As the 1930s wound to a close, the international scene continued to darken.
In July 1937, full-scale war broke out between Japan and China. The Japanese achieved initial success capturing Shanghai and Nanking, the second with a degree of brutality that still scars Sino-Japanese relations.
In Europe, both Mussolini and Hitler were pursuing expansionist policies.
Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935 although both countries were members of the League of Nations. Later, in April 1939, Italy seized Albania.
In March 1938, Germany annexed Austria then placed pressure on Czechoslovakia to cede the Sudetenland. In September 1938 this was agreed to under the Munich Agreement on the basis that Germany would make no more territorial claims.
It quickly became clear that Hitler had further territorial ambitions. Now greatly alarmed, the United Kingdom and France guaranteed their support for Polish independence. When Germany invaded Poland, Britain declared war on 1 September 1939. Australia followed suit.
The country was ill equipped to fight a war, less prepared than it had been in August 1914. The poorly equipped army had a small permanent cadre of 3,000 men plus 80,000 part-time militiamen. The air force had 246 aircraft, few of them modern. The navy was in a better position, but was still small.
The country was ill equipped to fight a war, less prepared than it had been in August 1914.
These problems had been foreseen by, among others, David Drummond, then NSW Minister for Education as well as Member for Armidale.
In the second half of 1936, Drummond had been on a ministerial tour of Europe and North America. This included a visit to Germany where he visited technical institutions and watched them training glider pilots.
Already convinced of the importance of airpower, Drummond argued for urgent action on his return. His trip report painted a frightening picture,
Quoting T.W. Leech of Sydney University, it suggested that for defence purposes Australia needed a minimum of 400 first line aircraft with a further 100 training machines. To construct and maintain such a fleet would require 4,000 mechanics and 40 aeronautical engineers.
However, as at 31 December 1935 there were only 333 aircraft registered in Australia, there were only 1099 pilots and only 956 aircraft mechanics. Even if aeronautical training was expanded immediately, it would take some years to train the necessary staff.
Rearmament had finally begun, but to a Commonwealth Government worried about Japan as well as Germany there was considerable reluctance to commit limited resources to Europe.
Here the Government had another problem, one that would bring Harry Freame back into the frame. There were very few Japanese speakers available.
Jim Belshaw's email is email@example.com. He blogs at http://newenglandaustralia.blogspot.com.au/ (New England life) and http://newenglandhistory.blogspot.com.au/ (New England history)