Journalist Myra Urquhart of CBC New Brunswick kindly and quickly corrected their story of one of Sir Winston Churchill’s last letters. It expressed condolences following the death of his oldest friend, Lord Beaverbrook. Although a copy exists in the Churchill Archives, it was not published in WSC’s books or The Churchill Documents. It is among the last letters the great man wrote.
Beaverbrook died on 9 June 1964, some 220 days before Churchill. Sir Winston’s letter of sympathy to Lady Beaverbrook will be displayed by the Saint Andrews, New Brunswick Civic Trust. It is part of a Churchilliana collection donated by Douglas Young, a former Liberal politician who once served as federal fisheries minister.
Grandson Winston to Lady Beaverbrook
The error occurred when CBC New Brunswick accompanied the article with a two-page handwritten letter identified as Sir Winston’s. WSC was not writing anything that long by 1964, and I recognized the handwriting of his grandson. Signed “Winston,” it mentions being Lord Beaverbrook’s godson—which he was. (His grandfather was five years older than Beaverbrook.)
I notified CBC New Brunswick, and Ms. Urquhart immediately rang with good news. The Civic Trust also has Sir Winston’s letter—typed and signed in his very shaky 1964 hand. She faithfully corrected the article, where the correct letter is now posted.
Sir Winston’s sympathies
Churchill’s devoted private secretary, Anthony Montague Browne, brought him the news of friend’s death. “Churchill as usual was propped up in bed reading,” wrote Kenneth Young. “When the secretary said as gently as possible that he had just been told of Max’s death, Churchill made no reply but his chin sank on his chest. A great depression settled upon the house.”
The next day Churchill roused himself to write. His words to Lady Beaverbrook were beautiful. His correspondence by then had ground almost to a halt. Montague Browne drafted most of his letters. Yet it is impossible to think he had nothing to do with the words in this one:
My dear Christophor,
Words are vain, but I wanted to give you my true sympathy in your distress. I know how you loved dear Max and how wonderfully you sustained him and made his life a happy one.
I, too, grieve for my oldest and closest friend, for whom my feelings of affection and admiration grew only stronger with the passing of time. It was heart-warming that he should have made such a splendid speech so recently,* and that he then received such well-justified tributes to his great stature.
Clemmie and I so much hope that later you will come and see us whenever you can. Yours very sincerely, Winston S. Churchill
The Archives show that WSC wrote similarly to Beaverbrook’s son: “You know my feelings for your dear Father too well for me to tell you of them. I am happy to think that you will carry on as he would have wished.” He issued a brief statement to the press: “I am deeply grieved at the loss of my oldest and closest friend, who served his country valiantly and was the most loyal and devoted of comrades.”
* One last triumph
Lord Beaverbrook had turned 85 on 25 May 1964. A grand banquet of 650 friends and associates was planned at the Dorchester by Lord Thomson of Fleet, like Max a Canadian-born newspaper baron. Stricken with gout, Beaverbrook was almost immobile, his voice a whisper. Somehow, wrote Kenneth Young, he pulled himself together:
Beaverbrook’s son, now Sir Max Aitken, brought him up from Cherkley Court. He had not walked unaided for several months. But that night with an escort of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Red Indian chiefs and RAF trumpeters, he walked firmly into the banqueting hall and took his place at table between Lord Thomson and Lord Rothermere. After dinner he rose and in a voice both firm and strong made his last and perhaps most brilliant speech in all his old vein of forcefulness, humour and indomitable spirit.
“I am old bones,” he told them. “My legs are very weak. But I’ve still got something in the way of a head.” And, perhaps with premonition: “It is time for me to become an apprentice once more, sometime soon.”
One man was missing…
…from this memorable evenoing. Sir Winston had been invited, of course, but “by this time he was beyond such occasions.” Yet with Montague Browne’s help he reached again the Churchillian heights. To those assembled at the Dorchester, writes Kenneth Young,
…he recalled some of the words of magnificent praise he had written about Beaverbrook as his colleague, the Minister of Aircraft Production, in those far-off, desperate days of 1940 almost a quarter of a century ago. “I was glad to be able sometimes to lean on him. He did not fail. This was his hour;” and, Churchill added, “Time has but added to the intensity of what I then felt, and to my regard and affection.”
It was a fitting epilogue to a friendship which had subsisted through thick and thin for fifty years. To it Beaverbrook added a P.S.—a letter of thanks. It was the last communication between him and Churchill: “It was characteristically generous of you to recall on my birthday the words you wrote about me all those years ago. Certainly I have never forgotten them but it was wonderful to hear them again.”
Lady Beaverbrook responded to Churchill’s condolences: “You who were so very close in friendship to him will know how I am feeling just now. That triumphant speech at the Dorchester on the 25th has left me with a memory which will never grow stale.”
Nor did it, for the three decades left to her. A man never dies as long as he is remembered.
 Kenneth Young, Churchill and Beaverbrook (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode; New York: James H. Heineman, 1966), 326.
 Winston S. Churchill (hereinafter WSC) to Marcia Anastasia Christoforides, Lady Beaverbrook, 10 June 1964, Churchill Archives Centre, CHUR 2/519B/189.
 WSC to Sir Max Aitken, 2nd Baronet Beaverbrook, 10 June 1964, CHUR 2/519B/185.
 WSC message to the Press, 9 June 1964, CHUR 2/519B/187.
 Young, Churchill and Beaverbrook, 325.
 “Beaverbrook, 85, Honored at Party; Mighty and Not Mighty Join in Outpouring of Affection,” The New York Times, 26 May 1964, 11, Archive.today, accessed 16 June 2023.
 Young, 325-26.
 Lady Beaverbrook, to WSC, 13 June 1964, CHUR 2/519B/188.
Bradley Tolpannen, “Great Contemporaries: Max Beaverbrook,” Hillsdale College Churchill Project, 2016.
Richard M. Langworth, Chapter 20, “People…Beaverbrook,” in Churchill by Himself, 2016.
Kenneth Young, Churchill and Beaverbrook: A Study in Friendship and Politics. 1966.