History of the Beaverbrook Foundation

Sir Max Aitken

Sir John William Maxwell ‘Max’ Aitken, 2nd Baronet, DSO, DFC

Sir Max AitkenAitken joined the Auxiliary Air Force in 1935 before being called up in August 1939. His first operational trip was over the Germany Sea Plane base at Borkum in November 1939. He served as a Bristol Blenheim and a Hawker Hurricane pilot with 601 Squadron RAF during World War II becoming Commanding Officer in May 1940. He earned the Distinguished Service Order and Distinguished Flying Cross, for eight combat claims. He left the Squadron in July 1940 and then served as CO of 68 Squadron RAF, a night fighter unit from February 1941 to January 1943, claiming four night victories, and being awarded the Czech War Cross in 1942. He served in the Middle East from January 1943 as Wing Commander although officially non-operational he shot down two Juners Ju 52 aircraft while flying with 46 Squadron RAG in Beaufighters. Aitken became Wing Leader of the Banff Strike Wing (RAF Coastal Command) in 1944, reaching the rank of Group Captain. He was mentioned in dispatches, 147 sorties in fighter and coastal command, and is recorded as having destroyed 16 enemy aircraft. He was demobilised in January 1946.

In 1946 Aitken became a director of the Express Group, later to become Chairman of Beaverbrook Newspapers Limited following his father’s death in 1964. He had a total of 12 editors, but none made any great impact on flagging sales figures although many critics say none was given money to invest in promotion or editorial improvements. The Express switched to tabloid size in 1977 when it was sold to Trafalgar House and in 1985 was bought by United Newspapers.

Key dates:  
15 February 1910 Birth in Montreal
1911 Moved to UK
1935 Joined Royal Auxiliary Air Force
1940 Awarded DFC
1942 Awarded DSO
1945 Elected MP for Holborn
1946 Director of the Express Group
1964 Chairman of Beaverbrook Newspapers Limited
30 April 1985 Death
Westminster School
Pembroke College, Cambridge
Aitken married 3 times:
Cynthia Monteith (1939-1944) divorced
Ursula Kenyon-Slaney (1946-1950) divorced
Violet de Trafford (1951-30 April 1985)
He had four children:
Kirsty and Lynda from his second marriage
Maxwell and Laura from his third marriage
He succeeded his father as Baron Beaverbrook on the latter’s death on 6 June 1964, but disclaimed the title three days later. On his death in 1985 his son, Max Aitken, took on the title.

At the 1945 general election, Aitken was elected Member of Parliament for Holborn. Unfavourable boundary changes meant that the Labour Party took the successor seat in 1950 comfortably and Aitken did not stand at that or subsequent elections.

Aitken became a trustee of the Beaverbrook Foundation in 1964 and Chairman until his death in 1985.

Aitken continued the family’s commitments in Canada and served as Chancellor of the University of New Brunswick from 1964 to 1982.

Sporting Interests:

Sir Max AitkenMax was a talented sportsman, he was a University blue at soccer and a scratch golfer. He had a passion for boats, cars, skiing and travelling.

In the late 1950s Aitken took part in one of the early Miami Nassau Offshore Powerboat Races with his wife. This led him to announce at the 1961 London Boat Show that a similar race would be held in the south of England in August that year. With John Coote, they formulated the rules of the Cowes Torquay Offshore Powerboat Race, with the aim of improving the breed of sea going fast cruisers and safety at sea.

With the sponsorship of the Daily Express, he was instrumental in founding the London International Boat Show in 1954 at Olympia.

His passion for powerboats and racing yachts resulted in his having a home at The Prospect in Cowes, Isle of Wight, where the Sir Max Aitken Museum is now located.