World War I began with an unprecedented outpouring of loyalty and goodwill towards the United Kingdomfrom India and the rest of the British Empire, contrary to initial British fears of an Indian revolt. Indiacontributed generously to the British war effort by providing men and resources. About 1.3 million Indian soldiers and labourers served in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, while both the Indian government and the princes sent large supplies of food, money, and ammunition. But high casualty rates, soaring inflation compounded by heavy taxation, a widespread influenza epidemic, and the disruption of trade during the war escalated human suffering in India. The prewar nationalist movement revived, as moderate and extremist groups within the Congress submerged their differences in order to stand as a unified front. In 1916, the Congress succeeded in forging the Lucknow Pact, a temporary alliance with the Muslim League over the issues of devolution of political power and the future of Islam in the region.
The British themselves adopted a "carrot and stick" approach in recognition of India's support during the war and in response to renewed nationalist demands. In August 1917, Edwin Montagu, the secretary of state for India, made the historic announcement in Parliament that the British policy for India was "increasing association of Indians in every branch of the administration and the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire." The means of achieving the proposed measure were later enshrined in the Government of India Act of 1919, which introduced the principle of a dual mode of administration, or diarchy, in which both elected Indian legislators and appointed British officials shared power. The act also expanded the central and provincial legislatures and widened the franchise considerably. Diarchy set in motion certain real changes at the provincial level: a number of non-controversial or "transferred" portfolios, such as agriculture, local government, health, education, and public works, were handed over to Indians, while more sensitive matters such as finance, taxation, and maintaining law and order were retained by the provincial British administrators.
The positive impact of reform was seriously undermined in 1919 by the Rowlatt Act, named after the recommendations made the previous year to the Imperial Legislative Council by the Rowlatt Commission, which had been appointed to investigate "seditious conspiracy." The Rowlatt Act, also known as the Black Act, vested the Viceroy's government with extraordinary powers to quell sedition by silencing the press, detaining political activists without trial, and arresting any individuals suspected of sedition or treason without a warrant. In protest, a nationwide cessation of work (hartal) was called, marking the beginning of widespread, although not nationwide, popular discontent.
The agitation unleashed by the acts culminated on 13 April 1919, in the Amritsar Massacre in Amritsar, Punjab. The British military commander, Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, ordered his soldiers to fire into an unarmed and unsuspecting crowd of some 10,000 persons. They had assembled at Jallianwala Bagh, a walled garden, to celebrate Baisakhi, a Sikh festival, without prior knowledge of the imposition of martial law. A total of 1,650 rounds were fired, killing 379 persons and wounding 1,137 in the episode, which dispelled wartime hopes of home rule and goodwill in a frenzy of postwar reaction.
India's option for an entirely original path to obtaining swaraj (self-rule, sometimes translated as Home Rule or Independence) was due largely to Mahatma Gandhi, (Mahatma meaning Great Soul). A native of Gujarat who had been educated in the United Kingdom, he had been a timid lawyer with a modest practice. His legal career lasted a short time, since he immediately took to fighting for just causes on behalf of the Indian community in South Africa. Gandhi had accepted an invitation in 1893 to represent indentured Indian labourers in South Africa, where he stayed on for more than twenty years, lobbying against racial discrimination. Gandhi's battle was not only against basic discrimination and abusive labour treatment; it was in protest of suppressive police control akin to the Rowlatt Acts. After several months of non-violent protests and arrests of thousands of indentured labourers, the ruler of South Africa, Gen. Jan Smutts released all prisoners and repealed the oppressive legislation. A young, timid Indian was now blooded in the art of revolution, and well on course to Mahatma-hood. His victory in South Africa excited many Indians at home.
During his first nationwide satyagraha, Gandhi urged the people to boycott British educational institutions, law courts, and products; to resign from government employment; to refuse to pay taxes; and to forsake British titles and honours. Although this came too late to influence the framing of the new Government of India Act of 1919, the magnitude of disorder resulting from the movement was unparalleled and presented a new challenge to British rule. Over 10 million people protested according to Gandhi's guidelines in all cities and thousands of towns and villages in every part of the country. But Gandhi made a tough decision and called off the campaign in 1922 because of an atrocious murder of policemen in Chauri Chaura by a mob of agitators. He was deeply distressed with the act, and the possibility that crowds of protestors would lose control like this in different parts of the country, causing the fight for national freedom to degenerate into a chaotic orgy of bloodshed, where Englishmen would be murdered by mobs, and the British forces would retaliate against innocent civilians. He felt Indians needed more discipline and had to understand that they were not out to punish the British, but to expose the negative effects of their discrimination and tyranny. As much as liberating India, he hoped to reform the British, see them as friends and break the back of racism and colonialism across the world.
He was imprisoned in 1922 for six years, but served only two. On his release from prison, he set up the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, on the banks of river Sabarmati, established the newspaper Young India, and inaugurated a series of reforms aimed at the socially disadvantaged within Hindu society - the rural poor, and the untouchables.
Emerging leaders within the Congress --Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Subhash Chandra Bose, and others-- championed Gandhi's leadership in articulating nationalist aspirations. The Indian political spectrum was further broadened in the mid-1920s by the emergence of both moderate and militant parties, such as the Swaraj Party, Hindu Mahasabha, Communist Party of India and the Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh. Regional political organisations also continued to represent the interests of non-Brahmans in Madras, Mahars in Maharashtra, and Sikhs in Punjab. In the 1920’s, Indian nationalists wanted Dominion status within the British Empire like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa and the Irish Free State, but by 1930 this had escalated to wanting full independence as a republic outside the Empire.
Following the rejection of the recommendations of the Simon Commission by Indians, an all-party conference was held at Bombay in May 1928. The conference appointed a drafting committee under Motilal Nehru to draw up a constitution for India. The Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress asked the British government to accord Dominion status to India by December 1929, or a countrywide civil disobedience movement would be launched. The Indian National Congress, at its historic Lahore session in December 1929, under the presidency of Jawaharlal Nehru, adopted a resolution to gain complete independence from the British. It authorised the Working Committee to launch a civil disobedience movement throughout the country. It was decided that 26 January 1930 should be observed all over India as the Purna Swaraj (complete independence) Day. Many Indian political parties and Indian revolutionaries of a wide spectrum united to observe the day with honour and pride. It was an Indian Declaration of Independence.
Gandhi emerged from his long seclusion by undertaking his most famous campaign, a march of about 400 kilometres from his commune in Ahmedabad to Dandi, on the coast of Gujarat between 12 March and 6 April1930. The march is usually known as the Dandi March or the Salt Satyagraha. At Dandi, in protest against British taxes on salt, he and thousands of followers broke the law by making their own salt from sea water.
In April 1930 there were violent police-crowd clashes in Calcutta. Approximately over 100,000 people were imprisoned in the course of the Civil disobedience movement (1930-31). While Gandhi was in jail, the first Round Table Conference was held in London in November 1930, without representation from the Indian National Congress. The ban upon the Congress was removed because of economic hardships caused by the satyagraha. Gandhi, along with other members of the Congress Working Committee, was released from prison in January 1931.
Lord Alexander of Tunis, the last British Governor General of Canada in 1946
In 1949, the Indian government stated that they wished for their country to become a Republic but they now wished to remain within the Commonwealth. In November of that year, a formula was agreed upon called the London Declaration where the required common allegiance to the Crown was dropped. Members could have whatever status they wished, but they would all recognise the British Monarch in a new position as 'Head of the Commonwealth'. Dominion Status was ended in 1949 and Dominions had now become completely independent nations and were restyled as Commonwealth Realms after 1953. In the future, the now completely independent members of the Commonwealth would include Realms, Republics and some even with their own Monarchies. The title of the organisation was changed from the British Commonwealth to the Commonwealth of Nations to reflect this new reality. Membership is voluntary and all Commonwealth countries continued to exchange High Commissioners to each other instead of Ambassadors to recognise their special relationship. Imperial Conferences of the British Prime Minister with Dominion Prime Ministers were renamed as Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conferences in 1944. Canada dropped the title 'Dominion' from official use in 1949. Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon and Fiji would continue to use it in an official sense for a few more decades until they eventually phased it out or became republics.
India's Constituent Assembly, under its President Dr. Rajendra Prasad and Chairman of the Drafting Committee B.R. Ambedkar, began the work of drafting the Constitution. On 26 January, 1949, the work was officially completed and on 26 January, 1950, the Dominion of India became the Republic of India. Dr. Rajendra Prasad was elected by the Constituent Assembly to be the first President of India, taking over from Governor General Rajgopalachari. India thus officially severed its ties with the monarchy, but opted to remain in the successor to the British Empire, the Commonwealth of Nations. India had made history by becoming the first Republic to do so. The Dominion of Pakistan became a Republic within the Commonwealth in 1956. Burma and Ceylon became independent in 1948. Burma chose to leave the Commonwealth, but Ceylon became a Dominion. The Dominion of Ceylon eventually became the Republicof Sri Lanka in 1972, however remaining a Commonwealth member. All British Monarchs previously had the title of sovereign of ‘Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas’. In 1953, Queen Elizabeth II dropped that title and was crowned as Queen of each of the Dominions separately. She was also the first monarch to adopt separate titles for each of the Dominions such as Queen of Canada, Queen of Australia, Queen of New Zealand), and the first to include the new title 'Head of the Commonwealth' in those titles. In 1953, when Queen Elizabeth II adopted distinctive titles for each of the Dominions, the term 'Dominion' was changed to 'Commonwealth Realm' to note their independence. 1949 had marked the pivotal point at which the Commonwealth’s colonial legacy was positively transformed into a partnership based on equality, choice and consensus.
Newfoundland, which had been its own Dominion, but reverted to colonial status in 1934, finally decided to join Canada in 1949 after a referendum was held. Ireland was partitioned in 1921. The northern six counties, with a Protestant majority, remained part of the renamed United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but with their own parliament at Stormont, in Belfast. The Catholic South became a Dominion. However, unlike the other Dominions, it took its independence seriously and adopted a de facto republican constitution as Eire in 1937 remaining neutral in World War Two. In 1949, Eire became the Republic of Ireland and left the Commonwealth.
