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British Empire

Twilight of Empire

A poster advertising the British Empire ExhibitionA poster advertising the British Empire ExhibitionBy 1913 the British Empire was the largest empire the world had ever seen. It covered around 25% of the world's land area, including large areas of North America, Australasia, Africa and Asia. Other countries, including those in South America, were closely linked to by trade. The British Empire ruled over around 412 million inhabitants, or around 23% of the world’s population at the time. Such was its dominance, it became known as “the empire on which the sun never sets”—because its expanse around the globe meant that it was always daytime in at least one of its territories. But by now Germany and the United States had begun to challenge Britain's military and economic power. During World War I, Britain relied heavily upon Empire for its manpower and resources. The conflict placed enormous strain on Britain's finances. Although the Empire achieved its largest extent immediately after the war, Britain was now no longer the world's greatest industrial or military power.



World War I

Troops of the British Indian Army during World War ITroops of the British Indian Army during World War I
Enlistment poster for World War I soldiersEnlistment poster for World War I soldiersThe British declaration of war on Germany and its allies committed its Empire—all the British colonies and Dominions—to war as well. Britain relied on its Empire to provide the extra manpower and resources it needed to keep a military campaign going on several fronts. Over 2.5 million men served in the armies of the Dominions, alongside many thousands from the colonies. Australian and New Zealand troops made a hugely significant, but ultimately unsuccessful, contribution during the 1915 Gallipoli Campaign against the Ottoman Empire. The shocking casualties they suffered had a great impact on public opinion at home, and tipped the balance in favour of supporting the move to full independence after the war. To Canadians, the success of its forces in the Battle of Vimy Ridge was a tribute to Canadian national achievement and sacrifice.

Canadian Corps take Vimy Ridge during World War ICanadian Corps take Vimy Ridge during World War I

At the peak of its power, the phrase "the empire on which the sun never sets" was often used to describe the British Empire. This was because its expanse around the globe meant that the sun was always shining on at least one of its territories.

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