000; Australia 420,000; South Africa 136,000; New Zealand 129,000. What is remarkable about the last figure is that it represented just over half of the men who were eligible for service. The war was initially seen as an adventure but they also came for the love of the mother country, as one 19-year old Australian patriot said “to uphold the traditions of the British” people. He was killed at Gallipoli. Another ANZAC was moved to verse:
The banners of England unfurled across the sea,
Floating out upon the wind, were beckoning to me.
Storm rent and battle torn, smoke stained and grey:
The banners of England – and how could I stay!
This sense of fellowship and peril inspired a Canadian soldier-poet:
From Sydney to Esquimault, from the Lakes to Hudson Bay,
Men who never saw you, Mother, those that left you yesterday
We have chucked the tools and ledgers; we have left the bench and mine,
We are sailing east to Flanders to join the khaki line.
It is also true that Britain made good use of its dependencies, which, like India, had no choice but to serve the imperial master. The African lands produced 57,000 soldiers and an astonishing 932,000 porters and labourers, mainly for service in the German East African campaign. Nyasaland, for example, provided 15,000 Askaris and 200,000 labourers. Those territories’ contributions should be recognised, too.
Twenty one years later we were again at war. As in WW1, all the resources of the dominions and colonies were mobilised for the fight and the full totals for the entire conflict were:
Great Britain 4,650,000; Australia 570,000; Canada 770,000; India 1,789,000; New Zealand 97,000; East African colonies 225,000 (plus 30,000 pioneers); West African colonies 150,000 (plus 16,000 pioneers)
When we joined what was then called the Common Market I felt a visceral wrench. We were turning our backs on our brethren who had been at our side through two global conflicts and who were far more worthy of our friendship. I voted ‘No’ in 1975, somehow instinctively knowing that it was the thin end of a wedge.
In pandering to European interests there is a danger that, in this centenary year, those countries that stood by us will not get the recognition they deserve – so let’s hear it for the Commonwealth.