Sir Eric Campbell Geddes - Encyclopedia




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"SIR ERIC CAMPBELL GEDDES (1875-), British man of business and politician, born in India Sept. 26 1875, was the son of Auckland Campbell Geddes of Edinburgh and the elder brother of Sir Auckland Campbell Geddes. He was educated at Oxford Military College and Merchiston Castle school, Edinburgh. He gained business experience lumbering in the southern states of America, and he afterwards was connected with railways - first the Baltimore & Ohio system in the United States, and then the Rohilkund and Kumaon in India. Returning to England, he joined the North-Eastern Railway Co.,' under Sir George Gibb, and, having succeeded him in 1906, was himself the general manager of this line when the World War broke out in 1914. He was one of the business men whom Mr. Lloyd George, on becoming Minister of Munitions, enlisted in Government employ. He became deputy director-general of munitions supply 1915-6, and his powers of administration so impressed the ministers charged with the conduct of the war that, when in 1916 the question of communications behind the lines of the British army in France became urgent, and Sir Douglas Haig asked for the help of an expert, he was appointed, though a civilian, director-general of military railways and inspectorgeneral of transportation, with the rank of hon. major-general. Under him, and with the assistance of the expert railway managers whose services were enlisted, the British lines of communication in the latter part of the war were brought into a high state of efficiency. He was knighted in 1916 and in 1917 he was created K.C.B. and G.B.E., being transferred to the Admiralty in May of that year as controller, with the honorary rank of vice-admiral, in order to develop and utilize the whole of the shipbuilding resources of the country and concentrate them under one authority. So highly did Mr. Lloyd George value his work that when Sir Edward Carson resigned the office of First Lord of the Admiralty a couple of months later, the Prime Minister selected Sir Eric Geddes, in spite of his having no parliamentary experience, to succeed him. A seat in the House of Commons was provided for the new minister at Cambridge (town). He held office at a time when the unrestricted German submarine warfare was levying a heavy toll on the British mercantile marine. He informed the House of Commons in March 1918 that the monthly output of British shipbuilding yards would have to be nearly doubled before the monthly rate of sinking was made good; and he appointed Lord Pirrie, the great Belfast shipbuilder, as controller-general of merchant shipbuilding. In Oct. he went at the head of a naval mission to the United States. After the Armistice Mr. Lloyd George availed himself of Sir Eric's powers as an organizer by appointing him to coordinate Government departments in regard to demobilization. His success in these varied tasks was rewarded in Jan. 1919 by the G.C.B. The Prime Minister's programme for the election of Dec. 1918 included" the development and control. .. of the railways and the means of communication,"a.?d a systematic improvement in the transport facilities of the agricultural areas." For the purpose of carrying out this policy, Sir Eric left the Admiralty when the ministry was reconstructed in Jan. 1919 in order to organize and preside over a new Ministry of Transport. Until the bill constituting it was passed in the summer, he held Cabinet office without portfolio. The measure, which was opposed in both Houses as tending unduly to nationalization, gave the minister control of railways, roads, canals and docks. The constitution of the new ministry subsequently aroused severe criticism on account of its extravagant scale when in 1920 - I all eyes were fixed on the need for economy; and in view of the contemplated handing back of the railways from State control to the companies in the autumn of 1921, it became understood that its future was very doubtful, and that Sir Eric himself had no desire to continue in public life after that event. A bill for regrouping the railways was introduced by him in the spring of 1921. Sir Eric Geddes married in 1900 Gwendolen, daughter of the Rev. A. Stokes, and had three sons.

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