World War II fatally undermined Britain's already weakened commercial and financial leadership and heightened the importance of the Dominions and the United States as a source of military assistance. Australian prime minister John Curtin's unprecedented action (1942) in successfully demanding the recall for home service of Australian troops earmarked for the defence of British-held Burma demonstrated that Dominion governments could no longer be expected to subordinate their own national interests to British strategic perspectives. Curtin had written in a national newspaper the year before that Australia should look to the United States for protection, rather than Britain. From 1942 to 1945, Japan occupied almost the entire British East Asian empire, taking Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo and Burma away from the British along with French and Dutch possessions. These were recovered for the British Empire after the Allied victory in 1945. After the war, Australia and New Zealand joined with the United States in the ANZUS regional security treaty in 1951 (although the US repudiated its commitments to New Zealand following a 1985 dispute over port access for nuclear vessels). Interestingly, in 1940, then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill offered full union of the United Kingdom and France in order to strengthen the resolve against German expansion in Europe. This was rejected by France. However, in 1956, French Prime Minister Guy Mollet proposed the same thing in order to strengthen France’s declining position in the world, especially with the Suez Crisis in the Middle East and the war for independence in Algeria. This was rejected by the British.
Click on this link for newspaper headlines about events in the British Empire from 1947 to 1955
In 1954, the name of the British Empire Games was changed to the British Empire and Commonwealth Games and changed again to the British Commonwealth Games in 1966, finally dropping the word 'Empire' to reflect the changing constitutional situation. The word 'British' was finally dropped in 1978 when the games became simply the Commonwealth Games. The use of the Imperial Crown was dropped from the games flag in 2002 due to the majority of Commonwealth members being republics. These games continue to be held today with teams from every part of the Commonwealth and consisting of many more varied events. These games are held between each set of Olympic Games and are rotated around the Commonwealth in different locations.
Detailed information about the first British Empire and Commonwealth Games in 1954, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Detailed information about the Commonwealth Games in 2010 in Delhi, India
Synopsis of all British Empire Games and Commonwealth Games
Click on the gallery of sample British Empire maps from 1946 to Today below to enlarge them. These maps are low resolution. For quality high resolution maps, please purchase a CD
Click on this link to view a video of the newsreel of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953
Click on this link to view a video on the Legacy of Empire and the change to a modern Commonwealth
Starting with Egypt in 1947, most countries left the Sterling Area to adopt their own currencies by the 1970’s. Today, the Pound Sterling is only the currency of the United Kingdom, its Crown dependencies (the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands) and the British Overseas Territories of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, British Antarctic Territory and British Indian Ocean Territory. The Manx pound, Jersey pound, Guernsey pound, Gibraltar pound, Falkland Islands pound and Saint Helenian pound are separate currencies, pegged to Pound Sterling. Egypt and Sudan still have separate Pound currencies. The white-dominated Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was set up in 1953 aiming at independence. However, without majority participation in government, it ended in 1963, followed by the independence of Malawi(formerly Nyasaland) and Zambia (the former Northern Rhodesia) in 1964. After Zambian independence, Southern Rhodesia (a self-governing colony since 1923) became Rhodesia. Its white minority declared unilateral independence (UDI) in 1965, rather than submit to equality with black Africans. This was the only other time that white British settler colonists had rebelled against Britain since the American Declaration of Independence in 1776. The support of South Africa's apartheid government kept the Rhodesian regime in place until 1979, when agreement was reached on majority rule in an independent Zimbabwe which came into existnce in 1980. Portugal granted independence to its African colonies all at once in 1975. Most of Britain's Caribbean territories opted for eventual separate independence after the failure of the West Indies Federation (1958–62): Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago (1962) were followed into statehood by Barbados(1966). The smaller islands of the eastern Caribbean opted for the status of Associated States with the United Kingdom in 1967. However, they moved to full independence later on (1970’s and 1980’s). The Queen remains Sovereign in eight Caribbean island nations and in Belize in Central America. Britain's Pacific dependencies of Fiji, Solomon Islands, New Hebrides (Vanuatu) and Gilbert and Ellice Islands (Kiribati and Tuvalu) also underwent decolonisation in the 1970’s. Australia gave independence to Papua New Guinea in 1975, which subsequently joined the Commonwealth. At the end of Britain's 99-year lease of the mainland New Territories, all of Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997.
Click to view the Rhodesian Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) document 1965
A Commonwealth realm is a sovereign state within the Commonwealth of Nations that has Elizabeth II as its monarch and head of state. all but about two million live in the six most populous states, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, and Jamaica. Fourteen of the current and all former realms were once British colonies that evolved into independent states, the exceptions being the United Kingdom (UK) itself and Papua New Guinea, which was formed in 1975 as a union of the former German New Guinea legally the territory of Papua, administered for the UK by Australia since 1905. The first realms to emerge were colonies that had already previously attained the status of a self-governing Dominion within the British Empire. For a time, the older term of ''Dominion'' was retained to refer to these non-British realms, even though their actual status had changed with the granting of full legislative independence. The word is still sometimes used today, though increasingly rarely, as the word ''realm'' was formally introduced with the proclamation of Elizabeth II in 1953, and acquired legal status with the adoption of the modern royal styles and titles by the individual countries. The qualified term ''Commonwealth realm'' is not official, and has not been used in law; rather, it is a term of convenience for distinguishing this group of realms from other countries in the Commonwealth that do not share the same monarch.
In Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa, as they evolved from British Dominions to Commonwealth Realms, British Governors General in these countries were replaced with local-born Governors General soon after the Second World War. Quite often for the sake of continuity, at independence of other countries, the last British Governor is asked to stay on to become the first Governor General of the new Realm, for example, as in India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Ghana and Nigeria. A native person would then be the second Governor General.
Click to view a chronological list of Governors General of independent Commonwealth Realms
Realms also evolved into republics; for example, amongst many others, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, Malta,Trinidad & Tobago, Fiji and Mauritius made the change. Even though Fiji became a republic in 1987, it has retained the Queen in the position of Paramount Chief of the Great Council of Chiefs in Fiji. Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados and St. Vincent and the Grenadines have all considered becoming republics. The move to change to republic status was defeated in referenda in Australia in 1999, in Tuvalu in 2008 and in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 2009. The Jamaican government set a target of 2012 to become a republic, but it did not happen. No action has been taken yet on this move in Jamaica, Barbados or New Zealand, probably due to continued public support for maintaining the Queen as head of state. Fiji plans to adopt a new constitution in 2014 and it has been mooted that the country may restore the Queen as head of state, which would become the Commonwealth's first restoration of the monarchy.
Various Commonwealth realms have held referendums to consider whether they should become republics. These include:
Ghanaian constitutional referendum, 1960 (passed)
South African republic referendum, 1960 (passed)
Gambian republic referendum, 1965 (failed: majority not 2/3)
Gambian republic referendum, 1970 (passed)
Australian republic referendum, 1999 (failed)
Tuvaluan constitutional referendum, 2008 (failed)
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines constitutional referendum, 2009 (failed)
He returned to India in 1915, virtually a stranger to public life but fired with a patriotic vision of a new India. It should be noted, however, that Gandhi did not yet believe that political independence from the Empire was the solution to India's problems. Upon his return, he had candidly stated that if as a citizen of the Empire, he wanted freedom and protection, it would be wrong of him not to aid in the defence of the Empire during World War I. A veteran Congressman and Indian leader Gopal Krishna Gokhale became Gandhi's mentor, and Gandhi traveled widely across the country for years, through different provinces, villages and cities, learning aboutIndia's cultures, the life of the vast majority of Indians, their difficulties and tribulations.
Gandhi's ideas and strategies of nonviolent civil disobedience initially appeared impractical to some Indians and veteran Congressmen. In Gandhi's own words, "civil disobedience is civil breach of unmoral statutory enactments," but as he viewed it, it had to be carried out nonviolently by withdrawing cooperation with the corrupt state. Gandhi's ability to inspire millions of common people was initiated when he used satyagraha during the anti-Rowlatt Act protests in Punjab.
In Champaran, Bihar, Gandhi took up the cause of desperately poor sharecroppers, landless farmers who were being forced to grow cash crops at the expense of crops which formed their food supply, and pay horrendously oppressive taxes. Neither were they sufficiently paid to buy food. By now, Gandhi had shed his European dress for self-woven khadi dhotis and shawls, as is seen in his most famous pictures. This simple Gandhi instantly electrified millions of poor, common Indians. He was one of them, not a fancy, educated elitist Indian. His arrest by police caused major protests throughout the province and the British government was forced to release him, and grant the demands of Gandhi and the farmers of Bihar, which were the freedom to grow the crops of their choosing, exemption from taxation when hurt by famine or drought, and proper compensation for cash crops.
It was with his victory in Champaran, that Gandhi was lovingly accorded the title of Mahatma. It was given not by journalists or observers, but the very millions of people for whom he had come to fight.
In 1920, under Gandhi's leadership, the Congress was reorganised and given a new constitution, whose goal was Swaraj (independence). Membership in the party was opened to anyone prepared to pay a token fee, and a hierarchy of committees was established and made responsible for discipline and control over a hitherto amorphous and diffuse movement. The party was transformed from an elite organisation to one of mass national appeal and participation.
Gandhi always stressed that the movement should not be directed against the British people, but the unjust system of outside administration. British officers and leaders are human beings, emphasized Gandhi, and capable of the same mistakes of intolerance, racism and cruelty as the common Indian or any other human being. Punishment for these sins was God's task, and not the mission of the freedom movement. But the liberation of 350 million people from colonial and social tyranny definitely was.
Click on this link to view a video of the newsreel of Indian independence on August 15, 1947
The growing danger to India's stability, security and future by Hyderabad's oppressive monarchy could not be tolerated, and Indian forces were sent in by Patel to liberate it in May of 1948. The state of Junagadh in Gujarat was similarly liberated, after its Muslim nawab acceeded to Pakistan despite a formidable geographical separation from it, and an 80% Hindu majority population.
