The British Empire of World War One

The British Empire of World War 1

The British Empire was one of the main belligerents during the First World War. At the outbreak of war in 1914, the British Empire was the largest empire with territories and colonies as far as Canada, Australia and China. The largest part of the Empire’s population was in India which remains one of the highest populated countries in the world to this day.

At the outbreak of the conflict in 1914, the Empire had a relatively small armed forces which stood at 733,514 men of which only about 120,000 were available for deployment in Europe. (The website has some great statistics). When we compare that to Germany who was the main opponent, with 700,000 men from a much smaller area, we can see that the army was actually only a fraction of the size available to the enemy. The British Empire did have a large navy, though, as one might expect from an empire with extensive overseas territories and colonies. This Navy was used to protect the British Isles as well as escort cargo ships which were vital for supplying material to the war effort in Europe.

The Commonwealth and imperial troops recruited to fight overseas throughout the war numbered around 2.5 million. This was over a quarter of the total troops that were put into combat. Of these, around 1.5 million came from Indian or native troops. Whilst the majority of the troops were recruited from England (around half of all troops who served) half of the troops were therefore recruited from the various dominions and territories.

The brutality of the conflict is evident in the casualty statistics. Nearly 1,000,000 of the recruited troops were killed or died of disease or their wounds. Of these roughly a third have no known grave. The war left a lasting impression on the British Empire and in today’s United Kingdom war memorials remembering the dead can be seen in nearly every village and town.

Further information will be added to this page but please also see the other pages I referred to when writing this piece:

Of these, the first one has extensive resources and articles on the many and varied aspects of the British Empire spanning 500 years.


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