Unknown to Winston Churchill, his longtime friend, Lord Beaverbrook -- who proved a hero during the fateful 1940 Battle of Britain for ramping up fighter plane production-- secretly hedged his own bets on a Nazi invasion by asking another friend, U.S. ambassador Joseph Kennedy, to take care of his fortune if England was overrun by the Nazis
|Lord Beaverbrook and Winston Churchill|
Here's an excerpt from "WHEN LIONS ROAR: The Churchills and the Kennedys" that tells the story, quoting Beaverbrook's previously unknown secret request to the controversial American ambassador.
Kennedy’s affinity with Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, the press lord and friend of Winston’s, formed perhaps the ambassador’s closest alliance in England. The American business tycoon liked Beaverbrook’s cunning and sharp instincts in all facets of life—enough so that Randolph Churchill’s friend writer Evelyn Waugh (who fashioned his novel Scoop on the bold and crafty press magnate), once quipped that he “had to believe in the Devil if only to account for the existence of Lord Beaverbrook.” If pushed, Kennedy agreed that Max could be “a treacherous little bastard.”
For much of Kennedy’s time at the embassy, he and Beaverbrook agreed with Chamberlain’s appeasement policies, hoping their respective nations could somehow avoid war with the Axis powers. Churchill believed them both dangerously wrong. “There would be a great deal to be said for [Beaverbrook’s] policy of a pacific isolationism if we could arrange to have the United Kingdom towed out fifteen hundred miles into the Atlantic,” Winston chided. During their decades-long friendship (reaching back to the Other Club), Winston and Max had often differed on politics. After one of their frequent friendly arguments, Beaverbrook said of Churchill, “He is strictly honest and truthful to other people, down to the smallest detail of his life—yet he frequently deceives himself.”
As British public opinion turned acrid about Kennedy’s defeatism, Beaverbrook seemed determined to stay in his good graces, just like another Churchill loyalist, Brendan Bracken. At an October 1939 gathering with reporters at Beaverbrook’s place, Bracken praised Kennedy: “He’s a great friend of England’s. Greatest ambassador we ever had.” While Bracken’s statement probably was just tactical, Beaverbrook’s fidelity to Kennedy seemed sincere. Even when England declared war against Germany, Beaverbrook ordered his newspapers not to turn on his American friend. Instructions from Lord Beaverbrook’s editors insisted that “Mr. Kennedy is not to be criticized in the columns of our papers, but that he is to receive favourable comment.”
Like birds of a feather, Beaverbrook realized Joe wanted mostly to protect his investments—in his family and his own future. Between them, Kennedy offered a kind of shelter for the rich British lord, who was afraid of losing everything as well. When the Russians entered Poland in September 1939, Beaverbrook sounded “frightfully disturbed” in calling Kennedy at his weekend country home with the news. Max said he’d move his fortune to America in Joe’s care if necessary, according to Kennedy’s diary. “All my papers, my money, and everything else I own is yours to do as you wish with,” Beaverbrook told him, “There are only three men in England who know what the real situation is: first you—second, [British secretary of state for war, Leslie] Hore-Belisha—and third—(you may be surprised)—Winston Churchill.”
For an imperiled British nation, Kennedy thought Beaverbrook would make a better leader, and so did the press lord himself. Joe’s cables praised Beaverbrook to the president—just as Beaverbrook said he did on Kennedy’s behalf when he visited the White House. “If he [Beaverbrook] had his way, he would like to turn over the British Empire to you to straighten out,” Joe enthused to Roosevelt. During a trip to Washington around this time, Beaverbrook stopped in to see the president, and they chatted about Kennedy, Churchill, and the war. “Beaverbrook told me that in his conversations with you, you were most complimentary in discussing me and I am deeply grateful to you for this,” Kennedy wrote to FDR. “One’s influence on this Country is primarily dependent on how they think one stands with the President.”
Needless to say, Beaverbook's fortune was never entrusted to Kennedy because the Nazis never invaded.