Commonwealth Day

The second Monday of March each year is Commonwealth Day.  The day is observed in all Commonwealth countries but is not necessarily a public holiday.  For people outside the Commonwealth of Nations, this is the name of  voluntary international organisation given to what was once the British Empire.


Commonwealth Day started as Empire day before changing in the 1950’s.  Surprisingly it started not in London but in Canada in 1898.  The day is observed differently in all the member countries.  There are a number of regional public holidays in Australia on Commonwealth Day though none of them are designated as such.  Some states as Canada simply fly Union Flags outside state buildings whilst others like Gibraltar have an actual Commonwealth Day holiday.  Other states have holidays which are in some way related to the Queens birthday.

The centrepiece of the day in London is a multi-faith service in Westminster Abbey attended by government officials and member of parliament along with foreign ambassadors and dignitaries and also the Queen along with around 1,000 school children.  In 1984 I myself met the Queen in Westminster Abbey as my school teacher that year was from New Zealand so I was picked to represent New Zealand along with my teacher.


Map of countries currently active in The Commonwealth (2017). Not all eligible states have opted to be in and others that are suspended are not shown.

The Commonwealth is these days very much to do with business, trade, law and human rights.  With over 2.5 billion people (one third of the world), the Commonwealth brings together people, nations from all over the world and with all sorts of beliefs.

Aside from that, the most obvious sign of the Commonwealth is the Commonwealth Games which runs every 4 years and is similar to the Olympic Games.  Currently there are 54 independent Commonwealth nations with a number of other dependent territories.  Sometimes the number of states goes down as well as up as states can be suspended due to human rights abuses or lack of democracy.  There is often heated debate when this occurs such as with Zimbabwe.  Once reforms are enacted then member states are free to apply to re-join.

Flags of the Commonwealth

Flags of the Commonwealth (2005)

There are also many states that are free to join the Commonwealth subject to meeting entry qualifications which haven’t yet done so.  Any country with a historic relationship with Great Britain is free to join.  Some don’t join such as the United States as it already enjoys preferential trading terms with many Commonwealth nations.  Others such as Egypt, Israel or Iraq are able to apply but haven’t done so due internal political reasons.  Currently states that are in the process of applying include Algeria, Mozambique, Sudan and South Sudan and Yemen.   In the last 2 years there has been some speculation the Ireland may rejoin the organisation.

Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games Logo

Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games Logo

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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16 Responses to Commonwealth Day

  1. A fabulous post, Stephen. Very interesting, as always. x


  2. I’ve posted about Commonwealth Day in the past but I wasn’t on-line this year.

    I have a gripe with the flag list as it doesn’t include the BOTs apart from Cyprus. Given the text you included about Gib celebrating CD (which it does although not overtly just a bank hol), I think a more accurate pictorial description of the commonwealth would include the 14 BOTs.

    Here is last year’s past, includes links to previous one:

    I think the list of potential applicants and applying ones are amazing. How are they eligible?


    • I think you are quite correct. I did spend a lot of time looking for a list of flags that was easy to use and I wasn’t able to do so. I am thinking of remedying this by writing a post on the Overseas Territories and have the flags and cultures of each one.

      The applying ones are amazing, they are applying on very slight and even dubious grounds such as British forces helping to liberate them during WW2 or even because they have re-focused from being a French or Portuguese speaking nation to an English one and also because it will help the neighbouring states which are in the Commonwealth.

      I think it would be great if South Sudan joined as it would help them immensely but whether somewhere like Egypt or Jordan ever could is doubtful as they don’t want to appear in any way part of a “Colonial” club even if that idea is very outdated.

      Thanks for your comment!


  3. Thank-you for the link, that is a great article. Yes the use of the Commonwealth in developing education and civil rights is much more laudable than current colonialism which all seems to be practised by either former colonies or world powers that have spent the last century protesting about imperialism only to try their hand at it at the first opportunity. Of course theirs is more subtle so often goes unnoticed by much of the rest of the world.


    • Thanks for the compliment. I think the good work of the Commonwealth doesn’t get sufficiently publicised, it is still tarred with the old colonial (therefore bad) slur, when it basically is a totally different entity.

      As for current colonial/imperial powers, I suspect it goes unnoticed/unthought of, because basically people are pretty stupid these days. IF you believe what governments tell you eg WMD, and if you seriously think Middle Eastern invasions are about human rights and international peace and not oil, then you are hardly likely to make the connection with 21st century imperialism.


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