Lord Beaverbrook

William Maxwell Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook was born in Maple, Ontario, Canada in 1879. He became a stockbroker where he a made a fortune from the Canadian cement mills. In 1909 Aitken moved to Britain and the followed year was elected as the Conservative Member of Parliament for Ashton-under-Lyne. In 1912, he sold a large sum of Canadian stocks, and some claimed the trades might have irregularities; he was never accused of securities fraud in Canada. In 1918 Aitken was granted the title of Lord Beaverbrook on his appointment by David Lloyd George to the post of Minister of Information.

In 1919 Beaverbrook obtained a majority interest in the Daily Express newspaper, and in 1921 founded its companion newspaper, The Sunday Express. In 1929 Lord Beaverbrook acquired the London Evening Standard making him one of the most influential press Barons in Britain. In the same year he began his campaign for "Empire Free Trade".

In May 1940 Winston Churchill recruited Beaverbrook into his Cabinet as the Minister for Aircraft Production (1940-41). The taciturn Lord Beaverbrook ran his Ministry in the same way that he had ran his newspaper empire, and in so doing gathered a large number of political enemies, particularly in the Air Ministry, whose responsibility for deciding which Aircraft the Royal Air Force were to have he immediately usurped. Nevertheless through his efforts the RAF was able to receive a constant supply of new fighters when they were needed the most-During the Battle of Britain. "His personal force and genius made this Aitken's finest hour", said Churchill after observing Aitken's successes at the Air Ministry.

In 1941 Churchill appointed Beaverbrook as Minister of Supply, and a year later to the newly created post of Minister of War Production. At a dinner in New York in 1942 he was instrumental in encouraging the Americans to supply aid to the Soviet Union. Beaverbrook also opposed, unsuccessfully, to the policy of strategic bombing of German cities, feeling that bombers would be better employed in supporting the ground troops.

From 1943 until 1945 he served as Lord Privy Seal, a post that held no Ministerial responsibilities but was traditionally one of the Great Offices of State in the United Kingdom. In reality, he was a Minister without Portfolio.

After the War Beaverbrook's political career came to an end. Once the protective hand of Churchill's friendship had evaporated, Beaverbrook was left with no wide popularity in Parliament and few friends amongst the new regime of eager young socialists and trade unionists of the Attlee premiership. He left Parliament under the excuse of ill-health (a common reason given for the removal of Ministers who were no longer politically desirable).

William Maxwell Aitken, 1st Lord Beaverbrook, died in Surrey, England, in 1964.

Sources: Bomber Command (Max Hastings, Pan book 1979), Fighter (Len Deighton, Triat/Pamther, 1979), Wartime Britain 1939-1945 (Juliet Gardiner, Headline books 2004), The Wordsworth Dictionary of British History (Wordsworth Editions, 1994).

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