What do Mr. Simon Mhlanga from South Africa, Lt Adnan Saidi from Singapore, Mrs Molly Lamb from Canada, Major Maurice Agius from Malta and Flying Officer Lloyd Trigg from New Zealand have in common? They all served in the Second World War as members of the allied forces. Nearly a century ago, what brought these countries together to fight against a common foe was their allegiance to the British Crown. Today, these same countries are bound by a new alliance–the Commonwealth of Nations.
Remembrance Day, as it is known throughout the Commonwealth, is observed in many member states as a day to commemorate the people who served their countries during times of war. While it is a day to remember the sacrifices of individuals, it is also a day to reflect on the atrocities of war, and how nations can and must work together to prevent those atrocities from repeating themselves.
When the UK declared war against Germany in August of 1914, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Newfoundland were also automatically at war as Dominions of the British Empire. In the years after the war, the United Kingdom and its Dominions agreed to be equals, with no one state being subordinate to another. What bound them together was their allegiance to the British Crown, but they functioned as autonomous nations within the British Commonwealth of Nations. Through the long process of decolonization, the Commonwealth began to emerge out of the remnants of the British Empire.
By 1939, for the second time in the lives of many, Britain was once again at war with Germany. Many Commonwealth countries, including those listed above, joined the war in support of the UK and the allied forces, this time on their own accord as autonomous nation states. The alliance of Commonwealth countries was integral to the allied victory in 1945.
The Commonwealth has evolved throughout the last century. Forged after the first World War and strengthened by a mutual allegiance to the Crown during the second World War, the modern Commonwealth of Nations is bound by the principles of democracy, human rights, civil liberties, equality before the law, and world peace.
In the world wars of the 20th century, this alliance proved vital to delivering the allied forces to victory. While it is not the military alliance it was during the time of the British empire, the Commonwealth of Nations–as we know it now–is tasked with upholding the common values of its member states.
This Remembrance Day, we honour those who served their countries, but we must also reflect on the horrors of the wars they faced. The world has changed significantly since the great conflicts of the last century, but war is still very much a part of our modern world.
Members of the Commonwealth of Nations must strive to protect the principles that bind them together, none more so than peace as a means of preserving human dignity and preventing the atrocities of war. Lest we Forget.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Timothy Thompson is the Regional Coordinator for the Caribbean and the Americas (Equality)
Tim is a member of the Cadet Instructor Cadre branch of the Canadian Armed Forces. He has dedicated over 17 years to working in Canadian communities and providing our youth with better opportunities. His leadership skills with the Canadian Armed Forces have provided him an opportunity to live and work in various locations across Canada and to visit other countries. In an effort to spread cultural awareness and to bring communities together, Tim helped to organize a Cultural Awareness Weekend and Powwow for cadets across the Maritime Provinces. He is also the Positive Space Ambassador and ensures a safe and inclusive space within his office.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Royal Commonwealth Society.