The last colonial war - Britain fought a war to retain the Falkland Islands after invasion by Argentina in 1982. Britain was victorious and still maintains 1,500 troops on the islands. Here, the Union Jack and the White Ensign are raised on the South Georgia Islands as the British recapture them from the Argentinians. Ironically, this war to retain the Falkland Islands group was fought at the same time that Britain gave up final control over Canada by granting it a new independent constitution. Despite giving up colonies everywhere, the United Kingdom still maintains military bases all over the world in many independent countries as well as in British Overseas Territories.
Raising the Union Jack in the Falkland Islands after the Falklands War in 1982
Official Photograph of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Malta, October 2015
Click on this link for a listing of former and current Realms of Queen Elizabeth II
Click on this link for a detailed survey of the current Realms of Queen Elizabeth II around the world
Prime Ministers of the sixteen Commonwealth nations of whom Her Majesty the Queen is Head of State have agreed during their meeting in Perth to work together towards a common approach to amending the rules on the succession to their respective Crowns. They will wish unanimously to advise The Queen of their views and seek her agreement. All countries wish to see change in two areas. First, they wish to end the system of male preference primogeniture under which a younger son can displace an elder daughter in the line of succession. Second, they wish to remove the legal provision that anyone who marries a Roman Catholic shall be ineligible to succeed to the Crown. There are no other restrictions in the rules about the religion of the spouse of a person in the line of succession and the Prime Ministers felt that this unique barrier could no longer be justified. The Prime Ministers have agreed in principle that they will each work within their respective administrations to bring forward the necessary measures to enable all the realms to give effect to these changes simultaneously.
28 October 2011
The flag of the Commonwealth of Nations, adopted 26 March 1976 and as amended in 2013
Constitutional change will continue to occur as it has done in the past. Current realms may become republics one day, but this will not affect their Commonwealth membership. Fijian leaders wish to restore the Queen as Sovereign. South Africa, Pakistan and Fiji left the Commonwealth but later returned. Zimbabwe (the former Rhodesia) left the Commonwealth in 2003 over criticism of its land reform policy of seizing white-owned farms and redistributing them to Africans. In October 2013, The Gambia left the Commonwealth due to disagreements over human rights; however, a new government brings The Gambia back into Commonwealth membership in 2017. Maldives followed and left the Commonwealth due to the same reason in October 2016.
A permanent Commonwealth Secretariat and Secretary-General were established in 1965 in London with Canadian Arnold Smith as the first Commonwealth Secretary-General. Mr. Smith served a ten-year term as Secretary-General until 1975 when he was succeeded by Guyanese Sir Shridath Ramphal. He then wrote a book about his experiences in the position entitled 'Stitches in Time: The Commonwealth in World Politics'. Queen Elizabeth II donated Marlborough House in London to be used for the offices of the new Commonwealth Secretariat, which it continues to be used as today. The Commonwealth offers aid, business, educational and election-monitoring programmes to member countries. Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings (CHOGM) are held every two years and Commonwealth Games are held every four years. Improved trade links among members is also being discussed, including potential free trade and climate change arrangements. The Commonwealth will continue to evolve in the future.
Click here to view a list of the current members of the Commonwealth of Nations and their political status.
First Commonwealth Secretary-General Canadian Arnold Smith
Click on the image below to view the front covers of passports currently issued in the United Kingdom and the British Overseas Territories
Decolonisation of the British Empire has meant that Commonwealth membership has grown from 10 members in 1957 (above) to 53 members today (below).
Personal flag of Queen Elizabeth II used in Commonwealth countries of which she is not Sovereign (e.g. India, Pakistan, Nigeria) or Realms which do not have a distinctive personal standard for her (e.g. Bahamas, Papua New Guinea. Grenada).
Outside the Commonwealth, the Queen has visited countries on every continent, mostly represeting the United Kingdom, but sometimes representing her other Realms. She has visited the United States of America 6 times during her reign - 4 times as Queen of the United Kingdom, once as Queen of Canada and twice as Queen of all of her Realms. The Queen as visited France 8 times - 6 times as Queen of the United Kingdom, once as Queen of the United Kingdom and Canada and once as Queen of Canada. Commonly, in Realms of the Queen other than the United Kingdom, the Governors General, as the Queen's representatives, make visits on behalf of those countries.
When Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne in 1952, The title of the British Monarch was changed from one imperial title covering the whole Commonwealth to individual titles in each realm giving each country some individuality. Examples of this are:
Queen Elizabeth II coronation oath 1953:
Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon, and of your Possessions and other Territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws and customs?
Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, Defender of the Faith
Changed in 1953 to: Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of Her other Realms and Territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith
Also adopted distinctive titles in all other Commonwealth Realms. Some examples are:
Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom, Canada and Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith
Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom, Australia and Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith Changed in 1973 to: Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth
Her Majesty Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, Queen of the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Her Other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith Changed in 1974 to: Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of New Zealand and Her Other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith
Union of South Africa (until 1961):
Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, Queen of South Africa and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth
Jamaica (adopted 1962):
Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Jamaica and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth
Papua New Guinea (adopted 1975):
Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Papua New Guinea and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth
Regional Trading Blocs
Economically, the British Empire was united as a single free trade area with a preferential trade agreement since 1932 in which British Empire countries gave preference to their markets for goods from other countries within the Empire. It also had monetary union for most of its members based on the British Pound Sterling. As decolonisation took place and countries gained their independence during the 1950's and 1960's, Commonwealth countries began to diversify their trade to include neighbouring countries. They also abandoned the Pound Sterling and adopted their own currencies, many based on the U.S. Dollar. For example, the majority of Canada's trade had been with the United States of America since the Second World War. With the loss of Empire, the United Kingdom looked increasingly at more access to the European market resulting in its attempts to join the European Economic Community, formed in 1957. French objections blocked British entry in 1961 and 1963, but this was finally resolved in 1973 and the United Kingdom joined the then E.E.C. After this, Commonwealth preferential trade was phased out. This caused other Commonwealth countries to look to trade elsewhere and regional trading blocs appeared all over the world.
The European Economic Community evolved into the European Union after 1992 as a customs union with monetary union for some of its members, and has become a political force in the world as well as an economic force. Cyprus and Malta, which are members of the Commonwealth, have joined the European Union. Other regional trading blocs have become customs unions or have monetary union also, like the European Union. Commonwealth countries participate in a number of regional tradings blocs throughout the world. In the 1980's, Canada formalised its trade with the United States in a free trade agreement which would later include Mexico becoming NAFTA - the North American Free Trade Agreement. Caribbean nations have formed their own economic area called CARICOM or the Caribbean Common Market. South American countries have a trade bloc called MERCOSUR. Southeastern Asian countries have ASEAN or the Association of Southeastern Asian Nations, India and its neighbours have formed SAARC or the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. Pacific nations have a Pacific Community, and in Africa, ECOWAS or the Economic Community of West African States and COMESA or the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa have been formed. Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have a customs union with each other resulting from their cooperation in colonial days.
This leaves the Commonwealth today economically fragmented and many people have called for the joining of some of these regional trading blocs into a Commonwealth Free Trade Area (CFTA), which is proposed by some political groups in the United Kingdom, particularly as an alternative to British membership of the increasingly-centralised European Union. Currently, the Commonwealth does act as a link to all of these regional trading blocs and a vehicle for global trade and inter-regional free trade. Unlike the European Union which does not allow its members to negotiate outside free trade agreements with other countries on their own, most Commonwealth countries which belong to regional free trade areas may enter into parallel free trade agreements with other parts of the world. Canada, for example, which is a member of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is negotiating parallel free trade agreements with the European Union, India and other countries around the world.
Britain Extends Its Reach Again In the 21st Century
As decolonisation and the Cold War were gathering momentum during the 1950s, an uninhabited rock in the Atlantic Ocean, Rockall, became the last territorial land acquisition of the United Kingdom. Concerns that the Soviet Union might use the island to spy on a British missile test prompted the Royal Navy to land a party and officially claim the rock in the name of the Queen in 1955. In 1972 the Island of Rockall Act formally incorporated the island into the United Kingdom.
In September 2007, Britain (United Kingdom) prepared to claim tens of thousands of square kilometres of Atlantic seabed around some of the country's remote island possessions. Britain planned to exploit an international rule that allowed countries to claim underwater territory as far away as 560 km from its shoreline. The deadline for submitting claims was May 2009. There were five claims in total that the UK put forward. They were in the Bay of Biscay; around Ascension; off the British Antarctic Territory; around the Falkland Islands and South Georgia; and in the Hatton/Rockall basin. A new grab for control of the seabed off Antarctica was triggered by British plans to claim sovereign rights over more than a million square kilometres of territory. The claims included areas around the Falkland Islands, 13,000 km from the British mainland, Ascension Island, a volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic, and Rockall, a tiny, uninhabited rock 320 km off the Scottish coast. The British government also filed a claim under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea by 2009 for a wide swath of one million square km of undersea territory adjacent to the British Antarctic Territory. Preliminary talks on Rockall were held in late September 2007 in Iceland. The head of law of the sea division of Britain's hydrographic office stated that the Falklands claim were the most likely to be contentious. The status of the British-run Falklands was hotly disputed by Argentina, which also claimed sovereignty over the islands and fought a war over the territory in 1982. Britain submitted to the United Nations a joint claim with France, Spain and the Irish Republic for part of the Bay of Biscay. It was also in discussions with Iceland, Ireland and Denmark on a joint claim in the Hattan-Rockall area off the west coast of Scotland and was working on a claim to extend around the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Ascension Island. The planned British submission to the UN was closely watched by Australia and other nations with claims on Antarctica, perhaps triggering competing claims. Technology did not yet exist to reach mineral deposits that can sit as far as four or five miles (8 km) under water.
