THE "WAR TO END ALL WARS"?
Many people hoped that the First World War had been the ‘war to end all wars’. This view, combined with economic troubles and budgetary restraints, led Canada to almost completely demobilize in 1919 and reduce its forces to fewer than 5,000 full-time
military personnel. For a time, the Royal Canadian Navy consisted of only two ocean-going ships while the Royal Canadian Air Force, created in 1924, performed mainly civilian duties such as aerial mapping and forestry protection. There was little pay
and even less equipment for part-time military reservists. During the Great Depression, Canadians worried more about their jobs and families than the state of the armed forces. Without obvious enemies, why spend scarce resources on the military?
But by the mid-1930s, Canada began to modernize and re-equip the armed forces. The defence of Canada’s sea coasts and its own territory was the top priority; the Government allowed that Canadian forces might be available to assist Britain in the event
of a major war, but nothing was promised in advance. When Prime Minister King returned to office in October 1935, he pursued a cautious policy of rearmament which favoured naval and air forces. In the event of a future war, he wanted to ensure national
unity by avoiding conscription. A large army might entail heavy losses, leading to the need for conscription, and he discouraged the idea of a large expeditionary force.
Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power in Germany in 1933 and quickly established a ruthless dictatorship. Germany seized Austria in 1938, and occupied Czechoslovakia in 1938-39. Italy, another dictatorship, attacked Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935
and occupied Albania in 1939. After invading Manchuria in 1931, Japan attacked China in 1937. Britain and France appeased these brutal regimes in an effort to avoid another devastating world war – a policy supported by most Canadians. But by 1937 the
Canadian Government had more or less accepted that if Britain went to war, so would Canada. King made this clear in the House of Commons in March 1939.
The Nazis’ military aggression led directly to the Second World War. In August 1939, Germany insisted on territorial concessions from Poland. Finally abandoning ‘appeasement’, Britain and France earlier had pledged to assist the Poles and stop Hitler.
On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland and, two days later, Britain and France declared war on Germany. The Second World War had begun.