Canada and "Imperial Defense": A Study of the Origins of the British Commonwealth's Defense Organization, 1867–1919

By Richard A. Preston

© 1967

The long-standing need to explore the myth of "imperial defense" is at last answered by Dr. Preston's important reinterpretation of the evolution of British Empire and Commonwealth defense co-operation. The author's use of primary sources in the dominions for information regarding individual dominion military histories outdates previous historians who used mainly British sources. This different orientation produces forcefully different results, for it redefines the origin and real meaning of "imperial defense" by showing the Commonwealth military system to be, not a vestige of the earlier Empire system, but a result of the natural aspirations and needs of the colonies themselves.

After discussion of early colonial defense, effected principally by British naval power, and after description of the gradual co-ordination of the so-called imperial army emerging from strong trends in the dominions operating prior to World War I, Dr. Preston explains the vital importance of the colonies in the success of Commonwealth war efforts. His study seek the origins of British Commonwealth relationships in the history of the dominion, and especially of Canadian, military and naval developments.

Beginning from a colonial view of these developments within the individual dominions rather than from the standard emphasis on imperial defense planning, the author implements his research by an extensive use of defense files in dominion military archives -- material heretofore frequently ignored. A new look at colonial roles in the replacement of shadowy imperial organization by effective voluntary naval and military co-operation is taken by means of a thorough examination of the positive Canadian influence on the defensive system of the British Empire and Common Wealth. Because of the importance of the Australasian colonies' contributions to imperial naval defense, Canada's peculiar strategic problem forced her into a role that was out of sympathy with British imperial defense proposals. Canada's pilot role in rejection of an enforced centralized military establishment led to the voluntary setting up of uniform training, weapons, and organization system and welded Commonwealth armies and navies into a strong unity of effort that proved repeatedly successful in wartime. The resulting exploitation of national sentiment in the dominions proved more cohesive and longer-lasting than other imperial ties.

This unbeatable system of defense co-operation based on standardized organization and training, and operating to the satisfaction of the national minded dominions, is an invaluable example to the United Nations in its work to unify the war effort of free states. Today the Commonwealth military relationship is threatened by internal political disruption. Its traditions and past successes are, nevertheless, pertinent and vital to the free world. Dr. Preston's research, study and cogent presentation of the origins of one of the most startlingly effective military alliances in history thus has immense topical value for the interested amateur as well as for the professional study of Canada, of Britain, and of military history.

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Product Details

  • Series: Heritage
  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 600 pages
  • Dimensions: 6.0in x 0.0in x 9.0in
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SKU# SP006103

  • PUBLISHED DEC 1967

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Dr. Preston explains the vital importance of the colonies in the success of Commonwealth war efforts. His study seek the origins of British Commonwealth relationships in the history of the dominion, and especially of Canadian, military and naval developments.

Canada and "Imperial Defense": A Study of the Origins of the British Commonwealth's Defense Organization, 1867–1919

By Richard A. Preston

© 1967

The long-standing need to explore the myth of "imperial defense" is at last answered by Dr. Preston's important reinterpretation of the evolution of British Empire and Commonwealth defense co-operation. The author's use of primary sources in the dominions for information regarding individual dominion military histories outdates previous historians who used mainly British sources. This different orientation produces forcefully different results, for it redefines the origin and real meaning of "imperial defense" by showing the Commonwealth military system to be, not a vestige of the earlier Empire system, but a result of the natural aspirations and needs of the colonies themselves.

After discussion of early colonial defense, effected principally by British naval power, and after description of the gradual co-ordination of the so-called imperial army emerging from strong trends in the dominions operating prior to World War I, Dr. Preston explains the vital importance of the colonies in the success of Commonwealth war efforts. His study seek the origins of British Commonwealth relationships in the history of the dominion, and especially of Canadian, military and naval developments.

Beginning from a colonial view of these developments within the individual dominions rather than from the standard emphasis on imperial defense planning, the author implements his research by an extensive use of defense files in dominion military archives -- material heretofore frequently ignored. A new look at colonial roles in the replacement of shadowy imperial organization by effective voluntary naval and military co-operation is taken by means of a thorough examination of the positive Canadian influence on the defensive system of the British Empire and Common Wealth. Because of the importance of the Australasian colonies' contributions to imperial naval defense, Canada's peculiar strategic problem forced her into a role that was out of sympathy with British imperial defense proposals. Canada's pilot role in rejection of an enforced centralized military establishment led to the voluntary setting up of uniform training, weapons, and organization system and welded Commonwealth armies and navies into a strong unity of effort that proved repeatedly successful in wartime. The resulting exploitation of national sentiment in the dominions proved more cohesive and longer-lasting than other imperial ties.

This unbeatable system of defense co-operation based on standardized organization and training, and operating to the satisfaction of the national minded dominions, is an invaluable example to the United Nations in its work to unify the war effort of free states. Today the Commonwealth military relationship is threatened by internal political disruption. Its traditions and past successes are, nevertheless, pertinent and vital to the free world. Dr. Preston's research, study and cogent presentation of the origins of one of the most startlingly effective military alliances in history thus has immense topical value for the interested amateur as well as for the professional study of Canada, of Britain, and of military history.

Continue Reading Read Less

Product Details

  • Series: Heritage
  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 600 pages
  • Dimensions: 6.0in x 0.0in x 9.0in
  • Author Information

    RICHARD A. PRESTON received his B.A. and M.A. from Leeds University, and his PH.D. from yale in 1936. After two years as al ecturer in history at the University of Toronto, Professor Preston taught at the University College of South Wals and Monmouthshire. He spent the war years 1940 to 1945 in the Royal Air Force and returned to the University of Toronto as assistant professor of history. From 1948 to 1965 he was professor of history at the Royal Military College of Canada, and in 1961-2 was president of the Canadian Historical Association. He is at present the William K. Boyd Professor of History and Duke University.

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