The Commonwealth of Nations, formerly the British Commonwealth also known as simply the Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organisation of 52 member states that are mostly former territories of the British Empire. The Commonwealth operates by intergovernmental consensus of the member states, organised through the Commonwealth Secretariat and non-governmental organisations, organised through the Commonwealth Foundation.
The Commonwealth dates back to the mid-20th century with the decolonisation of the British Empire through increased self-governance of its territories. It was formally constituted by the London Declaration in 1949, which established the member states as "free and equal". The symbol of this free association is Queen Elizabeth II who is the Head of the Commonwealth. The Queen is also the monarch of 16 members of the Commonwealth, known as Commonwealth realms. The other Commonwealth members have different heads of state: 31 members are republics and five are monarchies with a different monarch. Member states have no legal obligation to one another. Instead, they are united by language, history, culture and their shared values of democracy, free speech, human rights, and the rule of law. These values are enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter and promoted by the quadrennial Commonwealth Games.
The Commonwealth covers more than 29,958,050 km2 (11,566,870 sq mi), 20% of the world's land area, and spans all six inhabited continents. With an estimated population of 2.328 billion people, nearly a third of the world population, the Commonwealth in 2014 produced a nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of $10.45 trillion, representing 14% of the gross world product when measured nominally and 17% of the gross world product when measured in purchasing power parity (PPP).
Queen Elizabeth II, in her address to Canada on Dominion Day in 1959, pointed out that the confederation of Canada on 1 July 1867 had been the birth of the "first independent country within the British Empire". She declared: "So, it also marks the beginning of that free association of independent states which is now known as the Commonwealth of Nations." As long ago as 1884, however, Lord Rosebery, while visiting Australia, had described the changing British Empire—as some of its colonies became more independent—as a "Commonwealth of Nations". Conferences of British and colonial prime ministers occurred periodically from the first one in 1887, leading to the creation of the Imperial Conferences in 1911.
The Commonwealth developed from the imperial conferences. A specific proposal was presented by Jan Smuts in 1917 when he coined the term "the British Commonwealth of Nations" and envisioned the "future constitutional relations and readjustments in essence" at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 by delegates from the Dominions as well as Britain. The term first received imperial statutory recognition in the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, when the term British Commonwealth of Nations was substituted for British Empire in the wording of the oath taken by members of parliament of the Irish Free State.
After the Second World War, the British Empire was gradually dismantled. Most of its components have become independent countries, whether Commonwealth realms or republics, and members of the Commonwealth. There remain the 14 British overseas territories still held by the United Kingdom. In April 1949, following the London Declaration, the word "British" was dropped from the title of the Commonwealth to reflect its changing nature.
Burma (also known as Myanmar, 1948) and Aden (1967) are the only states that were British colonies at the time of the war not to have joined the Commonwealth upon independence. Former British protectorates and mandates that did not become members of the Commonwealth are Egypt (independent in 1922), Iraq (1932), Transjordan (1946), British Palestine (part of which became the state of Israel in 1948), Sudan (1956), British Somaliland (which united with the former Italian Somaliland in 1960 to form the Somali Republic), Kuwait (1961), Bahrain (1971), Oman (1971), Qatar (1971), and the United Arab Emirates (1971).
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) is responsible for maintaining the war graves of 1.7 million service personnel that died in the First and Second World Wars fighting for Commonwealth member states. Founded in 1917 (as the Imperial War Graves Commission), the Commission has constructed 2,500 war cemeteries, and maintains individual graves at another 20,000 sites around the world. The vast majority of the latter are civilian cemeteries in Great Britain. In 1998, the CWGC made the records of its buried online to facilitate easier searching.
Commonwealth war cemeteries often feature similar horticulture and architecture, with larger cemeteries being home to a Cross of Sacrifice and Stone of Remembrance. The CWGC is notable for marking the graves identically, regardless of the rank, country of origin, race, or religion of the buried. It is funded by voluntary agreement by six Commonwealth members, in proportion to the nationality of the casualties in the graves maintained, with 75% of the funding coming from Britain.
References / notes
- Text from Commonwealth of Nations. Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. Accessed 22 April, 2017.
Glossary of words and phrases
The above term is listed in our glossary of words and phrases of the Armed Forces of Great Britain during the Great War. Included are trench slang, service terms, expressions in everyday use, nicknames, the titles and origins of British and Commonwealth Regiments, and warfare in general. These words and phrases are contemporary to the war, which is reflected in the language used. They have been transcribed from three primary sources (see Contents). Feel free to expand upon and improve this content.
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