About Eric Campbell-Geddes
Sir Eric Campbell-Geddes GCB, GBE, PC (26 September 1875 – 22 June 1937) was a British businessman and Conservative politician. He served as First Lord of the Admiralty between 1917 and 1919 and as the first Minister of Transport between 1919 and 1921.
Background and education
Born in British India, Geddes was the son of Auckland Campbell Geddes, of Edinburgh, Scotland, and the elder brother of Auckland Geddes, 1st Baron Geddes. He was educated at Oxford Military College and Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh.
Geddes worked in lumbering in the United States and in the railway business with Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and Rohilkund and Kumaon in India. After returning to England he joined the North-Eastern Railway, and rose to be Deputy General Manager in 1911.
During the First World War Geddes was one of the "men of push and go" brought into government service by Minister of Munitions David Lloyd George, and served as Deputy Director-General of Munitions Supply between 1915 and 1916. His administrative ability was so impressive that he was appointed, despite being a civilian, Director-General of Military Railways and Inspector-General of Transportation with the British Expeditionary Force in 1916, with the rank of Honorary Major-General. His task here was to improve communications behind the lines, a question which had then become urgent. 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. The latter year he moved to the Admiralty as Controller with the rank of Honorary Vice-Admiral, charged with developing and utilizing the shipbuilding resources and concentrating them under one authority.
In July 1917 Geddes entered Lloyd George's cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty, despite having no previous parliamentary experience. He entered the House of Commons for Cambridge and was sworn of the Privy Council the same month. The Daily Telegraph's naval correspondent, Sir Archibald Hurd, later wrote of Geddes and Lloyd George, "No men more ignorant of naval affairs were ever associated together than the Prime Minister and Geddes". During his tenure the British mercantile fleet suffered greatly from German submarine warfare, and in 1918 he informed the House of Commons that the output from British shipbuilding years would have to be nearly doubled before the monthly sinking figures were made good. He appointed the Belfast shipbuilder Lord Pirrie as controller-general of merchant shipbuilding.
He left the Admiralty in January 1919 and was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath the same month. Lloyd George then instructed him to organize a new Ministry of Transport. Until the bill for setting up this new office was passed in May 1919, he remained a member of the cabinet as Minister without Portfolio. In May 1919 he was so appointed the first Minister of Transport. The new ministry was given control over railways, roads, canals and docks but was criticized by both houses of parliament as it was considered giving in to nationalization. The size of the ministry was also heavily criticized in regards to the constrained economic circumstances after the First World War. In the autumn of 1921 the handing back of the railways from state control to the companies was under review, and put the Ministry of Transport under further scrutiny. Geddes consequently resigned in November 1921. He also chaired the committee on National Expenditure which formulated the controversial government policy of heavy cuts in public expenditure, the policy being known as the Geddes Axe. From 1924 until his death he was chairman of Imperial Airways.
Geddes is famously known for his quote "We shall squeeze the German lemon until the pips squeak!" which was uttered during a rally before the Versailles Peace Conference in order to stir up support for harsh restitutions.
Geddes married Gwendolen, daughter of Reverend A. Stokes, in 1900. They had three sons, including Sir Reay Geddes, former chairman of the Dunlop Rubber Company. Sir Eric died in June 1937, aged 61.