During the northern summer of 2007, was subject to criticism for making claims beneath the Arctic Ocean, while registered a claim to thousands of square kilometres around , in the Pacific.In February 2010, a new diplomatic row between the United Kingdom and Argentina occurred over sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. The British began drilling for oil near the islands and this angered Argentina which claimed the Falklands. Argentina ruled out ever using military force again to regain control of the islands, as it had done in 1982 and lost. However, Argentina did get the support of Mexico, Latin American countries and Caribbean countries in its bid to reinforce its claim to sovereignty over the Falklands, which it called Las Malvinas. The dispute over the oil-drilling was taken to the United Nations for a hearing. This would open a new set of negotiations over sovereignty of the islands, whose inhabitants made clear that they wished to remain British. Spain also claimed sovereignty over British-ruled Gibraltar whose inhabitants wanted self-government under the British Crown. Spain also wished to reopen negotiations over the sovereignty of Gibraltar.
British armed forces are still deployed all over the world today. There are two large British bases in Cyprus, known as Akrotiri and Dhekelia, still in operation today. The land areas of these bases are still sovereign British territory. British troops are also stationed in the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Germany, Belize, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ascension Island, Diego Garcia and are in many other places as part of UN missions. British forces also operate training bases in former British Empire countries, including some current Commonwealth countries, involving a base in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada, and training facilities in Belize, Brunei, Kenya, Kuwait, Oman and also in Saudi Arabia. Though much smaller than its former glory, the United Kingdom is still a world player in military power.
The United Kingdom today is the world's sixth largest economy and exerts influence through the United Nations, the Commonwealth, NATO and the European Union.
In 2012, in the spirit of commonwealth cooperation, it was decided to create 'Commonwealth Embassies' around the world. The United Kingdom and Canada and later Australia and New Zealand, would operate joint embassies in countries where they were not represented. Both the British and Canadian Governments, both Conservative at the time, were enthusiastic about the plan. This would strengthen the Commonwealth diplomatically. It could be done among these four countries because they all share the same Queen as Sovereign. A Private Member's bill was also introduced into the British Parliament in 2012 to create a special entry queue line for citizens of any of the Queen's 16 Realms at British ports and airports. A special line for Commonwealth citizens had not existed at British entry points since the UK had joined the EEC/EU in 1973. These actions showed a renewed and revived interest in strengthening the Commonwealth in Britain and in other countries.
Express Access to the UK for Citizens of Commonwealth Realms
U.K. Conservative Member of Parliament Andrew Rosindell has proposed that after the UK leaves the European Union, some time after 2016, that an express special line be created at British Customs entry ports such as at airports and boat docks for citizens of Commonwealth Realms with the Queen as Sovereign (e.g. Canada, Australia, Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, etc.). They would have quicker and easier access to the UK along with British Citizens, similar to the privilege EU Citizens have now.
Following the British withdrawal from the European Union, another idea mooted is for a closer union of the four major Crown Realms of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and their associated states, dependencies and overseas territories with free movement of people and goods. This would stretch around the world. For a discussion of this idea, follow this link for an article in the UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph about it:
An online petition for this idea gathered over 100,000 signature within a few months and serious discussion began amongst political leaders for free trade and free movement of people among the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in a new block named with the acronym CANZUK.
Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of the Indian Empire and the first Governor General of the Dominion of India in 1947
At midnight, on 15 August, 1947, amidst ecstatic shouting of "Jai Hind" (Victory to India), India became an independent nation, with its first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru delivering his famous speech on India's tryst with destiny. Gandhi did not support the idea of partition of India, so he did not participate in the celebration of Indian Independence. He spent the day fasting and praying in Calcutta (now Kolkata). Concurrently, the Muslim northwest and northeast of British India were separated into the nation of Pakistan. Violent clashes between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs followed this partition. The area of Kashmir in the far north of the subcontinent quickly became a source of controversy that erupted into the First Indo-Pakistani War which lasted from 1947 to 1949. On 4 February 1948, Ceylon followed India and Pakistan and gained independence as a new dominion within the British Commonwealth.
Both India and Pakistan were Dominions within the Empire, granted full autonomy, with the King-Emperor crowned as King and Head of State of both India and Pakistan, and the Governor General as the King's representative. Prime Minister Nehru and Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel invited Lord Mountbatten to continue as Governor General of India. He was replaced in June 1948, by Chakravarti Rajgopalachari, a veteran Congress leader. Mohammed Ali Jinnah took charge as Pakistan's Governor General, and Liaquat Ali Khan became the Muslim state's Prime Minister. The Constituent Assemblies of both Dominions would serve as their respective legislative bodies. King George VI dropped the title ‘Emperor of India’ in 1948 to recognise India’s independence. Pakistan had come into existence in two separate parts to the west and east of India.The Dominion of India and the Dominion of Pakistan were created in 1947 and the Dominion of Ceylon in 1948.
The King's 1937 title:
His Majesty George the Sixth, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India
Changed in 1948 to:
George the Sixth, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the Faith
One man rose to the challenges faced by the tumultuous birth of a gigantic nation like no other: Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. As India's Home Minister, Sardar Patel was the leader of all-out efforts to stop communal violence; caring and rehabilitation for the 10 million Hindu and Sikh refugees pouring in from Pakistan.
As Minister for the States, Patel had the awesome responsibility of welding 565 princely states, not parts of the India that would become free on 15 August, 1947, leaving it half its natural size of today. Patel nevertheless managed by ingenious velvet glove and fist diplomacy to obtain the accession of 562 states, appealing to the patriotism of the kings and if necessary, pointing out the insurmountable and rising threat of the people's thirst for democracy and a united nation to live in. Patel also established democratic governments to rule those states while the Constitution was being prepared. Sardar Patel however, had to use force to obtain the accession of Hyderabad state. Its Muslim ruler was holding out, and even threatening to accede to Pakistan. Its 85% Hindu majority population was being oppressed, entirely shunt out of political participation, and a Muslim terrorist group propping the ruler up, called the Razakars, attacked towns and villages in India. The Princely State of Hyderabad joined India in 1948 and the State of Kashmir remained disputed between India and Pakistan.
Elizabeth II: A multi-national Queen
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II remains Queen of 16 independent Commonwealth realms, represented by a Governor General in all except the United Kingdom. She is also represented by Lieutenant Governors in the Canadian provinces and by Governors in the Australian states. The Queen also remains Queen of the British Overseas Territories, where she continues to be represented by Governors, dependencies of Australia and associated states and dependencies of New Zealand. The Queen is sovereign over more land than any other head of state in the world due to her sovereignty over large countries like Canada and Australia.
Presently Queen Elizabeth II is Sovereign of:
Islamic Republic of Gilgit 1947
In August 1947, the Governor-General of the Union of India, Lord Mountbatten of Burma, negotiated with the Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, the accession of his domain to the Union of India, that included the Northern Area, known commonly as Gilgit-Baltistan, which were assigned by the British only recently to the Maharaja of Kashmir. The local population, overwhelmingly Muslim, strongly opposed such a move. Contrary to the policies of the former Viceroy of British India (now the GG of the newly independent Dominion of India), two British officers of the Gilgit Scouts were playing a strange game supportive to the pro-Pakistani sentiments of the local population and troops under their command. They were Maj. William Alexander Brown and Capt. Mathieson. Maj.Brown, faced with the advance of Swat and Chitral troops on Gilgit, and unsure of the loyalty of his Gilgit Scout in stopping the invasion bent on the massacring the Hindus (Dogra) officials and soldiers, tried to persuade the Kashmiri-appointed local governor, Brig.Ghansar Singh to hold the referendum to decide the future belonging of the Gilgit-Baltistan area. When the governor refused, Maj.Brown got him arrested and placed into protective custody together with other Dogra officers and soldiers. Thus, Maj.Brown became instrumental in frustrating attempts of Mountbatten to hand the entire Northern Area, as part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, to India and helped to fulfill the aspiration of local Muslims to join Pakistan rather.
On November 1, 1947 the Islamic Republic of Gilgit was proclaimed with Raja Shah Rais Khan, (member of the local ruling dynasty) as its president. The flag of the new republic was raised over the governor's mansion and the new government claimed the area of Gilgit-Baltistan, several princely states, Kargil and Ladakh as its territory. with the aim of joining the Dominion of Pakistan. The Republic came to an end on November 16,1947 with the arrival of the Pakistani Agent, Sardar Mohammad Alam, who took the area into Pakistani possession. The war continued into 1948 with Pakistan holding to all of Northern Area and chunk of the State of Jammu and Kashmir known as Azad Kashmir.
But before the full culmination of the sacrifices of a generation of Indians, terrible tragedies had occurred. Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948, by a Hindu fanatic who held him responsible for partition. The whole nation trembled in shock, and literally millions of people poured out in Delhi to follow Gandhi's funeral caravan. Fond eulogies poured in from men like Albert Einstein and U.S. President Harry Truman, and even the mighty British nation, the beaten adversary of this frail old man, joined in grieving and genuine sorrow. On 25 December, 1950, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the Iron Man of India, the strongest Congress leader and Gandhi's loyal lieutenant died of a heart attack. Patel had suffered his first heart attack within a month of Gandhi's passing, as the bottled-up grief over the Mahatma's passing exploded and nearly killed him. Sardar Patel's most enduring contributions had come just after independence. The India which stepped into the latter half of the 20th century, free and sovereign, did not include Goa, until it was liberated from Portuguese control in 1961, and Pondicherry, which the French ceded in 1953-54. In 1952, India held its first democratic general elections, with a turnout of voters exceeding 62%, making it in practice the world's largest democracy. While Pakistan was satisfied to start offindependence as a Dominion, Indians began to write a new constitution for themselves which would be enacted by 1950.
Click on the gallery of maps below for the Indian Empire before and after independence and post Second World War Canada to enlarge them. These maps are low resolution. For quality high resolution maps, please purchase a CD
Decolonisation of the British Empire
The major decline of the British Empire began almost immediately after the Second World War when India was partitioned into two new Dominions of India and Pakistan in 1947. Ceylon became a Dominion in 1948 and Burma broke away from the British Commonwealth to become an independent republic. In 1948, the United Nations terminated Britain’s mandate in Palestine and partitioned it into a Jewish state and Arab lands. The independent State of Israel was born in 1949. To this day, it has an uneasy relationship with its Arab neighbours. Libya gained independence in 1952, Eritrea joined Ethiopia in 1951 and Somalia reverted to Italian control as a Trust Territory on 1 April 1950, gaining independence in 1960.
