5 Facts About the British and Commonwealth Armies and the Second World War

The British and Commonwealth Armies that fought the Second World War were made up of over 10 million soldiers from Britain, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa and the many other components of the British Empire.

These armies made numerous contributions to the peoples, institutions and states of the British Commonwealth: they played a key role in the military defeat of the Axis, albeit to different extents in different theatres at different times.

Their varying levels of performance at critical moments during the long global conflict were a factor in the declining extent and influence of the Empire; and they functioned as an instrument of social change in all the countries from which they were recruited.

Here are 5 interesting facts about the British and Commonwealth Armies and the Second World War:

1. Letters by those in the British and Commonwealth Armies were censored

These remarkable sources cover the campaigns in the Middle East (most importantly in East and North Africa and Tunisia), in the Mediterranean (most importantly in Sicily and Italy), in North-West Europe (most importantly in Normandy, the Low Countries and Germany), and in the South-West Pacific (most importantly in New Guinea).

The censorship summaries allow the soldiers’ story in the Second World War to be told on a level comparable with that of the great statesmen, such as Churchill, and military commanders, such as Montgomery and Slim.

2. Soldiers voted in key elections during the conflict

Remarkably, considering the challenges of holding elections during a world war, detailed statistics of the soldiers’ vote survive for nearly all of these national polls, allowing historians to ascertain whether this body of electors influenced outcomes in some of the defining elections of twentieth century.

3. The victory campaigns of 1944/45 were built on a remarkable transformation in tactics

As the war wore on and the British and Commonwealth Armies became progressively better equipped, well led and prepared for combat, they developed a more mobile and aggressive solution to the combat problem.

4. There was a major change in the way the army was trained…

In time, training bred confidence and allowed citizen soldiers to match the performance of even the most professional of armies.

5. …and in the way military morale was managed

When the Army failed to deliver in these regards, a setback could turn into a rout and a rout could easily turn into a disaster. As the war progressed, formations in the field became increasingly effective at using censorship to gauge when and if units were experiencing morale problems, vital shortages in welfare amenities, or if they needed to be rotated and rested.

This reflective and remarkably sophisticated system of monitoring and managing the human factor in war was to make all the difference.

Jonathan Fennell is the author of Fighting the People’s War, the first single-volume history of the Commonwealth in World War Two, which is published on 7 February 2019.

Originally published at https://www.historyhit.com.

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