Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Aitken, William Maxwell (First Baron Beaverbrook, Lord Beaverbrook) (1879–1964)

Canadian-born British press magnate, friend of Winston L. S. Churchill, and member of Churchill's 1940–1942 cabinet. Born on 25 May 1879 in Maple, Ontario, William Aitken was a gifted writer (author of 11 books) who focused early on amassing a fortune. After making several trips to London, he moved there in July 1910, becoming active in business and politics. Aitken was elected to Parliament on a platform of promoting British Empire trade, serving from 1911 to 1916. He was knighted in 1911 and became Lord Beaverbrook in 1917.

Aitken purchased control of the Daily Express newspaper in December 1916 and set about building its circulation. Two years later he began the Sunday Express, and he took control of The Evening Standard in 1924, giving him morning, evening, and Sunday London papers. This editorial base made him a powerful figure in British political circles.

Lord Beaverbrook was one of Winston Churchill's closest advisers when Churchill became prime minister on 10 May 1940. Churchill gave him a post in the War Cabinet, that of minister of aircraft production. He served just less than a year (from 14 May 1940 to 30 April 1941), but in that crucial period he marshaled Britain's aircraft industry to turn out thousands of fighters and bombers to resist German attacks. His forceful methods naturally made him many enemies in the cabinet, the Air Ministry, and the Royal Air Force (RAF). Beaverbrook attempted to resign several times on grounds of health, but he was dissuaded. Residing at 12 Downing Street, he became a minister of state on 30 April 1941 to continue advising Churchill but without specific ministerial portfolio.

On 22 June 1941, Beaverbrook was named minister of supply to supervise broader wartime production. Here his impact was less sensational than his accomplishments in the aircraft sector. He accompanied Churchill to the Placentia Bay meeting with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and later to White House meetings in 1941 with Roosevelt. He also traveled as Churchill's emissary to meet with Josef Stalin in October 1941.

Beaverbrook resigned as a minister on 28 February 1942, ostensibly over some of the personnel decisions made in a cabinet reshuffle. He continued to serve as an informal adviser to Churchill for the remainder of the war, often championing Soviet interests. Returning to publishing, he died 9 June 1964 in London.

Christopher H. Sterling


Further Reading
Chisholm, Anne, and Michael Davie. Lord Beaverbrook: A Life. New York: Knopf, 1992.; Taylor, A. J. P. Beaverbrook. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1972.; Young, Kenneth. Churchill and Beaverbrook: A Study in Friendship and Politics. New York: James Heineman, 1966.
 

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