Arthur Blaikie Purvis was born in 1890 in Edmonton, Middlesex, and
lived in Tottenham in 1901, according to the census. As his name
suggests, he came from a Scottish family.
In the First World War, aged 24, he was sent to the US to buy naval
supplies. Then he moved to Montreal, Canada, took over a munitions
company, and established himself as a leading businessman. Purvis
became President of Canadian Industries, Ltd., a chemical company with
a munitions division. He was chairman of the Canadian National
Employment Commission, where he is said to have been "stubborn". In
wartime negotiations, this quality is described as "determination",
and he clearly also had charm and the capacity to form excellent
working relationships, as well as being a very able man.
He was married with a son, and in 1940 was made a member of the Privy
Council. He is buried in Ayr, in a grave shared with others killed in
an air crash as their plane set off for Canada on 14 August 1941.
There was a memorial service for Purvis in Washington Cathedral.
From now on, I'll use a mixture of excerpts and summaries to tell you more.
United States Economic Statecraft for Survival, 1933-1991: Of
Sanctions and Strategic Embargoes
by Alan P. Dobson
"British businessman, who made his business career in Canada. From
1939-41, as head of the British Purchasing Board, and first chairman
of the British Supply Council, he controlled British procurement of
munittions and war-related goods in the USA. Is said to have
influenced the size of the first Lend-Lease appropriation. [...] To
Morgenthau he was not only the 'ablest British representative in
Washington, but one of the rarest persons I have ever known.'"
"In June 1940, the British government dropped its decision, taken at
the outbreak of the war, to husband its gold and dollar reserves for a
three-year war: its Purchasing Mission, headed by a brilliant
Scottish-Canadian businessman, Arthur Purvis, started ordering in the
US and Canada as much war material as the Chiefs of Staff needed."
"On 18 July 1940 there was a dinner party at the British Embassy in
Washington at which both Stimson and Morgenthau were guests. In the
course of the evening Stimson criticised the British for closing the
Burma Road. In reply Ambassador Lothian and Arthur Purvis of the
British Supply Mission pointed out that they had little alternative
when the USA was not providing them with support and continued to
export oils to the Japanese."
John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Britain, 1937-1946
by Robert Skidelsky
"Keynes took up Purvis's suggestion that the Reconstruction Finance
Corporation, one of Roosevelt's New Deal agencies [...] might lend
Britain $900m, against the collateral of all Britain's direct US
Keynes worked as a team with Peacock (Canadian-British merchant
banker), Purvis and Sir Frederick Phillips (UK Treasury Representative
Starting 19 June,they "met a shifting collection of American officials
most weekdays for the next month to approve British purchases."
In late summer 1941, problems developed in relations between London
and Washington which were made worse by Purvis' death.
The Second World War : A Complete History
by Martin Gilbert
Owl Books (1991)
Nov 3 - Congress agrees to Roosevelt's 's suggestion to repeal
"barriers to British and French arms purchases"
"an Anglo-French Purchasing Board [was] set up in Washington. The head
of the Board was [...] Purvis, who at the outbreak of the First World
War, aged 24, had been sent from Britain to the US to buy up all
available stocks of acetone, the scarcity of which was seriously
impeding the British manufacture of explosives. The return of Purvis
to America marked an important stage in the Anglo-French search for ..
arms and munitions."
May 14, 1940:
Purvis reports that Britain can buy 81 aircraft with 324 more to come
in the next 2 or 2 months. The writer attributes this to the goodwill
of Roosevelt and Morgenthau.
As it's still illegal for the US to send aircraft ready to fly direct
to Britain, Roosevelt suggests a route via Canada. Purvis says "We
already know this method is legal and feasible."
At the end of May Purvis purchases "a vast armoury".
Marshall stretches a point and agrees to declare substantial
quantitites of supplies "surplus" to get round the neutrality
Purvis secures "priority" position for Britain for purchase of 15000
tons of (new) TNT
Churchill and Roosevelt had been planning to include Purvis as a
leading member of a mission to Russia - but his plane crashed as he
took off to meet them in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland.
Finest Hour : The Battle of Britain
by Phil Craig
Simon & Schuster (2002)
Purvis described as Churchill's "chief arms buyer"
"Arthur Purvis was in charge of purchasing weapons in America. He was
in Washington at the end of May trying to persuade senior officials to
release US military stocks for immediate sale to Britain and France.
Some supplies were sold after General George Marshall, American Arny
Chief of Staff, agreed to declare them "surplus" to US needs."
But no chance of Britain getting 50 "mothballed" destroyers -
Morgenthau told Purvis the President wouldn't modify the law denying
military supplies to belligerents.
"In private, Morgenthau, a passionate anti-Nazi, had told Purvis that
he and his PM were attempting the impossible."
"It was decided that Canadian military representatives would travel
south, ostensibly to meet the British arms buyer Arthur Purvis"
Hard Bargain: How FDR Twisted Churchill's Arm, Evaded the Law, and
Changed the Role of the American Presidency
by Robert Shogan
Westview Press (1999)
"Purvis had been sent to the US twenty years earlier to buy naval
supplies during the First World War. In the interim he had crossed the
Atlantic again to take over a Canadian munitions company, eventually
becoming one of the giants of the Canadian business world. Purvis's
[unreadable] and his ample store of jokes [...] charmed the Americans
he encountered. He was a tenacious negotiator, though . . ."
The author goes on to discuss public and private exchanges with
Morgenthau - described elsewhere.
