One Last Shining Moment: Churchill’s Paean to Beaverbrook

One Last Shining Moment: Churchill’s Paean to Beaverbrook

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.”[1]

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[2]

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.”[3] 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.”[4]

* 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.[5]

“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.”[6]

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.”[7]

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.”[8]

Nor did it, for the three decades left to her. A man nev­er dies as long as he is remembered.


[1] Ken­neth Young, Churchill and Beaver­brook (Lon­don: Eyre & Spot­tis­woode; New York: James H. Heine­man, 1966), 326.

[2] Win­ston S. Churchill (here­inafter WSC) to Mar­cia Anas­ta­sia Christo­forides, Lady Beaver­brook, 10 June 1964, Churchill Archives Cen­tre, CHUR 2/519B/189.

[3] WSC to Sir Max Aitken, 2nd Baronet Beaver­brook, 10 June 1964, CHUR 2/519B/185.

[4] WSC mes­sage to the Press, 9 June 1964, CHUR 2/519B/187.

[5] Young, Churchill and Beaver­brook, 325.

[6] “Beaver­brook, 85, Hon­ored at Par­ty; Mighty and Not Mighty Join in Out­pour­ing of Affec­tion,” The New York Times, 26 May 1964, 11,, accessed 16 June 2023.

[7] Young, 325-26.

[8] Lady Beaver­brook, to WSC, 13 June 1964, CHUR 2/519B/188.

Further reading

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.

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