Sir John William Maxwell Aitken, 2nd Baronet, DSO, DFC (15 February 1910 – 30 April 1985, briefly 2nd Baron Beaverbrook in 1964, was a Canadian-British fighter pilot and flying ace of the Second World War, a Conservative politician, and press baron. He was the son of Max Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook.
Photograph of Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding and an aide with several Battle of Britain fighter pilots (representing “The Few”) outside the Air Ministry in London during the celebration of the second anniversary of the RAF’s most successful day of the Battle.
Left to right as shown: Sqn Ldr A C Bartley DFC Wg Cdr D F B Sheen DFC Wg Cdr I R Gleed DSO DFC Wg Cdr Max Aitken DSO DFC Wg Cdr A G Malan DSO DFC Sqn Ldr A C Deere DFC Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding Flt Off E C Henderson Flt Lt R H Hilary Wg Cdr J A Kent DFC AFC Wg Cdr C B F Kingcome Sqn Ldr D H Watkins DFC WO R H Gretton
Aitken was born on 15 February 1910 in Montreal, the son of Gladys Henderson (Drury) and Max Aitken (later Lord Beaverbrook). He was educated at Westminster School and Pembroke College, Cambridge. A talented sportsman, he was a University blue at football and a scratch golfer. A keen flyer, he spent some time in the thirties flying throughout Europe and the USA. He joined the Royal Auxiliary Air Force in 1935, and was commissioned a pilot officer on 11 September. He was promoted to flying officer on 14 April 1937.
On 15 May 1940, Aitken was promoted to flight lieutenant in the Auxiliary Air Force. Aitken served as a Bristol Blenheim and then a Hawker Hurricane pilot with No. 601 Squadron RAF during the early part of the Second World War, becoming commanding officer in June 1940, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1940, and the Distinguished Service Order, in 1942, for eight combat claims. Leaving the squadron on 20 July 1940, he then served as commanding officer of No. 68 Squadron RAF, a night fighter unit, from February 1941 until January 1943, claiming four night victories.
Serving in the Middle East during the middle war years as wing commander, although he was officially non-operational, he managed to shoot down two Junkers Ju 52 aircraft while flying with No. 46 Squadron RAF in Beaufighters.
Aitken became wing leader of the Banff Strike Wing (RAF Coastal Command) in 1944. He reached the rank of group captain, achieving 16 1/2 kills (one a shared aircraft). He did some of his early flying training with Richard Hillary, to whom he was known as Bill, and was featured in Hillary’s book The Last Enemy.
Aitken’s portrait was made by Cuthbert Orde in 1940
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