From World War I Document Archive
Revision as of 22:37, 15 July 2009 by Bkimberl
By the time the First World War began, Max Aitken had transformed himself from the somewhat shiftless son of a Presbyterian minister in New Brunswick, Canada to a wealthy newspaper baron with considerable influence in the highest levels of English politics and society. The Member of Parliament for Ashton-under-Lyne since 1910, Aitken returned to Canada in September 1914 to offer his services to the government of his homeland. He made a series of recruiting speeches, and eventually secured for himself an appointment as "Canadian Eye Witness," with responsibility for reporting the activities of the Canadian Expeditionary Force to an eager public in Canada, and for superintending whatever records the CEF generated. He established what eventually became known as the Canadian War Records Office in London, and before long, waves of publicity about Canadian efforts in the war were issuing forth from Aitken's office. Among his most notable achievements were the Canadian War Memorials Fund (a collection of war art by the finest artists and sculptors in Britain and Canada) and the three-volume series Canada in Flanders, immensely popular bestsellers which chronicled the achievements of Canadian soldiers in the field.
A subsequent appointment as Canadian Military Representative at the front gave Aitken even greater access to the highest levels of military decision making, and his relationship with Canada's Minister of Militia and Defence, Sam Hughes, meant that Aitken wielded considerable influence in the running of the CEF. Hughes' resignation in November 1916 put an end to Aitken's tenure as Military Representative, but coincided with an even more influential role: his participation in what he later called the "honest intrigue" which brought down the Asquith government and gave Lloyd George the Prime Ministership. As a reward for his machinations, Aitken accepted a peerage as Lord Beaverbrook.
The intrigue having been concluded successfully, Beaverbrook turned his considerable energies back to publicizing the Allied war effort. In November 1916 he had accepted the chairmanship of the War Office Committee for Propaganda, and also chaired the Pictorial Propaganda Committee of the Department of Information and the War Office Cinematograph Committee. In February 1918, he gained even greater influence through his appointment as Britain's first Minister of Information, an appointment which Lloyd George admitted had much to do with Beaverbrook's incredible success as a propagandist for the CEF. During his tenure, he created an Overseas Press Centre, arranged tours for overseas journalists, promoted the cultivation of influential people, and generally exploited every conceivable propaganda opportunity he could think of. Beaverbrook held the position until October 1918, when, tiring of the political battles that he had fought as Minister and knowing the war was almost won, he resigned.
Beaverbrook's legacy to historians of the First World War is considerable. Most directly, he left the partisan but indispensible, volume Politicians and the War and the florid but gripping Canada in Flanders. Just as significantly, he was also responsible for the thousands of feet of film, hundreds of paintings and drawings, millions of pages of text, and thousands of photographs which have told us much of what we know about the Great War.