Bombed during World War II, St George’s Garrison Church survives as an evocative ruin with recently conserved mosaics, and a modern canopy roof, for all to enjoy.

Garden > Contribution of the Commonwealth

Contribution of the Commonwealth

The contribution of Commonwealth Countries and Gurkhas in both World Wars and other conflicts was crucial to Allied success in Europe, Africa and Asia. The Commonwealth provided finance, material, soldiers and auxiliaries, but at great cost.

In World War 1 some 3 million soldiers and auxiliaries came from the Commonwealth countries, including the following numbers of soldiers:
• India 1,440,437
• Canada 628,964
• Australia 412,953
• South Africa 136,070
• Other Countries 134,37
• New Zealand 128,825

Sadly the fatalities included:
• India 64,449
• Australia 61,527
• Canada 56,638
• New Zealand 18,166
• South Africa 7,121

Over 100,000 Girkhas served in World War 1, and gained 2,000 gallantry awards but suffered 20,000 casualties.  

In World War 2 some 15 million soldiers and auxiliaries served, many from the Commonwealth countries.

Sadly the fatalities included:
• India 87,000
• Canada 42,000
• Australia 39,700
• New Zealand 11,700
• South Africa 11,900 

In World War 2 Canada provided $4 billion of financial aid; munitions and supplies for the Allies came from Canada India Australia and elsewhere. The role of Malta in the conflict was so important, and 30,000 volunteered from Cyprus.

Over 132,000 Gurkhas served with the Allied forces in World War II and were awarded 2,734 bravery decorations.

One of the longest military attachments between Britain and countries now forming the Commonwealth and with Nepal is the link with the Gurkhas – and many Gurkha families now live in Woolwich. The Brigade of Gurkhas has celebrated over 2 centuries of continuous loyal service to Britain; initially under the command of the East India Company from 1817, then with the British Indian Army from 1895 and continuing after Indian Independence in 1947 to the present day. The Gurkhas were awarded 12 Victoria Crosses in the 2 World Wars.

Recipients of the Victoria Cross from a number of Commonwealth countries and Nepal include:
• Australia 91
• BVI 1
• Canada 96
• Fiji 1
• Grenada 1
• India 29 - one is Umrao Singh shown on the Garrison Church VC Memorial
• Jamaica 1
• Kenya 1
• Nepal 13
• New Zealand 26
• Newfoundland (before joining Canada) 2
• Rhodesia 3
• South Africa 21
• Sri Lanka 1 

The Korean War (1950-1953) involved the British Commonwealth Force Korea, co-ordinated with the UN and always under an Australian Commander in Chief (initially Lt General Sir Horace Robertson). All 3 branches of the Armed Forces were engaged. Australia provided 17,000 Service Personnel of whom 340 were killed. New Zealand suffered 33 fatalities from 3,794 serving soldiers sailors and airmen.

The Malayan Emergency between 1948 and 1960 also saw major contributions from Commonwealth countries. As well as personnel from Australia and New Zealand, Fiji contributed 1,600 soldiers and suffered 25 fatalities. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Kings African Rifles drawing  troops form Nyasaland (Malawi), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia,) and Kenya suffered 23 killed.

Gurkhas served in the Falklands, Gulf Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan and were part of Peacekeeping missions in Kosovo, Bosnia, East Timor and Sierra Leone.

To-day service personnel from the Commonwealth Countries and Nepal make up about 6,200 of the British Armed Forces. (some 5% o f the total). Since 2018 citizens from the Commonwealth have been entitled to join without a residence requirement. The recruitment target is 1,350 per annum, of which 1,000 will be for the Army, 300 for the Royal Navy and 50 for the Royal Air Force. The largest contingent remains the Gurkha contribution from Nepal. There is also a sizeable number (about 1500) from Fiji and about 400 from Ghana. St Vincent and the Grenadines with a population of 109,000 contributes 245 soldiers to the British Army.

The links between the Commonwealth Countries, the Gurkhas and Britain, forged during 2 World Wars and other conflicts remain strong to this day.

Stay in touch

St George's Garrison Church in Woolwich, with its modern canopy roof and stunning mosaics, is both an evocative ruin and a contemporary space. Designed by Thomas H Wyatt in an Italian-Romanesque style, the Church was built between 1862-63 to serve the Royal Artillery in Woolwich. Today it is run by a local group, the Woolwich Garrison Church Trust who are committed to making it available for all to visit and enjoy. Directly opposite the Barracks in Woolwich, South East London, come and enjoy its beauty and peaceful garden.

Read more