Lord Beaverbrook: A Canadian Hero Essay, Research Paper
Lord Beaverbrook: A Canadian Hero
Prof. Smith History 203-01
November 18, 1998
Lord Beaverbrook was a great contributor to the Nationhood of Canada and to the freedom of the world. Though many only know him for the school named after him, he did much for Canada and the British Commonwealth. The role he played in both world wars changed the course of history. As Canada’s ‘Eye Witness’ and Britain’s Minister of Information in the First World War and their Minister of Aircraft Production and Supply in the Second World War, Beaverbrook was instrumental in the war efforts and the preservation of freedom. As a man of personal success he was also able to help bring success to Canada early this century through his business investments and his political involvement. His education, firm religious foundation and his drive for success during his early life put him in the position to affect positive changes and influences on the British Empire.
William Aitken, a Presbyterian minister, immigrated to Canada from Scotland and had his third son, Max Aitken, in Maple, Ontario on May 25, 1879. Shortly after the family moved to Newcastle, New Brunswick where the boy grew up in the local parish manse with his eight brothers and sisters. Though academics were never his strength, the boy loved to read old books from his father’s library. His favourites were ‘English Seamen in the Sixteenth Century’ by J.A. Froude and R.L. Stevenson’s many books. He claims to have even skipped school to read them in his hayloft! The boy’s education thus was largely based on the tales of the high seas and adventure. Some would say that that era would have suited him best. He would have been a Magellan or a Drake had he been born in the sixteenth century. But instead Max turned his energy and passion to the cut throat world of business where he conquered a many ‘Spanish Armadas’. Even at the early age of eight, the boy began his entrepreneurial exploits. He began in the egg business selling eggs from his own chickens to his neighbours. On one occasion Max received an order for extra eggs and so he ‘borrowed’ some from his mother’s pantry. The following day his customer asked, “Were those eggs fresh?” “Why, weren’t they?”, Aitken replied. His customer then said, “Well, they were the first fresh-laid eggs I have ever seen arrive hard boiled!” “Ah,” said Max, “I was frightened the thunderstorm we had yesterday would affect the hens!” The mischievous side of Max never left him. Those who knew him often mentioned his child-like mischief and his ‘impish smile’. In fact ‘impish’ seems to be the word most authors use to describe the man. His smile was very characteristic, it stretched across his face and was very contagious. Many enjoyed his company and could not help but laugh with the man and his childish nature. Wood once wrote of him in the Picture Post, ‘He will never grow old: the reason is that he has never grown up!’ It was not immaturity that attracted others, but his charm. In fact his friends were often much older and greatly respected by the public, these included Bonar Law, Rudyard Kipling and Winston Churchill. John Buchan also wrote about him saying, “Beaverbrook is not a bad man: he is only a bad boy.”
William Aitken spent his savings on the education of his oldest son, leaving his other children to fend for themselves. Thus Max, at the age of sixteen, began to seek his fortune. He began at a job with the local druggist but soon dreamed of being a lawyer. He worked for awhile as a clerk for a lawyer but became impatient with that knowing that he would never become a lawyer that way. He entered a secondary institution to study law and rediscovered that his aptitude for academics was still rather limited. He followed his entrepreneurial background and got involved in business. After only five years he had become a millionaire from nothing. He derived most of his fortune from the cement industry here in Canada. He was also involved in rail roads and electricity, but especially journalism. Lord Beaverbrook, as he was called after being raised to peerage in 1916 , is widely known for his newspapers. Most notably, he owned the ‘Daily Express’ and started ‘The Sunday Express’ (now known as ‘The Express on Sunday’) in England.