Creation Of Israel
Palestine had been a British Mandate since 1922 with the British intent of making it a national home for the Jews, against the wishes of the Arab population. By 1946, many of the surrounding Arab nations were also emerging from colonial rule. Transjordan, under the Hashemite ruler Abdullah, gained independence from Britain in 1946, but it remained under heavy British influence. The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 included provisions by which Britain would maintain a garrison of troops on the Suez Canal. From 1945 on, Egypt attempted to renegotiate the terms of this treaty, which was viewed as a humiliating vestige of colonialism. An Arab revolt took place in Palestine from 1936 to 1939.
In 1945, at British prompting, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Transjordan, and Yemen formed the Arab League to coordinate policy between the Arab states. Iraq and Transjordan coordinated policies closely, signing a mutual defense treaty, while Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia feared that Transjordan would annex part or all of Palestine, and use it as a basis to attack or undermine Syria, Lebanon, and the Hijaz.
On 29 November 1947 the United Nations General Assembly approved a plan, UN General Assembly Resolution 181, to resolve the Arab-Jewish conflict by partitioning Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. Each state would comprise three major sections, linked by extraterritorial crossroads; the Arab state would also have an enclave at Jaffa. With about 32% of the population, the Jews would get 56% of the territory, an area that then contained 499,000 Jews and 438,000 Palestinians, though this included the inhospitable Negev Desert in the south. The Palestinians would get 42% of the land, which then had a population of 818,000 Palestinians and 10,000 Jews. In consideration of its religious significance, the Jerusalem area, including Bethlehem, with 100,000 Jews and an equal number of Palestinians, was to become a Corpus Separatum, to be administered by the UN. Although some Jews criticized aspects of the plan, the resolution was welcomed by most of the Jewish population. The Zionist leadership accepted the partition plan as "the indispensable minimum” glad as they were with the international recognition, but sorry that they didn't get more. Arguing that the partition plan was unfair to the Arabs with regard to the population balance at that time, the representatives of the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab League firmly opposed the UN action and even rejected its authority to involve itself in the entire matter. They upheld "that the rule of Palestine should revert to its inhabitants, in accordance with the provisions of [...] the Charter of the United Nations." According to Article 73b of the Charter, the UN should develop self-government of the peoples in a territory under its administration.
In 1947, following increasing levels of violence by militant groups, alongside unsuccessful efforts to reconcile the Jewish and Arab populations, the British government decided to withdraw from the Palestine Mandate. Fulfilment of the 1947 UN Partition Plan would have divided the mandated territory into two states, Jewish and Arab, giving about half the land area to each state. Under this plan, Jerusalem was intended to be an international region under UN administration to avoid conflict over its status. Immediately following the adoption of the Partition Plan by the United Nations General Assembly, the Palestinian Arab leadership rejected the plan to create the as-yet-unnamed Jewish state and launched a guerilla war.
On 14 May 1948, before the expiring of the British Mandate of Palestine at midnight of 15 May 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed by David Ben-Gurion. The surrounding Arab states supported the Palestinian Arabs in rejecting both the Partition Plan and the establishment of Israel, and the armies of six Arab nations attacked the State of Israel. Over the next 15 months Israel captured an additional 26% of the Mandate territory in the Arab-Israeli War of 1948 west of the Jordan river and annexed it to the new state. Most of the Arab population fled or were expelled during the war. The continuing conflict between Israel and the Arab world resulted in a lasting displacement that persists to this day.
Click on this link to see a video of the Canadian flag changing ceremony in Ottawa on 15 February 1965 where the Canadian Red Ensign is lowered and the maple leaf flag is raised for the first time (Note: narration is in French)
Click on this link to view a video of the newsreel of the first raising of Canada's maple leaf flag on 15 February 1965
Click on this link for a newspaper article called 'Masters in our own house' about Canada achieving its full independence from Britain with the proclamation of Canada's new constitution on 17 April 1982
The Meeting of the Prime Ministers of the Queen's Realms at the CHOGM 2011 to discuss changes to the rules of Succession to the Crown.
Royal visits throughout the British Empire and later the Commonwealth have become increasingly common. The Queen's late uncle, King Edward VIII, toured the Empire as Prince of Wales in 1919 and 1920. The Queen's late father, King George VI, visited Australia as a Prince in 1927 and visited Canada as King in 1939 and the then Union of South Africa as King in 1947. Queen Elizabeth II started her reign while on a visit to Kenya in 1952 when her father died.
All during her reign, Queen Elizabeth II has visited countries all over the world - 129 countries in total. She has mostly visited Commonwealth countries, particularly those of which she is Sovereign. Besides regularly touring the home countries of the United Kingdom, the Queen has visited Canada 24 times, Australia 16 times, New Zealand 10 times, Jamaica and the Fiji Islands 6 times, the Bahamas and Barbados 5 times and Bermuda 4 times during her reign. When the Queen visits Commonwealth countries of which she is not sovereign such as republics like India and Pakistan, she visits as Head of the Commonwealth. In 1966, the Queen visited Trinidad and Tobago as Sovereign, but returned in 1985 and in 2009 as Head of the Commonwealth because the country had become a republic in 1976. When visiting Commonwealth countries of which she is not Sovereign, she uses a special personal flag shown below. This is also used in Commonwealth Realms which have not adopted distinctive personal flags for her of their own.
After the Second World War
In the years after 1945, there was a series of colonial wars. In Malaya, the British retook control of the country from the Japanese occupiers but the local people no longer accepted the right of the British to rule them. The Chinese community imitated Mao Tse Tung and formed a guerrilla army. In Kenya there was an uprising mainly over land ownership. In both cases the wars led to independence in the 1960s. But another result was that the British governing group realised the Empire was now too expensive to hold and policy changed towards preparing rapidly for independence for all the colonies. The last colonial war was in Adenwhere the British had to leave by helicopter, leaving no state behind. In the 19th century, Britain had been the source of capital for investment. In 1945 there was no such source. Thus the drive for making the colonies independent was a mixture of financial necessity, military necessity and idealism. The last came from those in Britain who campaigned for the "natives' to have the same democratic rights as British citizens at home. There was also the rise of the Superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. By comparison, Britain was now a medium power.
The above quotes courtesy of E.G. Matthews
Egypt had become independent in 1922, however, Britain retained a military presence there. In 1952, a revolution ousted the pro-British King of Egypt and a nationalist republic was proclaimed. Gamal Abdel Nasser became President and he wanted British troops out of the country. In 1956, he nationalised the Suez Canal, which has been built and maintained by Britain and France. The two colonial powers decided to attack Egypt to take back the canal, but were forced to withdraw after international disapproval. The British Empire really came to an end in 1956 after the Suez Crisis, in which the United States opposed Anglo-French intervention in Egypt, seeing it as a doomed adventure likely to jeopardise American interests in the Middle East, and when serious post-war decolonisation began in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and the Pacific, with almost unseemly haste in the face of increasingly powerful (and sometimes mutually conflicting) nationalist movements, with Britain rarely fighting to retain any territories. The full dismantling of the British Empire took fifty years – from 1947 to 1997. Colonies of other powers such as France and Belgium, and later Portugal, were becoming independent also.
Following the revolution which ousted the pro-British king in Egypt in 1952 and the Suez crisis, the last British troops left Egypt in 1956. A revolution in Iraq in 1958 ousted the pro-British king in that country. Previous alliance agreements between Britain and Egypt and Britain and Iraq had been terminated by the new governments in those countries which were fiercely nationalistic. By the late 1950's, British power in the Middle East was gone. Countries of this region would ally themselves with either the United States or the Soviet Union. Diplomatic relations between Britain and Egypt were not restored until 1969. The British would later return to Iraq with the Americans in the invasion of 2003.
Singapore became independent in two stages. The British did not believe that Singapore would be large enough to defend itself against others alone. Therefore, Singapore was joined with Malaya, Sarawak and North Borneo to form Malaysia upon independence from the Empire. This short-lived union was dissolved in 1965 when Singapore left Malaysia and achieved complete independence. East Pakistan, physically separated from West Pakistan by India, fought and won its independence from Pakistan as Bangladesh in 1972.
Click on the gallery of maps below of the Palestine mandate 1925 and the proposed partition for Jews and Arabs 1948 to enlarge them. These maps are low resolution. For quality high resolution maps, please purchase a CD
The reign of Queen Elizabeth II has seen the gradual dismantling of the Empire. In the Mediterranean, a guerrilla war waged by Greek Cypriot advocates of union with Greece ended (1960) in an independent Cyprus, although Britain did retain two military bases - Akrotiri and Dhekelia. A referendum was held in Malta in 1956 on integration into the United Kingdom, but a boycott by nationalists made this inconclusive. Malta gained independence in 1964. The end of Britain's Empire in Africa came with exceptional rapidity, often leaving the newly-independent states ill-equipped to deal with the challenges of sovereignty: Home rule and independence movements began in Africa in the early 1950’s, modelled on the movement in India of the 1930’s. This started with a home rule campaign led by Kwame Nkrumah in the Gold Coast (Ghana), in West Africa. This resulted in the creation of the first independent native-ruled African Dominion in 1957, known as Ghana, brought into existence ten years after Indian independence. Sudan and Malaya also gained independence in the 1950s. Ghana's independence was followed by that of Nigeria (1960), Sierra Leone and Tanganyika (1961), Uganda (1962), Kenyaand Zanzibar (1963), The Gambia (1965), Botswana (formerly Bechuanaland) and Lesotho (formerly Basutoland) (1966), the Federation of South Arabia (Aden) in 1967 and Swaziland (1968). These countries joined the Commonwealth. British withdrawal from the southern and eastern parts of Africa was complicated by the region's white settler populations: Kenya had already provided an example in the Mau Mau Uprising of violent conflict from 1952 to 1960 which was exacerbated by white land ownership and reluctance to concede majority rule. Despite now being called Commonwealth Realms, the Dominion of Kenya (1963-1964) and later the Dominion of Fiji (1970-1987) officially used those more traditional titles until they became republics.
