The Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League (then called the British Empire Services League) was founded in1921 at the Empire Conference in Cape Town, South Africa. 
The atrocities of the First World War left many service personnel disabled or dependent. To try and ensure that no Commonwealth veteran was left without help, the British Empire Services League was set up.
The Founding members were Australia, Canada, Newfoundland, New Zealand, Rhodesia, South Africa and the United Kingdom, who initially provided pension advice as well as assistance with disability claims, migration to other countries, tracing lost relatives and money transfers by mail.
The League’s name has changed twice and became the ‘Royal’ Commonwealth Ex-Services League in 2003.

The World Wars

After the First World War, the appalling level of attrition and casualties had left large numbers of dependants and disabled service men and women, and civilians, requiring urgent help. Three million Commonwealth soldiers fought in this war of which 440,000 were casualties. The role which the League undertook during this period covered assistance with pension advice, migration to other countries, tracing lost relatives, mail transfers of money and assistance with disability claims. A key aspect of the Second World War had been the contribution of 4.5 million Commonwealth service men and women from the Indian sub-continent, Africa and the Caribbean of which 360,000 became casualties. The government of some of the countries which had provided service men and women to fight for our freedom either ignored the needs of the ex-service men and women who had fought for the Crown or considered that to be a responsibility of the UK Government. In 1982 the need for more funds to help those ex-service men and women receiving no pension or any help from their own government was so urgent that the Prince Philip Appeal for Commonwealth Veterans was launched.

Why they volunteered

What made 5 million people from the Commonwealth volunteer to fight the Second World War alongside the 6 million British Forces? Who were these people and what motivated them? They were people who believed in freedom and were happy to fight alongside the 'mother country' to make this World a safer place.

They weren't called up. They didn't have to join us. They chose to.

They came from all over the Commonwealth, a million from Canada; 2.5 million from the Indian sub-continent; from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean, the Far East and from across Africa.

The Commonwealth people were rising up to support Britain and to fight for the freedom the World enjoys today. That was 70 years ago. Today, many countries are now independent and with that independence came new governments - governments which in some cases refused to recognise the contribution made by these brave people because at the time, they were serving under the Crown.

Helping the heroes


The Founding members initially provided pension advice as well as assistance with disability claims, migration to other countries, tracing lost relatives and money transfers by mail.

RCEL Conferences

RCEL organises a Conference for delegates of all Member Organisations representing 46 Commonwealth Countries every 4 years. Conferences are organised by staff based at RCEL Head Office.

There was a ‘Special Conference’ held in 2017 for reasons relating to special matters and required Member Organisations to vote on the future of RCEL.

The London Conference took place in London in 2022 and was used as an opportunity for RCEL to celebrate its Centenary.  The next Conference (35th) will be held in Ottawa, Canada in 2025.

RCEL’s celebration of 100 years (1921-2021)

RCEL marked the occasion with a Launch event on 29 September 2021, this was for our Centenary Book – ‘Together’ it’s a record of The League’s Conferences since that inaugural event in Cape Town in 1921 and our centenary film produced by Threadfilms.

Click HERE
1921-2021 video

RCEL - Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League - Registered Charity No. 1174874 - Haig House, 199 Borough High Street, London SE1 1AA, United Kingdom - Telephone +44 (0)20 3207 2413

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