LONDON LETTER

"Beaver the Boss"

Beverley Baxter's March 1 1942
LONDON LETTER

"Beaver the Boss"

Beverley Baxter's March 1 1942

"Beaver the Boss"

LONDON LETTER

Beverley Baxter's

LONDON, Feb. 8 (By Cable). Some battles that are fought in a war are never given a name and therefore do not live in history to plague the schoolboy of the future. That does not lessen the intensity or the complexity of the engagement, however. In the case I have in mind I shall give it a name. I refer to “The Battle of Britain Over a Production Ministry.” Since it involves many personalities and because the final stages were fought behind the scenes I shall tell the story in sequence.

When Mr. Churchill first formed his government there was a Ministry of Supply, a Ministry of Aircraft Production and the Admiralty. Their functions were quite clear and sharply divided. The Admiralty looked after its own special requirements, except in the matter of aircraft where it had to coax, wheedle and bully the Air Ministry for its quota of planes for the Fleet Air Arm. The Ministry of Supply was responsible for producing guns, tanks, other weapons and ammunition for the Army. The Ministry of Aircraft Production was to build airplaneí according to the requirements of the Air Ministry which controlled broad strategy in the air. Since labor is an all-important factor in such things, Bevin was given the chairmanship of the production committee which was not only to act as liaison between the supply ministries and the workers but would be the smoothing-out medium for the ministries themselves. In fact, the setup was perfect—on paper. Everything had been foreseen, and the machinery was there to deal with the expected and the unexpected, for above it all, like a presiding genie, was the Prime Minister who could give the final verdict on any dispute that might arise.

Unfortunately the system, so admirable on paper, did not take into account the personalities of the ministers. Every playwright has experienced the problem of discovering that one actor in his cast, by reason of his unusual gifts or presence, makes the part he is acting so important that the whole balance of the play is upset. Such an actor on the political stage is Lord Beaverbrook. Harness has never been devised that can curb this tempestuous, brilliant and unorthodox son of Canada. Hitch him with another horse and it is not a team but two horses. Put him in a four-in-hand and it becomes three horses and another. Not that he is unwilling. No journey is too long, no hill too steep, no mountain road too dangerous for him to pull the full load. The trouble is that he eats his oats while he pulls and others find that they prefer their oats at regular intervals and with a proper halt.

Therefore let us summarize personalities involved in the original Churchill arrangement, for personalities always dominate and sometimes

Britain Over a Production Ministry." Since it involves many personalities and because the final stages were fought behind the scenes I shall tell the story in sequence.

explain events. There was Beaverbrook who was supposed to build the airplanes required by Sir Archibald Sinclair, Secretary of State for Air. Sir Archibald is the leader of the truncated Liberal Party. Good looking, eloquent, possessed of a formidable stutter, born of a Scottish father and an American mother he has been a lifelong associate and friend of Churchill’s even to the point of having been a major in Churchill’s battalion in the last war. The Minister of Supply was Sir Andrew Duncan, one of the ablest and most elusive men in British public life. He gave up an income of some ¿20,000 a year to become a war minister. He is soft-voiced, kindly, idealistic, modest, supremely able and has his own way quite painlessly. The Minister of Labor was and is Ernest Bevin, a powerful, domineering, self-made man who rose from a small boy working on the farm to be the ruler of British trade unionism. I cannot give you the name of any one man responsible for Admiralty supply, because that is a professional and not a political department. You must just accept that the Admiralty works quietly and thoroughly and generally gets what it wants in the broad scheme. You can understand Churchill’s pleasure at this. He had strong men in each section of production—no wobblers or theorists, but hard drivers who would go straight for their objective. But were they a team?

A Hurricane Start

BEAVERBROOK realized that the Battle of Britain was about to burst upon the country. He went full out to build fighter airplanes. Nothing interested him but the job of getting enough Hurricanes and Spitfires into the air to hold and break the Luftwaffe. He raided industry in general for the best men to help him. He organized disorganized factories, swooped on raw materials, prayed, swore, exhorted, flattered and bullied—amlslept three or four hours a night because there was no one left to talk to. It was a short term policy, furiously, magnificently carried out. Spitfires and Hurricanes reached the squadrons and Hitler lost probably the decisive battle of the war. There was stern criticism against the Beaver’s methods, some of it inspired by prejudice, some out of genuine disquiet. Like a general in a desperate situation, Beaverbrook had thrown all his divisions into the fight, with the result that when the battle was won a tremendous amount of reorganization had to be effected. Hisdefensewas“Didwewinthebattle?” And his critics said, “Yes—but we still have to win the war.”

As for Sir Archibald Sinclair, he found himself in the role of a conductor trying to swing his baton in unison with the orchestra he was supposed to be conducting. Instead of saying to Beaverbrook, “I want this or that type airplane,” Beaverbrook was virtually saying to him, “You’ll take what I give you and like it.” Beaverbrook denies that. He has assured me many times there was never any difference Continued on page 16

London Letter

Continued from page 10

of opinion between himself and “Archie.” I dutifully record this and do not doubt Lord Beaverbrook’s complete sincerity in stating it. Perhaps the missing equation lies in his conception of what is a difference of opinion.