In March of 1931, the Gandhi-Irwin Pact was signed, and the government agreed to set all political prisoners free. In return, Gandhi agreed to discontinue the civil disobedience movement and participate as the sole representative of the Congress in the second Round Table Conference, which was held in London in September 1931. However, the conference ended in failure in December 1931. Gandhi returned to India and decided to resume the civil disobedience movement in January 1932. For the next few years, the Congress and the government were locked in conflict and negotiations until what became the Government of India Act of 1935 could be hammered out. By then, the rift between the Congress and the Muslim League had become unbridgeable as each pointed the finger at the other acrimoniously. The Muslim League disputed the claim of the Congress to represent all people of India, while the Congress disputed the Muslim League's claim to voice the aspirations of all Muslims.
The Government of India Act 1935, the voluminous and final constitutional effort at governing British India, articulated three major goals: establishing a loose federal structure, achieving provincial autonomy, and safeguarding minority interests through separate electorates. The federal provisions, intended to unite princely states and British India at the centre, were not implemented because of ambiguities in safeguarding the existing privileges of princes. In February 1937, however, provincial autonomy became a reality when elections were held; the Congress emerged as the dominant party with a clear majority in five provinces and held an upper hand in two, while the Muslim League performed poorly.
In 1939, the Viceroy Lord Linlithgow declared India's entrance into World War II without consulting Indian provincial governments, unlike the self-governing Dominions of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, which declared war in their own parliaments. In protest, the Congress asked all of its elected representatives to resign from the government. Jinnah, the president of the Muslim League, persuaded participants at the annual Muslim League session at Lahore in 1940 to adopt what later came to be known as the Lahore Resolution, demanding the division of India into two separate sovereign states, one Muslim, the other Hindu; sometimes refered as Two Nation Theory. Although the idea of Pakistan had been introduced as early as 1930, very few had responded to it. However, the volatile political climate and hostilities between the Hindus and Muslims transformed the idea of Pakistan into a stronger demand.
Indians throughout the country were divided over World War II, as the British had unilaterally and without consulting the elected representatives of Indians, entered India into the war. Some wanted to support the British, especially through the Battle of Britain, hoping for independence eventually through this backing during the U.K.'s most critical life-death struggle. Others were enraged by the British disregard for Indian intelligence and civil rights, and were unsympathetic to the travails of the British people, which they saw as rightful revenge for the alleged enslavement of Indians.
In a climate of frustration, anger and other tumultuous emotions, arose two epochal movements that form the climax of the 100-year struggle for freedom of 350 million Indians.
The arbitrary entry of India into the war was strongly opposed by Subhash Chandra Bose, who had been elected President of the Congress twice, in 1937 and 1939. After lobbying against participation in the war, he resigned from Congress in 1939 and started a new party, the All India Forward Bloc. He was placed under house arrest, but escaped in 1941. He surfaced in Germany, and enlisted German and Japanese help to fight the British in India.
In 1943, he travelled to Japan from Germany on board German and Japanese submarines. In Japan, he helped organise the Indian National Army (INA) and set up a government-in-exile. During the war, the Andaman and Nicobar islands came under INA control, and Bose renamed them Shahid (Martyr) and Swaraj (Independence). The INA engaged British troops in northeastern India, hoping to liberate Indian territories under colonial rule. But the poorly equipped soldiers fighting in dense jungle and with little real support from the Japanese died by the thousands. Their die-hard courage, patriotism and spirit could not overcome the disastrous odds, and the INA's efforts ended with the surrender of Japan in 1945. It is agreed by many that Subhash Chandra Bose was killed in an air crash in August 1945. But his death is still controversial.
The Congress Party, which had not supported Bose's use of violence, embraced the INA martyrs and surviving soldiers as heroes. The Congress set up a special fund to take care of the survivors and the families of the soldiers who lost their lives or were seriously wounded. To this day, Subhas Bose's daring and courage are an awe-inspiring example for newer generations of Indians, and the INA soldiers are treated in equal regard and honour to the men who fought with Mahatma Gandhi, albeit the use of violence.
The Quit India Movement (Bharat Chhodo Andolan) was the final call, the definitive organised movement of civil disobedience for immediate independence of India from British rule issued by Mahatma Gandhi on 8 August, 1942, made famous by his slogan Do or Die. Unlike the previous two Gandhi-led revolts, Quit India was more controversial (as it was in the middle of World War II), and specifically designed to obtain the exit of the British from Indian shores.
The Congress Party had earlier taken the initiative upon the outbreak of war to support the British, but were rebuffed when they asked for independence in return. On 14 July, 1942, the Indian National Congress passed a resolution demanding complete independence from the United Kingdom. The draft proposed that if the British did not accede to the demands, a massive Civil Disobedience would be launched. However, it was an extremely controversial decision. The Congress had lesser success in rallying other political forces under a single flag and mast.
On 8 August, 1942, the Quit India resolution was passed at the Bombay session of the All India Congress Committee (AICC). At Gowalia Tank, Mumbai Gandhi urged Indians to follow a non-violent civil disobedience. Gandhi told the masses to act as an independent nation and not to follow the orders of the British. The British, already alarmed by the advance of the Japanese army to the India/Burma border, responded the next day by imprisoning Gandhi at the Aga Khan Palace in Pune. The Congress Party's Working Committee, or national leadership was arrested all together and imprisoned at the Ahmednagar Fort. They also banned the party altogether. Large scale protests and demonstrations were held all over the country. Workers remained absent en masse and strikes were called. However, not all the demonstrations were peaceful. Bombs exploded, government buildings were set on fire, electricity was cut and transport and communication lines were severed.
The British swiftly responded by mass detentions. A total over 100,000 arrests were made nationwide, mass fines were levied, bombs were air-dropped and demonstrators were subjected to public flogging.
The entire Congress leadership was cut-off from the rest of the world for over three years. Gandhi's wife Kasturba Gandhi died and personal secretary Mahadev Desai died in a short space of months, and Gandhi's own health was failing. Despite this, Gandhi went on protest 21-day fasts and maintained a superhuman resolve to continous resistance. Although the British released Gandhi on account of his failing health in 1944, Gandhi kept up the resistance, demanding the complete release of the Congress leadership.
The war had sapped a lot of the economic, political and military life-blood of the Empire, but the powerful Indian resistance had shattered the spirit and will of the British government, and had made it clear that after the war, even a greater, larger movement would be launched and would succeed, as no excuse or distraction fom the issue would remain. In addition, the British people and the British Army seemed unwilling to back a policy of repression in India and other parts of the Empire even as their own country lay shattered by the war's ravages. The writing was on the wall, and freedom only a matter of time.
Click on this link to view a video on a potential new Australian flag
Click on this link to view a video on the controversial debate for an Australian Republic
Britain's pursuit from 1961 and attainment of European Community membership weakened the old commercial ties to the Dominions, ending their privileged access to the UK market. Commonwealth preferential trade ended when Britain entered the European Economic Community (now European Union) in 1973 and most members of the Sterling Area left the bloc to peg their currencies with the United States Dollar. By then, only a few small possessions remained, most of which were proceeding toward independence.
The end of Britain's 400-year old trans-oceanic Empire was made official in 1998 one year after the transfer of Hong Kong back to China when the remaining British territories ceased to be Crown Colonies and were given the new status of British Overseas Territories. Their inhabitants became British Overseas Citizens with equal rights to those in the UK. Some did not want to end their British status. Gibraltar, for example, felt that it risked absorption by Spain if Britain withdrew. However, the territory was decolonised with self-government and it is represented in the European Parliament as part of Britain. Britain fought a war against Argentina in 1982 to retain control of the Falkland Islands and still maintains 1,500 troops on the islands today. A referendum on independence was held in Bermuda in 1995, but it was rejected by an overwhelming majority. The issue remains a priority for some of the island’s politicians. Others like St. Helena and Anguilla were just too small to become independent. Politicians in the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British Dependency in the Caribbean, have often discussed joining Canada. The British Empire had completely and peacefully transformed into the Commonwealth of Nations by the late 20th Century.
People from British Overseas Territories still have British passports modelled on passports issued in the United Kingdom. Today, the passports are dark red instead of blue to match the current common European Union passports. While passports issued in the United Kingdom have 'EUROPEAN UNION' at the top of the front cover; in British Overseas Territories, the words 'BRITISH PASSPORT' still appear at the top of the front cover with the British coat of arms and the name of the territory the passport was issued in below. Today's British passports carry modern biometric technology for identification. Commonwealth countries, being independent, issue their own distinctive passports.
African colonial troops march in the procession at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953. This would be for the last time as many Empire countries would soon gain their independence
Indian flag advocating for dominion status 1920's (left); Indian flag for independence 1921 (centre) and Indian flag for independence 1931 (right). A modified version of the 1931 independence flag was adopted as India's national flag at independence in 1947.
By early 1946, all political prisoners had been released, and the British openly adopted a political dialogue with the Indian National Congress for the eventual independence of India. In that year, the Congress passed a resolution that India should become an independent democratic Republic and not be part of the British Commonwealth. World War II not only changed the map of the world, it also helped mature British public opinion on India. The Labour Party's election victory in 1945 helped reassess the merits of the traditional policies. The new British Government accounced that the British would leave India by no later than June, 1948. While the British were negotiating to transfer power to India, the Muslim League renewed its demand for the formation of Pakistan. Jinnah was opposed to sharing power with the Indian National Congress, he declared 16 August 1946 as Direct Action Day, which brought communal rioting in many places in the north. Over 5,000 people were killed, mostly Hindus. On 3 June 1947, Viscount Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy, announced that independence would be advanced to 15 August of that year and he also announced plans for partition of the British Indian Empire into secular India, and Muslim Pakistan, which itself was divided into east and west wings on either side of India. They would, however, remain in the British Commonwealth as completely independent and sovereign Dominions, each with a Governor General representing the Crown. The Congress agreed to this rather than try to fight for a Republic in order to bring about independence much faster. They knew that they could always write a new constitution and walk out of the British Commonwealth later.
