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Q: Arthur B Purvis: Director-General of the British Purchasing Commission WW2 ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   7 Comments )
Subject: Arthur B Purvis: Director-General of the British Purchasing Commission WW2
Category: Relationships and Society > Government
Asked by: probonopublico-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 11 Aug 2004 00:16 PDT
Expires: 10 Sep 2004 00:16 PDT
Question ID: 386308
I have done a G-Search but I've not been able to find out much about
Arthur B. Purvis, a British citizen resident in Canada, who
represented Britain?s interests as the Director-General of the British
Purchasing Commission during WW2. His mission was to source war
materiel from N America, mainly USA.

Can anyone find more for me, please?

GREAT ... I knew you would.

Request for Question Clarification by leli-ga on 11 Aug 2004 01:42 PDT
Hi Bryan!

Are you interested in any snippets at all which add to the info in your question?

I've found a few brief references to discussions in which Purvis was
involved, relating to relationships with the Americans. Is this sort
of thing going to be useful? If so I could look for more, but I don't
think there's going to be a clear overall picture of his life, or his
wartime activities.

Nice to talk to you this morning - Leli

Clarification of Question by probonopublico-ga on 11 Aug 2004 03:07 PDT
Hi, Leli

Just give it your best!

Ideally, I would like to have a short bio, incl doB and doD, etc.

But whatever would be greatly appreciated.

Delighted to have you on the case.

All the Best


Request for Question Clarification by leli-ga on 11 Aug 2004 03:15 PDT

I'm making much more headway now. Will report later.


Clarification of Question by probonopublico-ga on 11 Aug 2004 05:17 PDT
Great, Leli

Thanks for letting me know.

There's no rush!

Subject: Re: Arthur B Purvis: Director-General of the British Purchasing Commission WW2
Answered By: leli-ga on 11 Aug 2004 06:16 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
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 
Routledge (2002)

"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 
Penguin (2002)

"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
in Washington).
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

August 1941

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"
ps 117-118

"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."

summer 1940:
"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 . . ."
p86 -87


The Great Depression
by Pierre Berton 
Anchor/Doubleday (2002)

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 [2] which again adds to delays. Have had whole matter up
with Purvis [3] and Baillieu [4] 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, 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
an announcement.

Best wishes - Leli

search terms:

Arthur B Purvis
A B Purvis
Arthur Blaikie Purvis
Purvis "British Supply OR Purchasing"
probonopublico-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $20.00
Dear Leli

How can I thank you!

It's absolutely brilliant ... Far more than I had ever hoped for.

Of course, you failed to mention:

'North American Supply' by H. Duncan Hall

'Fifty Ships That Saved The World' by Philip Goodhart

'Lend-Lease: Weapon For Victory' by E. R. Stettinius Jr.

But I bet you omitted these deliberately because you knew that I
already had them. Right?

Which makes your answer all the more remarkable.

It's such a pleasure to know a real psychic and when my book appears
you will get a Complimentary Copy and there will be an Acknowledgment
to you, My Psychic Sidekick.

It's scheduled for October and it's looking GREAT.

I'm sure that it's going to be one of the best books I have ever read.

All the Best


Subject: Re: Arthur B Purvis: Director-General of the British Purchasing Commission WW2
From: answerfinder-ga on 11 Aug 2004 07:17 PDT

Just to add to Leli?s excellent research (for me, this was a test of a
new source of information).

The Times, 16th August, 1941. Page 4, col. G.

Report on an air crash in which Mr Arthur Purvis, chairman of the
British Supply Council was killed. The aircraft crashed shortly after
taking off from an un-named aerodrome in the UK. It was bound for
Canada. It had occurred the previous Thursday evening. Twenty-one
other passengers died; they were British and American pilots and radio
operators who had recently ferried American aircraft across the
Atlantic for the R.A.F. There had been a similar crash the previous
Sunday, again with a loss of twenty-two passengers and crew. Purvis
was acknowledge to be responsible for supply of over 500,000,000
worth of aircraft, arms and supplies. More information appears in the

A memoir of and tributes to Purvis is reported to appear on page 7,
but unfortunately a copy of this does not appear on the database.

I have access to the Times through my library ? sorry, I cannot refer
you directly to the source online.

