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Tottenham Man in forefront of essential Materials required for the War Effort !




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Arthur Blakie Purvis was born at Linden Road, West Green, Tottenham on the 31st March, 1890 one of two sons and a daughter born to William and Annie Purvis. His elder brother Leslie M Purvis had also been born in Tottenham along with his younger sister Elsie Doughty Purvis.

Their father William Purvis was a native of Perth, Scotland and his mother Annie had been born in Shepherds Bush in London. The 1901 UK Census shows the family living at 21 Linden Road, West Green and his father age 44 had an occupation of Commercial Clerk. The family also had a live in servant named Elizabeth Baker.

By a stroke of coincidence we discovered, when viewing the 1901 Census for Linden Road, that their immediate next door neighbours were the Oswald-Hicks family. We had previously discovered the Oswald-Hicks family when researching the WW1 West Green War Memorial that features elsewhere on our website. The Revd Thomas Oswald-Hicks had campaigned for the memorial to be constructed at West Green and his son Harley Lionel Oswald-Hicks was one of 460 local men who lost their lives while serving for King and Country in WW1. Harley Lionel Oswald-Hicks was of the same age as Arthur Blaikie Purvis and no doubt they would have been close friends at the time. Who would have thought that in later years they would both lose their lives while serving for their country? As we were to discover, although he served in WW1, Arthur B Purvis was to die in tragic circumstances during WW2 while playing a very significant role for his country.



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Arthur Blakie Purvis was educated at St Anne’s School and later Tottenham Grammar School. He left school aged 13 years and started work as an Office Boy earning just 13 Shillings a week.
He was said to have an exceptional ability as an organiser. At the age of 20 he joined Nobel's Explosives Co of Glasgow, which became part of Imperial Chemical Industries of London
During WW1 Arthur B. Purvis was responsible for the purchase of materials for explosives in America. After the war it was as an employee of ICI that Purvis was sent to Canada to be President and Managing Director of Canadian Industries Ltd, one of Canada's most technologically advanced companies. In 1936, he was appointed by the Prime Minister, William Lyon McKenzie King, to chair the Canadian National Employment Commission.
Our research has uncovered a number of ‘Passenger Lists’ that show the Purvis family made several trips back to the UK during the inter war years, possibly to visit his family.


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Margaret Jones was born on the 14th September 1893 in New York. She was the daughter of Cyrus Emory and Mary Beebe Jones.

She married Arthur B. Purvis on the 14th February 1918 in Kings New York. Together they had one son Arthur B. Purvis (Junior) who was born in 1924

Margaret died on the 20th November 1983 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada aged 90 Years.



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Purvis Hall is a classical style mansion in Montreal, Canada. In 1935, the industrialist Arthur B. Purvis bought the house from Sir Mortimer B. Davis, founder of the Imperial Tobacco Company, and remodelled it.

He had several ornate ceilings and a Renaissance-style fireplace removed.

Following his death, the building was bequeathed to McGill University in his memory. The building is still in use today and it is designated for use by the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and still retains much of its original décor.
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Arthur Blaikie Purvis (Junior) was born in New York city to the Rt. Hon. Arthur B. and Margaret Purvis and raised in Montreal. He was educated at Eton in England, fought with the Scots Guards as a tank commander in Germany and later attended Harvard Business School. He later returned to Montreal to join the Canadian branch of Calvin Bullock, the New York firm, introducing mutual funds to Canadian consumers and rising to become Managing Director.

He married Peggy Wright, a fellow McGill University graduate, at St. Andrew’s in Edgartown, Massachusetts, USA.

He and his family had a holiday home in Edgartown close to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts and they were regular visitors every year for summer vacations.

He died in Montreal in 2012 aged 87 years.


During the inter-war years Arthur B Purvis (Snr) pursued a very successful business career. He became President of Canadian Industries Ltd and was a member of many boards including The Institute for the Advancement of Learning, President of Quebec Provincial Council for St John’s Ambulance Association, Governor of McGill University and Directorship of the Montreal Bank.

At the outbreak of World War II, Arthur B. Purvis was appointed by the British Government to be Director-General of the British Purchasing Committee, which was charged with buying war supplies from the United States. He was also chairman of the Anglo-French Purchasing Board, where he worked alongside Jean Monnet who performed a similar role on behalf of France. In June 1940, when France was on the verge of concluding an armistice with Germany, it was Arthur Purvis who arranged to take over all the pending French weapons contracts in the United States at the cost of $612 million.

In 1941, he was made Chairman of the British Supply Council in North America, having overall responsibility over all British war purchases in the United States.



In WWII it was the British Government (not the Canadian) who made Arthur B. Purvis head of the British Supply Council in charge of British purchases in North America. He had overall responsibility over all British war purchases in the United States.
Tragically Arthur B. Purvis was killed in an air-crash on the 14th August 1941, when his plane crashed shortly after taking off from RAF Heathfield in Scotland.
obituary_card_arthur_b_purvis.jpg (73613 bytes) Pictured left is a copy of the record card

that lists many of the achievements of

Arthur B. Blaikie in the early years of WW2


 newspaper_cutting_death_Arthur_purvis.jpg (68588 bytes) It subsequently transpired that the death of Arthur B. Purvis could have been avoided.
He was scheduled to appear at a Buckingham Palace investiture to receive the commission of his Privy Councillorship but he had a prior engagement with Lord Beaverbrook in the USA. He had tried unsuccessfully to get in touch with Lord Beaverbrook to see if the meeting could be postponed.

Unbeknown to him, Lord Beaverbrook had returned to his home town of Moncton, New Brunswick and could not be contacted immediately.

Five minutes after the plane had crashed a message was received back at the air-base they had just left saying it would be OK for Mr. Purvis to stay over for the investiture.



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The accomplishments of Arthur B. Purvis in the very short time he had performed the role as head of the British Supply Council were highly respected by many wartime leaders. He had been very prominent in the ‘Lend-Lease’ arrangements and also, following the collapse of France in 1940, he realised that American factories were choked with orders for France and within a few hours they would be frozen and perhaps never made available to Britain. He took the decision single-handedly to commit Britain to £15 Billion in obligations for the British Government as there was no time to consult London again.

On signing this agreement he said “The tanks, the guns and the planes came to us. We were able to arm our men again”.

Pictured left is the Gravestone of Arthur Blaikie Purvis that stands in Ayr Cemetery in Scotland.

Following his death it was reported that President Roosevelt said of him “I have lost a Friend”. On his death, Winston Churchill wrote that “Purvis was a grievous loss, as he held so many British, American and Canadian threads in his hands”.
Purvis' contemporaries held him in high regard: Henry Morgenthau Jr. wrote that Purvis was "the ablest British representative in Washington but one of the rarest persons I have ever known", while Jean Monnet wrote that he "served the Allied war effort magnificently until his death". Arthur B. Purvis had also had a close working relationship with Lord Beaverbrook (Max Aitken) the British Minister of aircraft production.


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Not bad for a lad from Tottenham and indeed Tottenham Grammar School who contributed so much to the War effort. His son Arthur Blaikie Purvis (Junior) 1924-2012 was clearly also well known in Canadian history as his obituary notice conveys.

Article prepared by Alan Swain - October 2017

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