Americans "invented a legal basis for avoiding the ban on government
sales to a belligerent", which was to use private companies as
middlemen between the US government selling its "surplus" and Britain
When Purvis was shown a list of possible equipment he asked for "the
whole damned lot".
Purvis asked for destroyers and torpedo boats.
"The destroyer thing is out", for which Morgenthau blames Admiral
Stark's arguments to Roosevelt.
Purvis changed the unsuccessful request for destroyers into a request
for torpedo boats - much more acceptable to the Americans. But,
"Roosevelt and his advisers failed to foresee that the torpedo boats
would set off [...] a storm . . ."
The Great Depression
by Pierre Berton
Purvis is part of a row about Canadian unemployment relief.
Purvis is described as stubborn, and accused of acting like Hitler.
In late November 1939, when Monnet secured the chairmanship of the
Anglo-French Coordinating Committee, a British subject and Canadian
citizen named A. B. Purvis was made chairman of the Anglo-French
Purchasing Board in the United States.
"This award, initiated in 1947, honours the memory of Arthur Blaikie
Purvis, born in London, England in 1890, who became a leader in
Canadian Industry serving in an administrative capacity in World Wars
I and II. In recognition of his services, he was appointed a member of
His Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council.
At the time of his death by accident in 1941, he was on a mission as
Chairman of the British Supply Council in North America. Among
positions he held in his career in industry was that of President of
Canadian Industries Limited (CIL)."
"# Exchange of telegrams between Mr. A. B. Purvis and the North
American Supply Committee. N.A.S.(40)11, dated 31st July, 1940,
summarises some of the most important telegrams, dated June and July,
1940, dealing with the special powers which the United States
Administration had taken to control the production and allocation of
armament. See also E.c.15, 24th March, 1941. (M.O.S. file
Fortunately, the task of holding a fair balance between these two
points of view was a manageable one; the close coordination of Service
and Supply policy by the War Cabinet, reflected as it was in
Washington by the quasi-federalistic organisation of the British
Supply Council and the brilliant leadership of Mr. A. B. Purvis, was
sufficient guarantee that rough justice would be done to both side.
Here is is the production side that needs to be examined. British
policy in Washington, formulated in large measure by Monnet's planning
mind and propagated by the persistence and persuasiveness of Purvis,
made demands upon American industry that were far in advance of
contemporary American opinion. The British put forward the idea of a
'Victory Programme' which would stretch American industry as it had
never been stretched before."
"These agreements had the effect of placing Canadian tank production under the
U.S. Ordnance Department" (54).
54. Ibid., Mr. A.B. Purvis to Sir Clive Baillieu, 14 Jul 41.
Australian point of view:
"4. All decisions regarding Lend Lease policies are made by the
President  which again adds to delays. Have had whole matter up
with Purvis  and Baillieu  who advise that everything
possible being done to rectify, and now that initial teething
troubles are known, they are hopeful of steady improvement.
Understand British position is also most unsatisfactory."
"His recommendations followed a discussion with
R. G. Casey (Minister to the United States), F. T. A. Ashton-
Gwatkin (Policy Adviser at the U.K. Ministry of Economic Warfare
who was then in Washington on an Allied mission) and A. B. Purvis
(Director-General of the British Purchasing Commission). They
agreed 'that proposed negotiations with Japan will necessitate
most careful handling if we am to avoid exasperating the United
States Government and public at a very crucial moment'."
"It was Colonel Aurand who (in line with his 7 April suggestions which
at last were being carried out) drafted the letters addressed by the
Secretary on 30 June to Mr. Knudsen, to the Secretary of the Navy, to
the Chief of the Maritime Commission, and to Arthur B. Purvis,
chairman of the British Supply Council, suggesting the need for an
over-all balance sheet of Allied productive effort. Secretary's letter
to Mr. Purvis (anticipating the Presi-
dent's wishes in this respect) was a step toward the consolidated
statement of British-American-Canadian production which came to pass
four months later. This, to be sure, was not a part of the Victory
Program nor of the strategic estimate of the following October, but
the interrelation of the three enterprises is apparent. A tentative
reply to the 30 June letter came on 14 July promising data by the end
of the week, but there was no full answer until two months later,
after discussion of the matter at the Atlantic Conference."
There is a lot about Purvis in the New York Times archives, where I
discovered, for example, that he left a widow and son. You can find
some info, as I did, by reading the first line or two free, e.g.
"OTTAWA, June 30--Beginning tomorrow C.D. Howe, Minister of Munitions
and Supply in Canada, and Arthur B. Purvis, purchasing agent in the
United States, will take over complete control of British war
purchases on this continent."
Or you can pay a fee for more:
The books I cite are all searchable, and available, at Amazon.
According to Ancestry.com, Purvis' birth is recorded in the "June
quarter" of 1940 - probably a birth between April and June. You could
find out the exact day by paying a fee at:
Another fee-based source of information is:
where a free search suggests he may have had more than one son.
Some of his papers are in the National Archives at Kew under the
heading "Ministry of Supply and Ministry of Aircraft Production: North
American Supply Missions, Second World War, Files".
I haven't answered a question for a while and this is one I really
enjoyed, so thank-you. Do ask if I can help further, especially if you
feel I have skimped on anything in the course of speedy note-taking.
Amazon was my richest source, obviously, and I have high hopes of the
New York Times, if you want the official news from 1939-41.
Hope your book is coming along well - I shall be on the look-out for
Best wishes - Leli
Arthur B Purvis
A B Purvis
Arthur Blaikie Purvis
Purvis "British Supply OR Purchasing"