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Interviews & Interest

Beaverbrook, a bet, Churchill and…

By 21 November 2021One Comment

Beaverbrook, a bet, Churchill and some very special ash-trays!

The Background.

Press tycoon Lord Beaverbrook was handed the position of Minister of Aircraft Production by Churchill who had recently become Prime Minister. Once Beaverbrook had full control of the works at Castle Bromwich he set about fixing the problems of inefficiency working closely with the Production Manager, Edward ‘Rex’ Talamo.

The Bet

Rex wanted to shut the works down first, much to the ire of Churchill. He had a bet with Beaverbrook that he could double the production rate. The bet was for 500 Guineas. Rex won the bet and Beaverbrook paid up.

Although it took some time to resolve the problems, CBAF achieved full production in June 1940, when 10 Spitfire Mk IIs were built; 23 in July; 37 in August; and 56 in September. 611 Squadron at RAF Digby was the first squadron to receive the Mk II in August 1940.

The Ash Trays

Churchill was so happy he sent Rex an inscribed silver ash tray for the first four or five months after the factory reopened on the production line method. Each one showing how the new method had improved Spitfire production.

The King visited the factory, Rex seen on his left hand side sporting a small moustache! The Churchill party observed a Spitfire display during their visit.

The Telegram

Praise indeed from Lord Beaverbrook to Rex, as noted in the telegram on Christmas Day!

The Connection…

In 2020 the grandson of Rex was reading a copy of Country Life when he saw our Spitfire laptop sleeve.    James got in touch with his story and a special request. We were delighted to learn more and to help keep his family’s story alive.

So on James’ request we created a special Spitfire Laptop sleeve showing the same inscription that would appear on the ash trays gifted by Churchill to his grandfather.

spitfire production castle bromwich numbers at vickers

Aviation inspiration…

Rex resigned from Vickers in 1944 and went to Shanghai as the Commercial Secretary.  He was imprisoned by the Chinese communists for twelve years until his escape in 1956.  Sadly he died before James was born.

James’ father was inspired by Rex to become a fighter pilot and went on to enter the RAF through the first Cranwell entrance post war. He flew many aircraft from Tiger Moths to Meteors, Hunters, Vampires right up to Jaguars.

The Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory went on to become the largest and most successful plant of its type during the 1939–45 conflict producing a maximum of 320 aircraft per month, it built over half of the approximately 20,000 aircraft of this type. And the rest they say, is history…

One Comment

  • Dave Key says:

    Thanks for the story. I’d be fascinated to talk to Rex’s grandson about Castle Bromwich.

    I run a project called ‘The Supermariners’ which is dedicated to telling the individual stories of the men and women behind the design and production of Supermarine’s aircraft, including the Spitfire.

    Currently the story of Castle Bromwich is not well documented and typically the takeover is described as ‘Supermarine’ management taking over, however, I don’t believe Rex was part of the Supermarine organisation, rather I think he was in charge of the Vickers-Armstrongs aircraft works in Chester. As Supermarine were a subsidiary company of Vickers-Armstrongs (Aviation) this suggests a more ‘corporate’ management at Castle Bromwich was established in 1940, so finding out more about that would be fascinating and extremely helpful

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