At any rate, the sequel to the terrific drive of the Aircraft Ministry could only mean one thing—there was open competition between the ministries for workers, raw materials, factories, managements and for the ear of the Prime Minister. One agrees that competition is the life of private trading, but is not the best thing for government departments when everything comes out of one purse. A few of us in the House of Commons realized what was going on and began a campaign for a single Minister of Production—in other words a supreme supply director for the whole war effort. For what they were worth I used my pen and voice to assist the campaign, and at any rate we soon had the majority of the House sharing our opinion.

After considerable pressure Churchill agreed to a debate on the

subject. In that debate the reply of the Government was so unsatisfactory that there was a demand for another day’s debate at once. It took place a week later and Churchill spoke with firmness and irony against the conception of an all-highest production chief. “Where is the superman to undertake such a task?” His eyes roamed over the House and took us in with a none too flattering gaze. Not one of us said a word. Modesty and perhaps discretion kept back the answer we might have given. “Such a man,” said Churchill, “would have to possess the qualities of a Napoleon plus the higher attributes of Christianity.” In short, he said “No” just as he had said “No” to our fight for an Empire War Cabinet.

We bowed to the master, said nothing for a short time, and then began again. We believed there would have to be an Empire War Cabinet and a Minister of Production and we said so with increasing volume. Then came Churchill’s return from America and the famous three-day “vote of confidence” debate. On the first day Churchill conceded the Empire War

Cabinet and on the third day he gave us a Ministry of Production. Quite rightly, he explained that events had made him alter his opinion, and implied that he had come to think with the rest of us of his own accord. We did not mind. As long as we got the apples we did not care who shook the tree.

Volcano Backstage

NATURALLY the public expected an immediate announcement as to the identity of the new production chief. Some students of form said it would be Sir Andrew Duncan, others said Bevin, while one or two ventured to name Sir Stafford Cripps. Çive days passed and still no anifouncement came from Downing Street. The reason was that the battle behind the scenes was in full blast. The question was—what to do with the Beaver? Churchill believes Max is a Napoleon, and as a son of the manse he should have some claim to possessing the higher attributes of Christianity, but one or two ministers involved said he was a human volcano and therefore destructive. Max offered sportingly to remain Minister of Supply and serve under any Production Minister. His cabinet colleagues scratched their heads; to have a volcano under you might be worse than over you.

At this point Stafford Cripps returned from Moscow after the biggest “build up” of any public figure for a long time. This lean, erratic, brilliant, thin-necked Left winger had shared the halo of Russia’s superb resistance to Germany. Everybody praised him, they almost began to believe that singlehanded he had brought Russia into the war on our side. There was a general outcry that he must be given high office in the Government at once. Churchill had a bright idea—he offered Cripps the job of Minister of Supply under Beaverbrook as general production chief.

Cripps went to see Max and they had a long, long talk. Max was expansive, dynamic, cordial, eloquent. Cripps kept demanding an exact understanding. If he accepted his ministerial powers would he be marshal or lieutenant? Would he be in the War Cabinet? When the struggle was over Sir Stafford saw the Prime Minister. “Include me out,” said Cripps, or words to that effect.

The public waited but no statement came from Number Ten. Would Andrew Duncan leave the Board of Trade and take on the Ministry of Supply, which he had formerly vacated to make room for Beaverbrook? Duncan’s answer was typical of the man—“I shall go anywhere or do anything where I can serve the State.” It was in keeping with his general outlook on lile and service. When in business he used to devote the best part of an hour every morning to meeting and talking with young men of ability and character.

His acceptance of the Ministry of Supply left a vacancy at the Board of Trade. To a large extent the Board of Trade would be closely linked with the importation activities of production, as well as the securing and allotting of raw materials.

Beaverbrook strongly recommended Colonel J. J. Llewellin, M.P., who had been his undersecretary at the Ministry of Aircraft Production. “J.J.” liked Max, he believed in Max, he was loyal to Max behind his back and Max always returns loyalty for loyalty.

The completed Ministry of Production and its subministries were duly announced as follows: Minister of

Production, Lord Beaverbrook; Minister of Supply, Sir Andrew Duncan; Minister of Aircraft Production, Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon (unchanged); President of the Board of Trade, Col. J. J. Llewellin.

The miracle has come to pass. The thing that could not be done has been done. Beaverbrook is dictator of the vast Empire of British industry. On paper the scheme looks involved, and when Parliament meets next week you may be sure that many M.P.s will shake their heads and say that the plan is clear-cut and that there will be confusion of authority. I do not take that view. Having worked with Beaverbrook for thirteen years in journalism I cannot imagine any confusion of authority where he is concerned. He will be the boss.

Llewellin is used to his methods. Moore-Brabazon is a philosopher and will fit into the scheme, albeit with some mental reservation. Beaverbrook is shrewd and courteous enough to treat Sir Andrew Duncan with candor and consideration. Some people need to be roared at, others actually enjoy it; but if anyone roars at Andy Duncan I would like to acquire movie rights. No—the Scottish Canadian and the undiluted Scot will make a go of it and will end up by liking and respecting each other. The equation of Bevin is still to be considered. He has been head man in his own show for many years, and like the Beaver he does not travel easily -in harness. But both Bevin and Beaverbrook are such passionate patriots that they will forget their differences when they arise and go on in their mobilization of men and materials.

Unwisely, perhaps, I shall venture on prophecy. Beaverbrook will be a success in his new job, will be hotly criticized, will hold the post for about nine months and then hand it over to Andrew Duncan. But during that nine months there’ll be a hot time in the old industrial towns every day and every night.

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