In 1952, a revolution ousted the pro-British King of Egypt and a nationalist republic was declared. Gamal Abdel Nasser had become President and he wanted foreign troops out of Egypt. Britain's desire to mend Anglo-Egyptian relations in the wake of the coup saw her strive for rapprochement with the latter throughout 1953 and 1954. Part of this process was the agreement, in 1953, to terminate British rule in The Sudan by 1956 in return for Cairo's abandoning of its claim to suzerainty over the Nile Valley region. In October 1954, Britain and Egypt concluded an agreement on the phased evacuation of British troops from the Suez base, the terms of which agreed to withdrawal of all troops within 20 months, maintenance of the base to be continued, and for Britain to hold the right to return for seven years. Despite the establishment of such an agreement with the British, Nasser's position remained tenuous. The loss of Egypt's claim to the Sudan, coupled with the continued presence of Britain at Suez for a further two years, led to domestic unrest including an assassination attempt against him in October 1954. The tenuous nature of Nasser's rule caused him to believe that neither his regime, nor Egypt's independence would be safe until Egypt had established itself as head of the Arab world. This would manifest itself in the challenging of British Middle Eastern interests throughout 1955. Britain was eager to tame the unruly Nasser and looked towards the U.S. for support. However, Washington remained unresponsive. The events that brought the crisis to a head occurred in the spring/summer of 1956. On May 16th Nasser officially recognised the People's Republic of China, a move that angered the U.S. and its Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, a keen sponsor of Taiwan. This move, coupled with the impression that the project was beyond Egypt's economic capabilities, caused Washington to withdraw all American financial aid for the Aswan Dam project on July 19th. Nasser's response was the nationalisation of the Suez Canal on 26 July 1956. The nationalisation of the Suez Canal hit British economic and military interests in the region. Britain was under immense domestic pressure from Conservative MPs who drew direct comparisons between the events of 1956 and those of Munich in the 1930s. After the American government didn't support the British protests, the British government decided for the military intervention against Egypt to avoid the complete collapse of British prestige in the region. However, direct military intervention ran the risk of angering the United States and damaging Anglo-Arab relations. As a result, the British government concluded a secret military pact with France and Israel that aimed at regaining the Suez Canal. The combined forces of the United Kingdom, France and Israel attacked Egypt on 29 October 1956 to retake the canal, but this met with international condemnation, even from some Commonwealth nations. The operation to take the canal was highly successful from a military point of view, but was a political disaster due to external forces.
The United States forced a cease-fire on Britain, Israel, and France which it had previously told the Allies it would not do. The U.S. demanded that the invasion stop managed to get a United Nations resolution to support it, which established the first United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF), and called for "an immediate cease-fire". Portugal and Iceland went so far as to suggest ejecting Britain and France from NATO if they didn't withdraw from Egypt. Britain and France withdrew from Egypt within a week. After an occupation since 1882, British forces, along with French allies, left Egypt for the last time by 22 December 1956, to be replaced by neutral UNEF troops. The Suez Canal, which had been the lifeline of the British Empire, was lost and this was seen as the last gasp of the Empire. Nasser declared Egypt’s complete independence from the United Kingdom and diplomatic relations between the two countries were not re-established until 1969. Decolonisation of the rest of the Empire would soon follow.
British Empire territories and flags and what they are today (Aden to British India)
British Empire territories and flags and what they are today (British Solomon Islands to Ireland)
British Empire territories and flags and what they are today (Jamaica to Sarawak)
British Empire territories and flags and what they are today (Seychelles to Western Samoa)
The old Dominions, which had stood loyally by Britain’s side during World War II, were becoming far more nationalistic in the second half of the 20th Century. Canada was the first Dominion to introduce its owncitizenship in 1947, as distinct from the common imperial citizenship of British subjects. This was followed by the abolition of appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London in 1948 and the appointment of the first Canadian-born Governor General in 1952. At this time, the term 'Dominion Government' was replaced by 'Federal Government' to describe Canada's parliament. Moves to adopt a unique Canadian flag to replace the Union Jack and Canadian Red Ensign as Canada’s national flags began seriously in 1946, and were finally achieved after much debate and disagreement with adoption of the Maple Leaf flag as Canada's national flag in 1965. Loyalist Ontario and Manitoba reacted against this change by bringing in their own red ensigns with their badges on the fly, which they still use today. The Union Jack was also confirmed as Canada's Royal flag to continue to be used to show the allegiance to the Crown. 'O Canada' replaced 'God save the Queen' as the national anthem in 1980, which remained as the royal anthem only. The last constitutional control by Britain was removed in 1982 when Canada finally adopted its own constitution. To reflect the achievement of full independence, the national holiday Dominion Day was renamed as Canada Day. However, the Queen remains Sovereign of Canada. Canada joined a free trade agreement (NAFTA) with the United States and Mexico in 1988. Though never legally abolished, the title Dominion of Canada is no longer officially used and the nation is just simply referred to as Canada.
Australia, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa followed Canada and introduced their own citizenships in 1948-49. Abolition of appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London and the appointment of a locally-born Governor General soon came. Australia had actually led the way and convinced the King to appoint an Australian-born Governor General in 1931, which was the first locally-born Governor General to be appointed in the British Empire. However, with a change of government, Australia reverted to British Governors General until 1965. The first New Zealand-born Governor General was appointed in 1967. New Zealand did not abolish appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council for many years after that.
In 1953, the Australian Government passed the Australian Flags Act which formally replaced the Union Jack with the Australian blue ensign as its national flag, though the Union Jack would continue to fly in Australia as well. The Union Jack continued to fly alongside the blue ensign national flag in New Zealand well into the 1950's, and in some cases instead of it. The Union Jack was featured on the New Zealand coat of arms until 1956, when it was replaced with a crown. Eventually, the Union Jack was phased out in New Zealand in favour of only the blue ensign national flag. Australia and New Zealand replaced 'God save the Queen' with their own national anthems in the late 1970's. As in Canada, 'God save the Queen' remained as a royal anthem only in Australia and New Zealand with limited use to royal visits and occasions. In 2015 and 2016, New Zealand held two referenda on adopting a new national flag replacing the Union Jack in the top left corner with a silver fern, which is the nation's symbol. The first referendum was to choose from five new designs and the second referendum put the most favoured new design up against the existing flag. The existing New Zealand flag won the referendum by 55% and Fiji decided to retain its existing flag after much opposition. Calls for a new Australian flag went nowhere.
Australian states and New Zealand also had a direct constitutional link with Britain until 1986 when Australian and New Zealand constitutional Acts finally ended these links in that year. A referendum was held on republican status for Australia in 1999, but was defeated. The Queen remains Sovereign in Australia and in New Zealand, which maintained very close links with Britain, including a vast majority of trade until Britain joined the E.E.C. in 1973. Australia and New Zealand are now forging economic ties with nearby Asian states, and republicanism is growing in those two countries, particularly in Australia. Proposals for new distinctive national flags deleting the Union Jack in the corner are also being discussed. The title Dominion of New Zealand was changed to the Realm of New Zealand. Australia remains as the Commonwealth of Australia, where republicanism is strong in some parts of the country. Two territories in the Pacific, Cook Islands and Niue, have become associated states of New Zealand. This means that they are virtually independent and have their own governments and representatives of the Crown, but New Zealand controls their defence and foreign affairs. They are only one step away from complete independence.
Marlborough House in London, UK - the office of the Commonwealth Secretariat
The Commonwealth idea has been so successful that it has been copied by other powers and former empires. In 1946, the French Empire became the French Union which was a large political union of all of the French colonies with France. After demands for independence, it was replaced by the French Community in 1958 which was modelled on the Commonwealth, but France still retained much control and influence. Membership dwindled down to just a few African countries, so a new type of association which was looser and more equal was considered. The French Community was finally replaced in 1986 by La Francophonie, which is very similar to the Commonwealth as an equal association of nations. It has a Secretary-General based in Paris, similar to the Commonwealth Secretary-General in London. Meetings of heads of government are held every two years similar to the Commonwealth meetings but in different years, so that heads of government of members of both organisations can attend both meetings. La Francophonie Games are also held similar to the Commonwealth Games, also in different years for the benefit of members of both organisations. In La Francophonie, the emphasis is based on the common French language just like the common English language in the Commonwealth. La Francophonie also contains Belgium and its former colonies and some countries which were never colonies of France but use French at an official level such as Romania, Switzerland and Egypt. Some Commonwealth countries are also members of La Francophonie due to the existence of both English and French at an official level and their histories of being French colonies before being taken over by the British. These include Canada, Saint Lucia, Dominica, Mauritius and Vanuatu. Vanuatu is a former British and French condominium being governed by both powers together. Canadians provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick, which have large French-speaking populations, are represented in La Francophonie as participating governments. Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking international organisations also exist similar to the Commonwealth and La Francophonie.
The British research base in Antarctica
For detailed information on the flags and military of the British Empire and today's major Commonwealth nations, follow this link to Empire to Commonwealth Project
In the Union of South Africa, the pro-republican Nationalist party had been in power since 1948 and they set about abolishing Imperial symbols. The Union of South Africa had become the second country to appoint locally-born Governors General, beginning in 1943. The South African red ensign with the Union Jack in the upper canton and coat of arms on the fly had been used at sea until it was abolished in 1951, and use of the Union Jack alongside the national flag was abolished in 1958. 'God save the Queen' was dropped as the national anthem also in 1958. The Union of South Africa was transformed into a republic outside the Commonwealth in 1961 after a very narrow victory for republican status in a referendum during the previous year, becoming the Republic of South Africa. It left the Commonwealth after criticism of its Apartheid policy. The mandate over South-West Africa, held since 1919, was terminated in 1990 when it became independent within the Commonwealth as Namibia. The Republic of South Africa also returned to the Commonwealth in 1994 after the abandonment of Apartheid. South Africa then adopted a new national flag which deleted the Union Jack and the flags of the old Boer Republics which had been in the centre of the previous national flag.
