School of Humanities



Adam Rankin


Start date

Aug 2015

Submission date

Dec 2018

Curriculum vitae

Adam Rankin CV
[application/rtf, 68.13 kb]
Updated 09 Nov 2016

Adam Rankin

Adam Rankin profile photo


Beyond martial races and forgotten warriors: colonial military service in the British Empire in Oceania during the Second World War


My PhD study analyses colonial military service in the British Empire in Oceania during the Second World War. While the history of the war in Oceania is well documented, the implementation of colonial military service is far less understood.

In 1939 the British Empire included over 500 million people in dominions, colonies, protectorates, and mandates. The majority of these were Indigenous peoples under British rule. Colonial peoples such as Torres Strait Islanders, Pacific Islanders, Indians, Fijians, Maori, Aboriginal Australians and New Guineans, among others, were mobilized to fight for the British Empire in Oceania. Colonial military service by these peoples was distinct from that of Australians and New Zealanders of European descent, with an initial reluctance to utilize their manpower. Colonial peoples also faced unequal conditions of service, which were the terms under which soldiers were recruited, organised, trained, administered and deployed.

This thesis addresses three main research questions by examining colonial military service in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific islands of the British Empire in Oceania. How did the British Empire recruit, train, administer and deploy colonial soldiers in Oceania during the Second World War? Why were there differences in conditions of service among the various colonial peoples? How was colonial military service impacted by racism?

Why my research is important

The Indigenous peoples of the Pacific were mobilized on a massive scale, with multi-year campaigns in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands that ruptured the fabric of colonial life. Military service exposed colonial peoples to European contact to a much higher degree than ever before and thus engendered expectations of greater equality and material benefits in exchange for their loyalty and service.

The conditions of service of colonial soldiers were an underutilized, yet definitive statement upon the value of their service. The impact of military service extended beyond wartime remuneration to family support and post-war repatriation and rights. This research demonstrates significance through an analysis and quantification of this exchange in Australia and New Zealand along with the mandates and colonies for which they assumed responsibility.


  • Australian Postgraduate Award

Soldiers of the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion being inspected 29 Oct 1945. Courtsey of the Australian War Memorial