Today, the Commonwealth comprises 54 independent countries working together to achieve the shared goals of development, democracy and environmental protection. But when World War Two broke out in 1939, the countries of the Commonwealth were still part of the British Empire. Throughout the war, soldiers from around the world united with the British in every major theatre of war.

The East African Campaign

Between 1940 and 1941, Allied soldiers fought together to liberate the colony of Italian East Africa. Troops from Britain, South Africa, India, Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, Somalia, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and West Africa participated in the campaign.

In 1940, Benito Mussolini proclaimed a new Italian empire in East Africa and declared war on Britain. To weaken British forces, Italy attacked border posts in Kenya and Sudan and stopped supply ships from passing through the Mediterranean.

General Archibald Wavell planned a three-pronged attack in response to the Italian attack. Lieutenant General William Platt led forces from Sudan into Eritrea, Lieutenant General Alan Cunningham advanced from Kenya into Italian Somaliland and a third force worked to take back British Somaliland. Although an Italian defeat ended the campaign, thousands of soldiers waged guerilla war until 1943 when Italy officially surrendered to the Allies.

 

The British Commonwealth of Nations – Together (©IWM PST 8457)

 

The Burma Campaign

From 1941 to 1945, the Burma Campaign saw soldiers drawn from across the Commonwealth to join the Fourteenth Army in a fight against invading forces of Imperial Japan. It is sometimes referred to as the “Forgotten Army” because its operations in the Burma campaign were overlooked by the contemporary press and remained so for many years after the war.

Commanded by General Slim, the Fourteenth Army included troops from Britain, India, Africa and Burma. By 1945, it was the largest army in the world with around one million men under command. Find out more about the Fourteenth Army and its legacy here.

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