Residual powers of the British Parliament over the Dominions were finally removed, making the Dominions totally independent, by the Union of South Africa becoming a republic in 1961, the passage of the Canada Act 1982, the Australia Act 1986, and the New Zealand Constitution Act 1986.
In Canada, two referenda were held on independence in Quebec in 1980 and in 1995. Both were defeated, but the second one only by a razor-thin margin. A third independence referendum is still advocated by separatists in Quebec, but support for separation remains low.
The Queen is also Sovereign in nine countries in the Caribbean and three in the Pacific, independent since the 1960’s.
Click on this link to view a report on the evolutionary process of independence of British Dominions (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland) between the 1930's and the 1980's.
At the time of independence of the two new Dominions of India and Pakistan, the other Dominions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa, which had become autonomous within the British Empire in 1931, were declared in 1947 to be of equal status with the United Kingdom within the British Commonwealth, free to establish their own citizenships and appoint their own ambassadors. Canada had appointed its first ambassador, which was to the United States, in 1943. Upon the independence of India and Pakistan in August 1947, the British Government departments responsible for the empire were changed. The Dominions Office merged with the India Office as the Commonwealth Relations Office. The Commonwealth Relations Office later merged with the Colonial Office in 1966 to become the Commonwealth Office since most British colonial territories had gained independence by then. This lasted for only two years, as the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Office merged in 1968 to create the single Foreign and Commonwealth Office, commonly called the Foreign Office or the FCO, which it remains today. It is the British government department responsible for promoting the interests of the United Kingdom overseas. Until the late 1940's, all citizens of the British Empire were British Subjects with no distinctive Dominion citizenships. Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, etc. were British Subjects only, and travelled on British passports. However, after 1947, that began to change. The British Commonwealth countries began to establish their own distinctive national citizenships beginning withCanada in 1947, followed by South Africa in 1948 and Australia and New Zealand in 1949. Peoples of these countries remained as British Subjects in addition to becoming citizens of their own countries. Common British Subject status alongside national citizenship throughout the Commonwealth was phased out in the 1970's. Ireland had established its own citizenship in 1936 when it adopted a quasi-republican constitution.
Historical Atlas of the British Empire
The Changing United Kingdom
After the granting of independence within the British Empire, separatism began to rise in the United Kingdom itself. 26 of the 32 counties of Ireland had seceded from the United Kingdom in 1922 and desires for Dominion status had begun in Scotland, Wales and Ulster in the 1930's, but remained limited. However, after Prime Minister Harold MacMillan's 'Winds of Change' speech made in South Africa in 1961 about the end of imperialism, nationalism began to seriously threaten the unity of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland had continued to be part of the United Kingdom but with its own parliament, almost a Dominion. However, this parliament was dominated by the Protestant majority who discriminated against Catholics. Sectarian violence blew up in Northern Ireland after 1969 between Unionists who wish to stay British and Nationalists who wanted to join the Irish Republic. The Northern Irish parliament was suspended in 1972 and replaced with direct rule from Westminster. This ended with the Good Friday Agreement of 10 April 1998 which brought about a fragile peace and the establishment of self-government of power-sharing between the two communities and a deadline of disarmament of militants by 2000.
Scottish nationalists, advocating immediate full independence for Scotland, elected their first members to the British parliament in the late 1960’s. Welsh nationalists also elected some members at the same time but with a more moderate goal of a Welsh Parliament within a federal United Kingdom. Independence for Wales remains their long-term objective. In 1974, Monmouthshire, long part of England, was recognised as part of Wales as the county of Gwent. There is even a small group who wish independence for England, shedding the rest of the United Kingdom. Cornish nationalists want an autonomous Cornwall recognised as a country within the United Kingdom rather than as a county within England. Finally, there are independence advocates in the Crown possessions of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
In response to this growing nationalism, a devolved Scottish Parliament, a Welsh Assembly and a Northern Irish Assembly were established in 1999. Further powers were devolved to these legislatures later on. Nationalists who formed the government in Scotland after 2007 wish to make the country into a fully independent Commonwealth Realm, demanding independence from the United Kingdom, but retaining the allegiance to the Crown in an arrangement similar to Canada and Australia. In 2010, public support for splitting up the UK into independent states remains at 40 per cent in Northern Ireland, 30 per cent in Scotland, 15 per cent in Wales and 10 per cent in England, so it is a minority everywhere. This makes secession unlikely, but constitutional change and more devolved powers will continue. There are some who advocate a fully federal UK as a solution.
The British Government now believes in settling constitutional questions with referenda, so letting the people decide. A referendum in Gibraltar resulted in 98% of the people voting to remain a British territory and not to become part of Spain. A referendum was held in the Falkland Islands in 2013 and 99% voted to remain a British territory, though this was not accepted by Argentina. An independence referendum was held in Scotland in September 2014, in which Scots voted 55% to 45% to remain within the United Kingdom. Scotland was now part of Britain with the consent of its people. New powers were then granted to Scotland by the U.K. Government. A new poll in Northern Ireland since power-sharing between Protestants and Catholics was instituted shows a surprising 73% supporting staying in the United Kingdom including 52% of Catholics. These polls suggest that support for retaining links with Britain is strong if internal self-government is granted. New powers for all the various regions of the United Kingdom will be discussed in the near future.
The Commonwealth of Nations
The modern Commonwealth of Nations was founded in 1949 with only eight members including seven realms and one republic; today, there are 53 independent members of the Commonwealth of Nations, 16 of which are realms that recognise Queen Elizabeth II as Sovereign, 5 have their own indigenous monarchies and 32 are republics. There are also two almost-independent associated states of New Zealand and 13 remaining British dependencies, now referred to as British Overseas Territories. About 95% of the British Empire remains voluntarily within the Commonwealth today. The Commonwealth has evolved three times. In 1931, the British Commonwealth was formed of just autonomous British Empire dominions. In 1949, it evolved into the Commonwealth of Nations as India joined as the first republican member. In 1995, the first non-former British Empire territories joined the Commonwealth. Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony in southern Africa, and Cameroon, consisting of both former British and French mandates, became members of the Commonwealth in 1995, thus, for the first time, extending the organisation beyond the borders of the former British Empire. Rwanda, a former Belgian mandate, became the second country with no historical links to the British Empire to join the Commonwealth in 2009. Other aspirant nations, particularly in Africa, are expected to apply to join the Commonwealth in the future, as it offers many programmes as a stable English-speaking bloc. Since the 1980’s, members are required to adhere to democracy, respect human rights and use English as an official language. The Commonwealth has no formal structure or constitution, but is an organisation of independent states cooperating with each other. Even though most members are republics and some even have their own monarchies, all members recognise Queen Elizabeth II as Head of the Commonwealth, a purely ceremonial position, as was agreed upon when the organisation was established in 1949. To this day, members exchange High Commissioners instead of ambassadors. Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conferences, begun in 1944, became Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGM) in 1971, which continue every two years to the present. The title had to change because some countries were represented by Presidents.
The original Empire Day on May 24 became Commonwealth Day in 1958. However, to symbolise a break with the colonial past, since 1976, Commonwealth Day is held on the second Monday in March. The Queen’s Official Birthday is celebrated as a holiday in the Falkland Islands in April, in Canada in May, in the United Kingdom and other British Overseas Territories, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji in June. Canada is the only country in the Commonwealth which still celebrates the original 24 May Empire Day holiday, a day which is no longer observed even in the United Kingdom. Though today, it is known in Canada as Victoria Day and has also been the present monarch's official birthday in that country since 1957.
All of the African and Asian Commonwealth countries have become republics except a few which have their own indigenous monarchs. However, in addition to the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth II remains sovereign of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Caribbean and Pacific Island nations, as well as remaining British Overseas Territories such as Gibraltar, Bermuda, the Falkland Islands, St. Helena, a few Caribbean islands and Antarctic Territories. This may change in the future as more realms of the Queenmay become republics. The Queen remains sovereign of more land than any other head of state in the world, though not as much as in the early days of her reign when she was also Queen of countries such as South Africa and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). In each of her realms, except the United Kingdom, the Queen is represented by a Governor General and also by Governors in the states of Australia and by Lieutenant Governors in the provinces of Canada.
Beside the Royal Standard used in Britain, the Queen has adopted distinctive personal flags for some of her other realms: in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica and Barbados. She also had personal flags inSierra Leone, Trinidad & Tobago, Malta and Mauritius when they realms before they became republics. All Governors General in the realms used a blue flag with a lion and crown and a scroll bearing the country’s name on it. Canada, Fiji (when it was a realm), Solomon Islands and New Zealand now use distinctive variations. Canada has a lion and maple leaf, New Zealand has a national shield as of 2008, Fiji had a whale’s tooth on its former Governor General’s flag, and Solomon Islands has a frigate bird. Commonwealth countries have also adopted distinctive military ensigns that are similar to the British ones. On 26 March 1976, the Commonwealth of Nations adopted its own distinctive flag consisting of a gold globe, surrounded by 61 gold spears, on a blue field to replace the use of the British Union Jack as the Commonwealth flag. The flag developed from car pennants produced for the first time at the 1973 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, held in Ottawa, Canada. The initiative for its design is credited to two Canadians: the first Commonwealth Secretary-General, Arnold Smith; and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. It was officially adopted on 26 March 1976, the same year in which Commonwealth Day was established in March.
The Dominions, previously issuing British passports, started issuing their own passports after 1947-1948 when they created their own citizenships. New UK citizenship acts in 1948 and 1983 restricted the free travel of a British passport to the UK and remaining colonies only. Free movement around the Empire-Commonwealth ended in the 1960's when visa restrictions began as countries were gaining independence. Today, distinctive British passports, once used throughout one quarter of the world, no longer exist. They have been replaced by the new burgundy-coloured European Union passports allowing British people to have free access throughout Europe, but not the Commonwealth. British Subject status was ended in 1998 and replaced with British Citizen status for residents of the UK and British Overseas Citizen status for residents of British Overseas Territories.
The Hong Kong handover ceremony at midnight on June 30, 1997
Click on this link to view a video of the Hong Kong handover ceremony on June 30, 1997