The Term British Commonwealth is used to cover the following areas of the World:
- The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
- The Self-Governing Dominions (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Newfoundland)
- The Empire of India
- The Crown Colonies
- Dependencies and Protectorates
- Mandated Territories
The Term Governments-in-Exile covers those countries which had been occupied by the Germans and whose Governments had taken refuge in the United Kingdom. These included Poland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Norway, Yugoslavia and Greece. France's official government (Vichy France) became neutral but an exile government led by Charles de Gaulle was established in the United Kingdom in 1940 so France is considered part of this category until late 1942 when French North Africa was liberated and a French Government was established there.
The Irish Free State was part of the Commonwealth but remained neutral. Its armed forces are not included in this database. A very large number of Irish men and women served in the British armed forces during the War.
All formations and units from the above countries are counted as part of the British Commonwealth; Nationality is used to identify which country a unit was recruited from.
Nationality is used to identify which Dominion an individual is associated with. During the period covered, all Commonwealth officers had British Nationality regardless of whether their place of birth.
Force is used to identify the origin of Units. It should be noted that the United Kingdom and the Dominions and Colonies did not have a single homogenous army as many other countries (such as Germany) did, but rather a collection of separate "Armies" with differing origins, roles and constitutional status. With the exception of the various regular armies, most forces were part-time; the British whether at home or in the Dominions had a long-standing distrust of large conscripted standing armies which went back to the dictatorship of Oliver Cromwell in the 1650s! Conscription only existed in times of great national emergency as a result.
Please see the Notes Page for more information on British Commonwealth formations and regiments.
Most British and Commonwealth units of Battalion and Company size were part of a Corps (also known as a Regiment). This database allows users to display a list of all the units within a particular Corps through the Corps Page.
Role is used to identify the function an officer performed when posted in an Appointment to a Unit. Some officers were always posted in a "Command" Role, i.e. GOC, CO or OC while other officers were always posted to roles on the "Staff". Some officers performed a great variety of roles in their wartime careers.
Unlike other Armies, British HQs actually had three distinct Staff Branches, although at some levels, such as Division and Brigade level, officers might perform functions associated with more than one Branch. Role Titles varied between Branches and the HQ associated.
The three Branches were :
- The General Staff Branch (G)
- The Quartermaster-General's Branch (Q)
- The Adjutant-General's Branch (A)
Officers at each HQ in the different Branches were considered to be Assistants or Deputy Assistants to the General Officer in charge of each Branch at the Dominion Level.
At the Dominion HQ Level (i.e. the War Ministry in London or Army HQ in Melbourne), each Branch was divided into a number of Directorates each of which was managed by a Director, an officer with the rank of Brigadier or Colonel. Each Director was assisted by an Assistant Director and a number of staff officers with a Role of GSO I, GSO II, GSO III etc.
Please be aware that the amount and quality of data available for each Commonwealth country differs widely according to the sources available. For example, Orders of Battle 1939-45 by Lieutenant-Colonel HF Joslen covers British and Colonial Divisions and Brigades in some depth but has little information on British Commands, Corps and Armies and devotes very little space to Dominion and Indian formations. The Canadian Official Histories on the other hand have lots of information on Army, Corps, Division and Brigade staff officers but do not have comprehensive information for each Division and Brigade.
It should also be noted that there is often a discrepancy between dates listed for an Appointment in an Army List and that mentioned in a War Diary or History book. The Army List date is the official date that the officer was "gazetted" to that Appointment, it does not mean that the officer took up the appointment on that date. While this site does use Army List dates, if the actual date from a War Diary differs from the Army List date, then the War Diary date is used.
The Commanding Officer of a Battalion was usually a Lieutenant-Colonel, and the Army List or Regimental History may show him in command for a specific period. These dates may in reality not be strictly accurate as the officer in question may be sick, on leave, on a course or even detached overseas on a tour of inspection! During these periods of absense, the senior Major, or sometimes Captain, will be Acting Commanding Officer. I list these appointments where known.