Impacts of Two World Wars on the British Empire

Impacts of Two World Wars on the British Empire

Other statistics are also very impressive. “Britain recruited 6,704,416 men of whom 704,803 died. Canada recruited 628,964 of whom 56,639 lost their lives. Australia recruited 412,953 of whom 59,330 died. New Zealand recruited 128, 525 and 16,711 were killed or died of wounds. South Africa recruited 136,070 whites of whom 7,121 died. Over 8,000 Newfoundlanders served overseas, of whom 1,204 lost their lives.”7

South Africans conquered South West Africa and Tanganyika; Canadians died in their thousands in Flanders; Australians and New Zealanders played a substantial part in the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign; Indian troops invaded Mesopotamia. All these forces, mostly financed from their own treasuries, fought throughout the globe.

Although the British Empire met its greatest test, nevertheless the war had its impacts on the structure of the empire. The effect of the war on the empire was the intensification and spread of nationalism among the empire countries. “French Canada supported the war with far less enthusiasm than English-speaking Canada, and the conscription crisis in 1917 resulted in sever civil disorder in Quebec. In Dublin, at Easter 1916 the republican rebellion heralded widespread disaffection and the beginning of the violent struggle for home rule. Even in patriotic Australia conscription was put to the vote in a referendum and defeated. “8 Indian loyalty turned by 1916 into a renewal of demands for self-rule. This eventually led to a situation in which “provincial legislatures had their elective elements enlarged and provincial government were to be appointed on the principle of diarchy whereby European ministers retained certain vital portfolios (police, justice and land revenue), while Indian ministers became responsible for departments like education, public health and public works. A central legislature of 146 members was also created. Although central government remained authoritarian, semi-democracy had come to the provinces.”9

However, as a result of the tragic massacre at Amritsar in 1919 and the Rowlatt Acts with their repressive provisions against sedition, Indian nationalists found it hard to treat the new measures with open mindedness. On the other hand, once again the Dominions attempted to assert their national needs. In the Imperial War Conference of 1917 the Dominion leaders pressed for an Imperial Conference after the war so that the constitutional relations of the self-governing empire could be adjusted; in other words, to explain the Dominion status in realistic terms. The Dominions’ later demand was to be admitted as independent nations to the Peace Conferences and to be allowed to sign the peace treaties in their own right. Thus, the Dominions were represented as separate nations at the Peace Conferences and of course at the same time being part of the British Empire delegations. Also, India was able to sign the treaties in her own right. So, by 1919, “the Dominions had been seen to ‘come of age’ – both in a practical and in a diplomatic sense – something which Lloyd George’s decision to treat them (and India) as equal at the 1917 Imperial Conference had ensured.”10 Additionally, the acquisition of mandated territories  in the case of Australia, New Zealand and South  Africa and the membership of the League of Nations in the case of the Dominions was further proof of Lloyd George’s decision at the Imperial Conference in 1917.

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