Upon declaration of war in 1914, Beaverbrook returned to his mother country. Robert Borden and Sam Hughes wasted no time in dialoguing with Beaverbrook regarding their concerns about the war. They were disheartened by the British treatment of Canadian troops. The British considered Canadian troops only as reinforcements to British units. The Canadian people and their government agreed that this was unacceptable and that something must be done. Lord Beaverbrook was their solution. He would return to England to plead the case of the colonies. After some effort in the British Parliament, Beaverbrook succeeded in convincing them to allow the Canadians to fight together under their own command. This was a great step in the direction of acceptance as a nation for Canada on the world wide arena. The result of this was that the Canadians were able to break through the German lines at Vimy Ridge; possibly the greatest victory of the war. and This was not all the Beaverbrook did to uplift Canada. He took it upon himself as a journalist and a representative in Europe to be Canada’s ‘Eye Witness.’ Beaverbrook proceeded to obtain a rank in the Canadian militia which allowed him to enter military areas from which he could report. He proposed to the Canadian government that they allow artists and photographers to join the army and be given the status and salary of officers and go to the front lines to document the war. The government supported this idea and proceeded. These artists produced over 850 paintings, sculptures and prints which became the Canadian War Memorials Collection! Beaverbrook oversaw the effort to document the war and published two volumes of ‘Canada in Flanders’ about the Canadian soldiers in Europe. He directed the first military film footage taken on the front. Because this was the only footage taken at this point, both the British and later the Americans used films of Canadian soldiers in battle for their recruitment drives. This he did largely at his own expense to publicise the war in Canada. The results of his efforts were rather wide spread. Firstly, the Canadians felt as though they were part of the war effort which gave them a real sense of unity. The Canadians of the war gained a passion for their country and became strongly patriotic. This documentary effort affected not only Canada but also had repercussions on the world’s stage. The neutral Americans saw all the literature about the Canadians in the war and began to believe that it was the Canadians doing all the fighting as there was nothing coming from Britain. Of course the British did not like this side of it and felt that they ought to have their own ‘eye witness.’ Thus, Lloyd George asked Beaverbrook to join his cabinet as the leader of the Ministry of Information. Before this, the Ministry of Information did not exist and so Beaverbrook started it. He did the same thing he did for Canada and also helped to oversee censorship in Britain. This seemed to contradictory for a press lord but Aitken had no problems with it, realising that it would contribute to the war effort. We can see that Beaverbrook had an incredible impact on Canada and the British Empire throughout the Great War. His efforts leading to Canadian Divisions fighting together under Canadian command and those producing the Canadian War Memorials Collection, benefited the young Dominion beyond measure.
On the fourteenth of May, 1940, Beaverbrook was appointed Minister of Aircraft Production. Only three short months later, the nation was engulfed in its struggle for survival – The Battle of Britain. Upon his appointment Dowding made the assessment that the Island had only half the squadrons necessary for their defence. However, for Beaverbrook this was unacceptable. His determination and business skill ensured that the Air Force to have more planes than pilots by the time the battle began! He also quickly began the program of aircraft reparation, which was executed with great expediency. Great numbers of aircraft were constructed while many which had been shot down were repaired and returned to action. Even with great opposition, Beaverbrook acted quickly to protect his factories by spreading the production across the nation. His decision to produce fighters rather than bombers was disputably an equally important decision before the nation’s finest hour. While arousing controversy, he decided that as Minister of Aircraft Production he could produce the type of planes he wished rather than the ones preferred by the Air Ministry. This proved to be pivotal as the reigning train of thought was that the bomber would always get through and nothing would stop it. This would mean that the Air Force would want as many bombers as possible in the hope of out bombing the enemy. When Beaverbrook decided to focus his energies on fighter production he defied the authorities and agreed with his new friend Air Marshal, Hugh Dowding. The fighters he built saved the nation and consequently the free world from the dark regime of Nazism. Churchill, whom many would call the greatest leader of the century, appointed Beaverbrook with the role of saving the nation in its day of dire need. Beaverbrook was a primary influence on Britain’s ‘finest hour.’ The Bulldog once said, “Lord Beaverbrook was at his very best when things were at their very worst.” Churchill esteemed Beaverbrook so highly and was so sure of his ability to succeed that when Beaverbrook handed in his letter of resignation Churchill refused, on three occasions, to accept it.
But Beaverbrook had more to give in the Second World War for on June 22, 1941 he accepted the position of Minister of Supply. This is another surprisingly important position for a Canadian to hold in Britain and yet another opportunity for him to crush Nazi powers in Europe. As Minister of Supply, Beaverbrook was instrumental in the destruction of Hitler’s Reich through supplying Soviet Russia in their attacks against the Wehrmacht and in negotiating supplies from the neutral USA. Both of these supply lines were vitally important to the war effort and the eventual victory of the Allied Powers. Churchill perceived this and would settle for the appointment of none other than the capable Lord Beaverbrook.
We can see that Lord Beaverbrook also played an important role in the continuation of not only Canada and the Commonwealth, but the entire free world as we know it today. As Churchill put it, “Lord Beaverbrook rendered signal service. All his remarkable qualities fitted the need. His personal buoyancy and vigour were a tonic. I was glad to be able sometimes to lean on him. He did not fail. This was his hour. His personal force and genius, combined with so much persuasion and contrivance, swept aside many obstacles.”
Lord Beaverbrook was one of Canada’s, and even Britain’s greatest statesman. As demonstrated by the 658 influential guests who came to honour him at his 85th birthday, we are all indebted to the man who moulded the world into a better place. His immense contributions to the nationhood of Canada set him apart as a ‘father’ of the nation. His genius in both world wars rescued us from tyranny and helped bring about peace. Beaverbrook is, indeed, a Canadian Hero.
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