Twice this century, the wartime mobilization of civilian academic science has been rightly recognized as one of the most remarkable achievements of Britain, the Commonwealth, and the United States. If the first world war demonstrated the Empire's “strength in unity,” the second placed far greater demands on Allied and imperial resources in research, development, and supply. Where the first war witnessed a limited application of scientific advice, on request, and in response to limited problems, the second saw scientists and engineers develop an enormous range of technologies, frequently ahead of military requirements. In the course of the scientific war, new principles of liaison emerged, replacing peacetime practices of professional and institutional coordination. Imperial relations fostered by peacetime bureaux devoted to natural products and industrial research were overtaken by new, larger, and more powerful ministries devoted to supply and production. In certain respects, the demands of science began to drive imperial policy, weaving a fabric of relationships that survived to influence Commonwealth and international science diplomacy well after the war had ended.
At an official level, these were among the most apparent outcomes of imperial science at war. The principal technical results of Allied collaboration—in radar, jet engines, the atomic bomb, for example—are well known. However, beneath myriad homerics of technical and organizational triumphs resides an equally important legacy of imperial rhetoric, symbol, and metaphor, in which the discourses of imperial science and commonwealth became re-examined and revalorized. The respective roles of the “metropolis” and the “periphery”—the geometries of Empire—were redefined by decisions that governed the supply of raw materials, the sharing of sensitive information, and the development of weapons.