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Photo of John Charles Walsham Reith

John Charles Walsham Reith

Birthplace Kincardineshire Stonehaven Scotland

Biography

Full name of worker at H.M. Factory Gretna (and any other names they are known by): John Charles Walsham Reith 

Gender: Male 

Date and Place of Birth: 20/07/1889 Stonehaven, Scotland 

Date and Place of Death: 16/06/1971 Edinburgh 

Nationality: British 

Biography 

Childhood: 

Parents: The Rev. George and Adah Mary (nee Weston) Reith 

Parent’s occupations: Presbyterian Minister (father) 

Schools / universities attended and years of attendance:  

Glasgow Academy, Gresham’s School, Norfolk,  

Glasgow Technical College 

Occupation: Civil Engineer 

Place of residence at Gretna: N/K 

Job title at Gretna: Civil Engineer for S. Pearson and Son 

Marital status: Married Muriel Katherine (nee Odhams) Reith  

in 1921 Q3 Steyning, Sussex 

Children: Christopher (b.1928), Marista (b.1932) 

Travels: Numerous, including U.S.A. in WW1 

Awards/recognitions: KT, GCVO, GBE, CB, TD, PC 

Trivia / any other information:  

Bibliography 

  • Books published (Title, year of publication, publisher):  
  • “Wearing Spurs”  
  • Books written about the individual or mentioning the individual (Title, year of publication, publisher):  

    “The Expense of Glory” Ian McIntyre 1993 ISBN-13 978-0006383512 

References 

  • Blogs about the individual: Various 
  • Websites about the individual: Various 

 

 

 

 

Further links, notes, and comments: 

Honeybun (South) family tree on Ancestry 

http://www.bbc.com/historyofthebbc/research/directors-general/john-reith 

https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/lord-reith 

University of Glasgow :: Story :: Biography of John Reith 1st Baron Reith 

 

John Charles Walsham Reith 

John Charles Walsham Reith was a young civil engineer for S. Pearson and Son and worked for a period on the construction of HM Factory Gretna. Following the Great War, he left engineering and went on to become the first Director General of the BBC. 

John Reith was born in Stonehaven on 20th July 1889, the son of the Rev. George and Adah Mary Reith. George was a presbyterian minister. John was sent away as a boarder to Gresham’s School, Holt, Norfolk, and later studied engineering at Glasgow Technical College. [1] 

In 1908 he began an engineering apprenticeship at North British Locomotive Company, Hyde Park, Glasgow. During this time, he joined the Territorials and in February 1911 was commissioned as an officer in the Scottish Rifles’ 5th Territorial Battalion. In February 1914 he was offered a job at S. Pearson and Son by Ernest William Moir, and worked on their construction of the Royal Albert Dock at Woolwich. [2] 

When war broke out, John immediately took up his commission and served  

in France in the Scottish Rifles, before transferring to the Royal Engineers.  

He was severely wounded in Autumn 1915 and invalided home for  

convalescence.  

During his convalescence, E W Moir told Reith about a new Pearson’s  

project constructing HM Factory Gretna. In November 1915, on his way  

back to Scotland. he looked in on Gretna. The Pearson office was just by the  

station at Gretna. Edward Ernest Pearson kept him waiting “an infernal  

time” and then offered him a temporary job as a mechanical inspector at  

£350pa, which was equivalent to his pay as a lieutenant in the Royal  

Engineers. He later wrote to E. E. Pearson to say that he would take the job  

at Gretna. He started work at HM Gretna in December. This was an  

informal arrangement between Pearsons, the Ministry of Munitions and the  

War Office. [3] 

“I had here a good position, comprising the fixing of contracts, estimating of costs, taking out quantities, and inspection of materials. There were some hundreds of contractors under the Construction Managers”. [4] 

In February 1916, through Moir at the Ministry of Munitions, he was given  

the opportunity to take charge of the inspection of small arms contracts in  

the U.S.A. on a salary of £500pa, with a temporary rank of Captain Royal  

Engineers. 

He went to work at Remington Arms, Eddystone, Delaware County,  

Pennsylvania who were manufacturing the Pattern 1914 Enfield Mk 1E rifle  

for the British government.  

At the end of the war, John briefly returned to engineering before being appointed the first Director General of the-then British Broadcasting Company. He is credited with laying the foundations for the BBC’s remit of considering all viewpoints and a commitment to public service. He led the BBC to become a public-owned corporation in 1927. He is still remembered through the BBC’s annual Reith Lectures. 

In the Second World War he worked as the Minister of Information. 

John Reith was knighted in 1927 and became a baron, as Lord Reith in 1940. 

In later life he became the Lord Rector of Glasgow University in 1965 and in 1967 was appointed Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. 

John Reith died on the 16th  of June 1971 in Edinburgh aged 81. He is buried at Rothiemurchus Old Parish Church Burial Ground in Inverness-shire. 

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