In 1939, the British Empire ruled over areas on all seven continents and around a quarter of the world’s population. During the Second World War, British and Commonwealth forces served alongside men and women from across the Empire. Some did so in their own distinct forces with their own units and commands, while others served directly within the British Armed Forces.

© IWM (HU 69091) An Australian anti-aircraft battery during a night practice shoot at Werribee, near Perth.


Australia entered the war on 3 September 1939 when Great Britain declared war on Germany. By 1945, almost one million Australians, both men and women, served in many parts of the world, on land, at sea and in the air.

© IWM (K 1385) Canadian troops (Winnipeg Grenadiers or Canadian Royal Rifles) marching into their new camp on arrival at Hong Kong, 16 November 1941.

Canada and Newfoundland

Canada entered the war on 10 September 1939. Within months they arrived in Great Britain to supplement the BEF. Canadian forces served across the globe in Hong Kong, Italy, North West Europe and the North Atlantic.

© IWM (E 3753E) Indian troops of the 20th Division search for Japanese at the badly damaged station in Prome, 3 May 1945.


With 2.5 million men, the Indian Army of the Second World War was the largest volunteer army in history. Indians served in theatres of war across the world, at sea and in the air, as well as contributing to support and medical care.

© IWM (MH 5886) Pilots and groundcrew of No 3 Squadron, South African Air Force, chalk up their 101st enemy aircraft shot down on the fuselage of a captured Italian CR 42 fighter.

South Africa

During the Second World War, South Africans served all over the world and in many roles. Many died far from their home country and their contribution to the Allied war effort was significant.

© IWM (E 3373) Maori troops line up on the quayside at Alexandria in Egypt following their evacuation from Crete. Between 28 May and 1 June 1941, 18,000 Australian, New Zealand and British troops were rescued by the Royal Navy following a week of bitter fighting against German airborne forces.

New Zealand

At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, New Zealand formed the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force. The first of several contingents of troops sent overseas arrived in Egypt in February 1940.