|Born as William Wedgewood Benn in 1877. His father was John Williams Benn
(1850-1922), a Liberal MP until 1896. His mother was Lily Pickstone, a religious
woman and distant descendant of Josiah Wedgewood. University College, London, first class
honours in French and President of the Debating Society 1898, on one occasion so enraging
his audience with his opposition to the Boer War that he was thrown out of a window.
Elected 1906 as the Liberal MP for Wapping, being at age 28 the youngest member of the
House. Junior Government Whip under Asquith 1906-1910, Junior Treasury Minister
under Lloyd George 1910-1914. Pro-Union, helped to raise funds for the striking
London Dockers in 1912, and placed in charge of the National Relief Fund at its inception
in 1914, quickly raising its first million pounds. Resigned from the Government at
age 37 in 1915 to join the Middlesex Yeomanry, serving in Egypt. Transferred to the
Royal Naval Air Service 1915-16 as a navigator. In 1917 qualified as pilot and
transferred to the Royal Flying Corps (later the Royal Air Force), with the Army rank of
Captain. Dropped the first spy by parachute behind the lines in northern Italy in
1918 (Italy was an allied country in the First World War). Distinguished Flying
Cross, French Croix de Guerre, and Italian Military Cross. Returned to Parliament
late 1918, still as a Liberal.
Married Margaret Holmes in 1920, who was the daughter of Daniel Holmes the Liberal
member for Govan. They had four children. His brother Ernest transferred from
the Liberal party to the Tories in 1926, at about the same time as he transferred to the
Labour Party; this broke his friendship with his brother. Secretary of State for
India under Ramsey McDonald 1927. Out of Parliament 1931-1937, resigning his seat as
he thought his duty for being elected as a Liberal. Returned to Parliament as a
socialist 1937. At age 63 on outbreak of hostilities, enlisted as a pilot in Royal
Air Force; flew several
operational missions, and shared his time with his political activities. In 1940,
elevated to the Lords as socialist Viscount Stansgate by Atlee. Promoted to Air
Commodore, was in command of RAF Public Relations at end of war (his family were
publishers), having also been appointed in 1944 to the
Allied Control Commission, responsible for the reconstruction of Italy.
Eldest son Michael joined RAF, and was killed after an aircraft accident at Chichester
in 1944; he has wanted to join the church. Second eldest son Anthony
("Tony") also joined RAF, serving in South Africa and (then-named) Rhodesia, and
remains an active socialist politician. In 1945, Viscount
Stansgate was Secretary of State for Air, and after 1947 remained as an active member of
the House of Lords, albeit without government appointments. Viscount Stansgate was a
regular resident at Upminster for long periods after the War, and died in 1960.
His son Tony declined the title, preferring for philosophical and practical reasons to
remain a socialist in the Commons; most recently he has been a critic of the bombing
of Serbia and Kosovo during
the spring of 1999. The title is now extinct.