Brabazon, John Theodore, Cuthbert Moore-, first Baron Brabazon of Tara 1884-1964, aviator and politician, was born in London 8 February 1884, the younger son of Lt.-Col. John Arthur Henry Moore-Brabazon, of Tara Hall, county Meath, Ireland, and his wife, Emma Sophia, daughter of Alfred Richards, of Forest Hill. He was educated at Harrow (1898-1901) and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read engineering but did not take a degree. Attracted to the mysteries of the early internal combustion engine even while at school, he spent his university vacations as unpaid mechanic to Charles S. Rolls [qv.], the pioneer of motor cars. On leaving Cambridge, Moore-Brabazon became an apprentice in the Darracq works in Paris from which he graduated as an international racing driver. In 1907 he won the Circuit des Ardennes in a Minerva.
As an aviator he soon exchanged the tranquil pleasures of the balloon for a Voisin aircraft resembling a huge box kite. In it he became the first Englishman to pilot a heavier-than-air machine under power in England. The flight took place over the Isle of Sheppey in May 1909, lasted rather more than a minute, and ended in a crash which nearly cost him his life. This courageous enterprise brought him, in March 1910, the first pilot's certificate to be issued by the Royal Aero Club. Some years later he set a whimsical fashion among motorists by acquiring the number plate FLY 1. In October 1909, piloting a machine made by the Short brothers, he won a prize of £1,000 offered by the Daily Mail for the first English aircraft to fly one mile. But after witnessing the death of his friend Rolls in an air crash nine months later, he was persuaded by his wife to abandon flying until the outbreak of war in 1914. Moore-Brabazon served with the Royal Flying Corps on the western front, specializing in the development of aerial reconnaissance and photography. His qualities of leadership and mechanical flair brought him the regard and friendship of that exacting commander (Sir) Hugh (later Viscount) Trenchard [qv.]. He rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, was awarded the MC, received three mentions in dispatches, and became a commander of the Legion of Honour.
In 1918 his brother officer Lord Hugh Cecil (later Baron Quickwood) [qv.] encouraged him to stand for Parliament as a Conservative. He was elected for the Chatham division of Rochester, a seat which he held until his defeat in 1929. From 1931 to 1942, when he was created a peer, he sat for Wallasey. Fearlessly ebullient, he delivered his maiden speech within two days of entering the House and in 1919 was rewarded by an invitation to become parliamentary private secretary to (Sir) Winston Churchill, the newly appointed secretary of state for war and air. From 1923 to 1924 and 1924 to 1927 he was parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Transport. Under his direction the London docks remained open to receive shipments of food during the general strike of 1926. In the same year he steered through the Commons a Bill to rationalize the electricity industry. He supported Churchill's pleas for a more spirited policy of rearmament throughout the era of appeasement. His loyalty was recognized when in October 1940 he replaced Lord Reith as minister of transport in the wartime coalition and was sworn of the Privy Council. After seven months largely spent in making good the dislocation caused by enemy air raids he became minister of aircraft production. He had many friends in the industry and both in and out of office kept abreast of its technical developments, particularly the jet engine invented by (Sir) Frank Whittle. He also restored a more orderly regime in the Ministry after the inspired piracy by which his predecessor Lord Beaverbrook [qv.] had ensured a desperately needed flow of fighter planes. In February 1942, however, when a speech at a private luncheon leaked into the newspapers, he was alleged to have expressed the hope that the German and Russian armies would annihilate each other. Although he had done as much as any minister to keep our Russian allies supplied with British aircraft, whatever the cost to our own war effort, Churchill asked for his resignation. He accepted his dismissal with characteristic good humour and was consoled with a peerage.
That was the end of Moore-Brabazon's political career but not of his influence on aviation. He became chairman of the committee that planned the construction of civil aircraft in the post-war years, not least the huge and beautiful machine that bore his name but never flew commercially. He was also elected president of the Royal Aero Club, president of the Royal Institution, and chairman of the Air Registration Board. As a father figure of aeronautical enterprise he never ceased to insist that speed should if necessary be sacrificed to safety, comfort, economy, and prestige. In 1953 he was appointed GBE.
It is unlikely that Moore-Brabazon would have achieved Cabinet rank except in a wartime administration led by Churchill. Although he brought an inventive and industrious mind to his ministerial duties, he had no great regard for the niceties of procedure or administration; and his genial presence, heralded by a cigarette in its holder and sustained by the humour of an after-dinner speaker, failed to inspire confidence in staider colleagues. With characteristic panache he was one of the last to wear a top hat in the House of Commons. He could be endearingly irreverent. In youth he had flown with a pig as his passenger in order to confound a familiar adage; and the speech that caused his downfall in 1942 echoed in tone his retort to the major who in the early days of the war of 1914-18 had ordered him to obey his superior officer: Superior officer? Senior, if you please, sir.
Tall, muscular, and deceptively ponderous, he excelled at several sports well into his eighth decade. Except during the two world wars he braved the Cresta Run at St. Moritz every year from 1907 until his death. Three times he won the Curzon Cup, the blue riband of tobogganing. He was a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron and in 1952 captain of the Royal and Ancient Gold Club of St. Andrews.
He married in 1906 Hilda Mary (died 1977), only daughter of Charles Henry Krabbe, who farmed an estate in Buenos Aires; they had two sons, the younger of whom died in 1950. He died at Chersey 17 May 1964 and was succeeded by his elder son, Derek Charles (born 1910). The second baron died in 1974 and was succeeded by his only son Ivon Anthony (born 1946).
There is a portrait of Moore-Brabazon by Sir Oswald Birley in the possession of the third baron; a pastel drawing by A. Egerton Cooper is in the National Portrait Gallery; and a bronze by David McFall was exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1964.
Lord Brabazon of Tara, The Brabazon Story, 1956
The Times, 18 May 1964
Contributor: Kenneth Rose