By Stephen Bailey

The United Kingdom, in all her phases of development as a country: England, England and Wales, Great Britain after Union with Scotland in 1707 and then the U.K. after Union with Ireland in 1801 (Northern Ireland from 1922) has always enjoyed the military assistance of other parts of the world she has links to via various associations, cultural, militarily, political etc. or as an associated territory, during the period of Empire then subsequently Commonwealth.

It’s valid to assert that the assistance of the U.K.’s associated territories has been crucial in helping the U.K. survive as a nation.

After regnal union with England in the Thirteenth Century, Wales’ armed forces were merged with those of England (a putative British Army). Previously, the Welsh had a long history of martial prowess and this greatly augmented the fighting capacity of the new joined entity of England and Wales. This composite army achieved new heights of military success.

Notable examples of this were the Welsh archers who decimated the French at the battle of Agincourt, an English victory in the Hundred Years War. It took place on 25th October 1415 (St. Crispin’s Day) near Azincourt in Northern France. The (unexpected) English victory against the numerically far superior French army boosted English morale and prestige, crippled France and started a new period of English dominance in the war. 

This successful military partnership of the English and Welsh continued down the centuries and resulted in many other examples of Welsh military prowess leading to significant victories for the English / Welsh army. The Battle of Rorke’s Drift (1879) was an engagement in the Anglo – Zulu War in which around 150 British soldiers, mostly of a Welsh regiment, continuously repulsed attacks from a numerically superior Zulu force of around 4, 000, who eventually gave up the assault.

11 Victoria Crosses, the highest U.K. military award for bravery, were awarded to surviving U.K. soldiers.

After Union with Scotland in 1707, the army of England / Wales was further buttressed by the exceptional prowess of the Scottish regiments. The Scots played a very significant role in several key battles in the new British Army during many subsequent wars and campaigns from being the ‘thin red line’ that stood up and made the French Imperial Guard run (the first time they’d ever done so) at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 – so ensuring Wellington a victory when the outcome was actually in the balance, to the numerous subsequent efforts in many wars and conflicts that followed, including both world wars of the Twentieth Century.

It was the same story with Ireland and Northern Ireland, with troops from that part of the U.K. providing much valuable manpower which contributed significantly to ensuring U.K. military success.

This narrative of successful military cooperation between the U.K. and her partners was the same with the Empire, Dominions and Commonwealth.

Troops from all over England’s / Great Britain’s / the United Kingdom’s partners in territories she became joined with in the Empire / Dominions and other associated territories lent vast military support to the U.K.

An excellent example of this is during both world wars of the Twentieth Century. The Empire and Dominions rallied to the defence of the U.K. with great enthusiasm and in great numbers.

Dominions such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada (to give only three instances) are prime examples of this. The Australians dug in at the siege of Tobruk in Libya, Africa (which lasted for 241 days in 1941), so ensuring the eventual defeat of the German and Italian forces there, the first Allied victory against the Axis in World War Two, to give just one example. They continued to provide invaluable contributions in many theatres throughout the war.  

The armed forces of Canada provided yet more vital support in both world wars and were one of the key elements in helping secure victory in many theatres of war. Canada also made a highly significant contribution to the success of the D Day landings and subsequent campaign against the Axis powers in Europe.

All this common experience bodes well for future Twenty First Century cooperation between countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the U.K.

Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. have a common military heritage and this shows in things as diverse as ranks, camouflage patterns and banners. They have a high degree of inter-operability and in some cases, citizens of one nation can join the armed forces of another.

There are strategic similarities as well. Three out of four are island nations, whilst the fourth, Canada has the longest coastline, which places a premium on air power.

All the  nations have considerable dependence on trade, vulnerability to blockade and an interest in open sea-lanes. They are all nations with an emphasis on technology over manpower.

Finally, all are allies of the United States in the strict military sense, but also as intelligence collaborators via the ‘Five Eyes’ network.

A formal military alliance would greatly enhance the operational effectiveness of all the countries’ armies, much in the same way that the Five Eyes network did for intelligence. Aspects such as procurement (accepting talented personnel to enhance the efficiency of the other countries’ armies with training), enhancing each others’ capabilities (in areas such as missiles, anti-aircraft defences, airborne radars etc.) and synchronising naval procurement are other areas of significant advantage that provide great potential for cooperation.

In synopsis such military cooperation between Commonwealth countries provides a chance to enhance military effectiveness by building something much more substantial than the soft collaboration that exists now.

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© 2021 Stephen Bailey


  1. A good article from Mr.Bailey with just one historical mistake initiated by the largely Welsh contingent in the film ‘Zulu’ when the claim that the regiment fighting at Rorkes Drift was Welsh was made, directly and indirectly, numerous times.
    In January 1879 the name of the regiment fighting in South Africa was the 24th of foot, the second Warwickshire Regiment which didn’t become the South Wales Borderers until two years after because of the Cardwell reforms to the army.
    Like most regiments in Victorian times the solders origin was a mixture from all of the home nations as the generals believed the mixture created a more formidable fighting force, it is however known that the majority of the soldiers fighting that day were English.


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