Chance Brothers, of Smethwick, England, the British Commonwealth's leading optical-instrument firm, would not or could not help us. We asked for the lend of an expert, but this was refused. The conditions they imposed for future participation in any industry formed - in return for showing one or two of our men their techniques - were so tough that we decided to ignore them and make the glass ourselves somehow. - Sir Lawrence Hartnett (1)
Chance Brothers was an optical glass factory at Smethwick, England. Soon after the establishment of the Optical Munitions Panel, Chance Brothers were approached by Australian Consolidated Industries who asked that the firm loan one of their experts to assist in the establishment of an optical glass industry in Australia. Unfortunately, Chance Brothers were unable to send an expert to Australia as they were too busy with the demands being placed upon them to supply the British troops with optical instruments.
In 1940, at a meeting in London between Australian and Canadian Government representatives, Admiralty, Chance Brothers and Australian Consolidated Industries, Chance Brothers discussed the possibility of setting up arrangements for the manufacture of optical glass in Australia under their supervision. They said that they were opposed to the manufacture of glass in Australia, but that they 'would be willing to assist Australia if their civil trade was protected'. In other words, they wanted to make sure they still had a monopoly on the Australian optical glass market after the war! Chance Bros felt that, 'having regard to the problems of chemical and physical control as well as highly complicated details therein involved, Australian glass makers may be underestimating the difficulties which they have to face'.(2)
Stanley Bruce, the Australian High Commissioner in London, sent a cable to the Australian Government, summing up the meeting:
Have conferred with Admiralty and Chance Brothers very emphatic that the making of optical glass in Australia would be wasteful of war effort as it would probably take four years before a successful production could be achieved and the cost would probably be a million pounds accordingly they discourage ...(3)
Thus, the negotiations between Chance Brothers and the Australians failed. Australia went on to develop its own optical glass industry under the Optical Munitions Panel, without the blessing of their British counterparts.
(1) Sir Laurence Hartnett (1973), Big Wheels and Little Wheels, 2nd edn, Gold Star Publications, Hawthorn, Victoria, p. 131.
(2) J.S. Rogers, The History of the Optical Munitions Panel: July 1940 - December 1946, Australian Archives, Brighton, Melbourne, MP 730/11, Box 3.
(3) D.P. Mellor (1958), 'Optical Munitions', Australia in the War of 1939-1945: The Role of Science and Industry, ch. 12, series 4: civil, vol. 5, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, p. 253.