Empires at War

  • Matthew Hughes
  • William J. Philpott


When war broke out in 1914, the protagonists’ empires automatically joined. Britain’s imperial contribution varied between the ‘white’ (Australia, Canada, Newfoundland, New Zealand and South Africa), ‘brown’ (India) and ‘black’ (Africa/West Indies) dominions/ colonies. While ‘white’, ‘brown’ and ‘black’ dominions all provided combat troops, black African soldiers (some 56,000) were usually deployed outside Europe. Britain, however, employed black Africans in labour units in Europe. Excepting India, in 1914 Britain’s imperial territories had tiny armies supported by part-time militias. Once war started, the white dominions had to create expeditionary forces from scratch. Meanwhile, France recruited indigenous soldiers from her empire in Africa and Indo-China for the war fronts and for labour duties behind the lines. Belgium and Portugal also tapped the resources of their empires, as did Russia, whose land-based empire stretched into the Caucasus, Central Asia and Siberia.


Western Front Foreign Legion Ottoman Empire White Dominion Leeward Island 
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Copyright information

© Matthew Hughes & William J. Philpott 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew Hughes
  • William J. Philpott

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