he Honorable Sir John William ‘Max’ Aitken was the son of the Canadian newspaper magnate and businessman William Aitken, the 1st Baron Beaverbrook, Churchill’s Minister of Aircraft Production. Born in Montreal, Canada in 1910, Max was educated in England at Westminster School and Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he proved to be a talented sportsman, gaining a University blue for soccer. Aitken joined the Auxiliary Air Force in 1935 as a Pilot Officer with No 601 (County of London) Squadron.
By the outbreak of war the squadron was equipped with the twin engined Bristol Blenheim F1 long range fighters and soon after the outbreak of hostilities took part in the raid on the German seaplane base at Borkum. Shortly after, No 601 was redesignated as a day-fighter unit and moved to RAF Tangmere to be re-equipped with the Hurricane Mk1 in February 1940. On 16 May, Aitken joined the squadron’s ‘A’ Flight on detachment to Merville in France.
Whilst in France, the 30 year old Flight Lieutenant Aitken destroyed three enemy aircraft with several more probably destroyed and damaged. On his return to RAF Tangmere, he was promoted to Acting Squadron Leader and given command of 601 Squadron. In June 1940, he shot down a He 111 bomber over Brighton and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 9 July. On 20 July, Aitken was posted to non-operational duties. He survived the war and was released from the RAF in 1946 with the rank of Group Captain.
The Museum has in its collection the flying boots Max Aitken wore in 1940 when at RAF Tangmere. It is said that when off duty and frequenting a public house in Bognor Regis, Max Aitken was unable to pay his bill and left his flying boots behind as payment. Many years later, the landlord of the White Horse Public House, Bognor Regis gifted the boots to the Museum.
MAX AITKEN’S FLYING BOOTS ARE DISPLAYED IN THE MUSEUM’S BATTLE OF BRITAIN HALL