According to The Toronto Star, November 5, 1994, in an article on the
"Evolution of the dole Unemployment Insurance"

"...King appointed a National Employment Commission, led by dynamic
Montreal industrialist Arthur Purvis, a Scottish immigrant who made
his fortune manufacturing chemicals and explosives during World War I.
He had come to Canada in 1925 to become president of Canadian
Industries Limited (CIL). King was counting on the commission to
ferret out the "obvious abuses, rackets, overlapping and the like"
surrounding the relief effort. [...] The commission in 1937 said the
federal government should assume total responsibility for the
unemployed through national unemployment insurance and an assistance -
or welfare - program for those not covered by insurance.[...] Without
a permanent national assistance program, Purvis argued, UI would be
under a continual barrage to include more and more people, whether it
could handle it or not.[...] But despite Purvis' liberal views about
the welfare state, he still had great belief in capitalism"

In another article published by Frank Cass & Company Ltd. (UK) in 
January, 1994, on the history of Canadian multinational enterprises,
it is stated that Canadian Industries Ltd (CIL) was established as a
joint venture between the British company, Nobel (later Imperial
Chemical) Industries Ltd and the American firm, E.I. du Pont de

Purvis became president. "A British native, Purvis had risen rapidly
through the ranks at Nobel, and, as a protege of McGowan, could be
seen -- as many Du Pont people did -- as essentially an 'ICI man'. At
the same time, he was recognised as a 'forceful character' who linked
CIL's development to his own ambitions, which some observers believed
to embrace a political career in Canada. During the 1930s he chaired a
Canadian Royal Commission on Unemployment and headed the British
purchasing board in North America in the early days of the First World
War; his career was cut short, however, when he was killed in a plane
crash in 1941."

To view these two articles, go to 
Search for ?arthur purvis? and you will be able to download the
articles for $2.50 each.

Subject: Re: Arthur B Purvis: Director-General of the British Purchasing Commission WW2
From: probonopublico-ga on 11 Aug 2004 08:41 PDT
Hi, Answerfinder

Great stuff!

Your research was an unexpected and very welcome extra.

I keep pinching myself ...

It's not yet Christmas, or is it?

All the Best

Subject: Re: Arthur B Purvis: Director-General of the British Purchasing Commission WW2
From: fp-ga on 11 Aug 2004 10:13 PDT
Bryan, as your questions do refer to Canada quite often I thought I
should mention this website (just in case you haven't been to the
Canadian Archival Information Network yet):
Subject: Re: Arthur B Purvis: Director-General of the British Purchasing Commission WW2
From: leli-ga on 11 Aug 2004 10:25 PDT
Wow, Bryan, many thanks for the generous comments, tip and stars.

I'm delighted with my new title of PBP's Psychic Sidekick, and am
looking forward to October, though I will need all my psychic and
other mental powers to invent a way of receiving a Comp Copy without
breaking GA rules.

Answerfinder's extra info is interesting.
Probably the Times' "unnamed aerodrome" was the RAF forerunner to
Prestwick airport, since the crash victims were buried in Ayr.

I just wish I had managed to find out one or two missing links for
Purvis. A training in chemistry, perhaps? And his wife - but I know a
Mrs ABP is mentioned at the Newspaper Archive website.

You're undoubtedly right that the book will be one of the best we've ever read.
Hope you're enjoying writing it - Leli
Subject: Re: Arthur B Purvis: Director-General of the British Purchasing Commission WW2
From: probonopublico-ga on 11 Aug 2004 22:34 PDT
Hi, Freddy

Many thanks ... as always!

Subject: Re: Arthur B Purvis: Director-General of the British Purchasing Commission WW2
From: torrroidic-ga on 13 Oct 2004 12:59 PDT
Hi -
why the interest in arthur b. purvis?

i am his great grandson and i share the name... so i was curious.  i
may be able to help, depending on what you need.
Subject: Re: Arthur B Purvis: Director-General of the British Purchasing Commission WW2
From: probonopublico-ga on 13 Oct 2004 21:56 PDT
Hi, Toroidic

Great to hear from you! What a surprise!

As you may know, your Great Grandad was a very important man in
helping Britain in its hour of greatest need.

I have been investigating new material that has recently been released
into the British National Archives and WOW! It will be in my new book
that is now nearing completion.

In order to pursue WW2, Britain urgently needed supplies from the US
and Canada and Roosevelt worked wonders with your GG as the UK liaison

Without his efforts, who knows?

He was made a Privy Councillor, a rare honour!

Sadly, of course, he was killed in an aircrash but he'd already done plenty.

Anything that you can throw in would be greatly appreciated.

All the Best


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