The ‘battle of the Great War’ continues this week with the news that the British government intend to snub the sacrifice of Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) troops in the First World War by focussing UK based efforts on so-called ‘New Commonwealth Nations’. An Australian newspaper reported:
“British government sources have confirmed internal briefings on WWI commemorations have not mentioned Australia or New Zealand once, instead staff from departments and cabinet offices have been briefed to concentrate on other British Empire contributions by soldiers from countries such as Nigeria and other dominions in West Africa, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The ‘new Commonwealth’ is a British term to describe predominantly non-white and developing decolonised countries and is often used in debates on immigration.”
Curiously the same article ended with the statement:
“Australia’s Department of Veterans Affairs and the Australian High Commission in London are planning a series of Australian-specific events in the UK this year and next year, the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli.”
So is Britain intending to forget the ANZAC and indeed Canadian and South African, contribution to the conflict? Of course not. The article presumes the WW1 Centenary is entirely led by the British Government, which it is not, and forgets that there are many thousands of families in Britain whose WW1 ancestors fought in these Commonwealth armies, often from the very beginning: some 70% of the Canadian Expeditionary Force who enlisted in 1914 were born in Britain, for example. It also forgets that a large proportion of UK citizens trace their own ancestry to the ‘New Commonwealth’ nations so a focus on them is directly relevant to people who live here.
Rightly, the British government is putting British taxpayers money into British led WW1 Centenary projects. It probably presumes, as the end quote of the above article confirms, that individual Commonwealth nations will fund and organise their own commemoration; which is clearly the case. I doubt I am alone in thinking that the Australian government is unlikely to run a series of events in Australia relating to the Old Contemptibles this August. They may honour them in Mons with commemorations there by the presence of an ambassador or military attaché (as indeed a number of Australians were in the original BEF), but that is as it should be. No-one is expecting more and I very much doubt the average Commonwealth citizen believes Britain should bankroll a whole series of ANZAC events.
One hopes this article is not a sign of things to come: a non-story written to tug on the heart strings of patriotism and whip up a frenzy, when in reality battlefields like the Western Front are very much dominated by memorials to Commonwealth sacrifice and anyone who studies the Great War for more than five minutes will realise what a crucial part of the British Armies on the Western Front, and indeed elsewhere, they were.