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Eric Campbell GEDDES (1875-1937)

Known As
Sir Eric Geddes
Biographical Details

Sir Eric Campbell Geddes (1875-1937) was a businessman and Conservative politician who, during the First World War, served as head of Military Transportation on the Western Front and then as First Lord of the Admiralty between 1917 and 1919. He was also the brother of Dr Alexandra Mary Chalmers Watson, the instigator and first Chief Controller of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, and was also the second cousin of Major William Duff Gibbon, an army colleague of Cyril Sladden.

Eric Geddes was born in India on 26th September 1875, the second of seven children and eldest son of Auckland Campbell Geddes (1831–1908), a civil engineer, and Christina Helen MacLeod Geddes (née Anderson).

During the First World War, Geddes was brought into government service by Minister of Munitions, David Lloyd George, and made responsible for small arms production. He established rational goals for rifles, light and heavy machine guns, and production then soared, making many more automatic weapons than the army had requested. Shell production was also booming but these were not adequately getting filled with explosive, and so Geddes was made responsible for them in December 1916; within six months the number of filled shells increased tenfold to two million per week, and the filled shells piled up on French docks.

Geddes was then invited by Sir Douglas Haig, Commander of the British Expeditionary Force, at the behest of Lloyd George, now Minister of War, to advise on transportation. As a result, Geddes, who had a background in railways, was appointed Director General of Military Railways and Inspector-General of Transportation. They got the ports and railways working efficiently and built light railways to bring materials to the front. He was knighted in 1916 and appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath and Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire in 1917. He was promoted to inspector general of transportation in all theatres of war.

The German U-boat campaign unleashed unrestricted attacks in February 1917. As the British merchant fleet was suffering, Lloyd George transferred Geddes to the Admiralty as Civilian Lord with the rank of vice-admiral. He was given control of British shipbuilding, charged with making up for as many of the losses as possible. He found the Admiralty in disarray and recommended a new administration. In July 1917 he returned to civilian life as First Lord of the Admiralty. To serve he had to be a member of the House of Commons and was elected in a by-election for Cambridge.

Geddes left the Admiralty in January 1919 and was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. He then served as the first Minister of Transport between 1919 and 1921, in which position he was responsible for the deep public spending cuts known as the "Geddes Axe".

Geddes had married Gwendolen Stokes in 1900; they had three sons. Sir Eric Geddes died on 22nd June 1937.

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