Sir Cecil McAlpine Weir KCMG KBE MC DL
Cecil McAlpine Weir was born at Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire, on 5 July 1890, the youngest of four sons of Alexander Cunningham Weir and his wife, Isabella McLeish.
He was educated at Morrison's academy, Crieff, and in Switzerland and Germany. Upon completing his studies, he returned to Scotland and undertook two years in business studies before becoming a partner in his father’s based leather and hide merchants, Schrader, Mitchell and Weir, whose warehouse premises were situated at 114 Howard Street, Glasgow.
He was to remain a partner until 1956. During the years his fluency in both French and German was to prove invaluable for the positions that he would later command.
His career was to be interrupted by the dawn of the First World War. Cecil was to serve with distinction with the Cameronians Scottish Rifles and the Tank Brigade in both France and at Gallipoli, where he was wounded and earned the Military Cross for his courage.
In 1915 Weir married Jenny Paton, daughter of William Paton Maclay, and a niece of the first Lord Maclay. They were to have a son and a daughter together.
After the war, Cecil and Jenny settled in Helensburgh, purchasing the ‘White House’ with its magnificent views across the Gare Loch, where he was to take an active interest in the local community, particularly in church activities, tennis and golf. Outside of his own business, Cecil became a director of the Girl’s School Company which administered Park School in Glasgow, St Columba’s in Kilmacolm and Helensburgh’s own St.Brides.
Between the wars, Cecil became increasingly well known and active in business and political circles on Scotland’s West Coast. His growing interest in politics led him to becoming honorary secretary of the Scottish Liberal Federation and President of the Dunbartonshire Liberal Association. He was to become especially well known for his enthusiasm and active participation as a member of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, where he was to eventually hold the office of President from 1939 -1941.
It was Cecil’s imagination and passion for the business and enterprise that led him to formulating the idea for creating and holding an Empire Exhibition in Glasgow, an idea for which he obtained wide support.
He was at the time, Finance and General Purpose’s committee of the Scottish Development Council, and it was largely through his remarkable leadership as convener of the Empire Exhibition’s Administrative Committee that the exhibition of 1938 achieved a large measure of success despite the ever growing menace of the European situation. He was appointed KBE in 1938 as personal recognition for his efforts.
His business acumen and organisational skills brought him to the attention of the war office, and in August 1939 he was appointed Civil Defence Commissioner for the Western District of Scotland, and responsible for the operation of the civil defence organisation serving 60 per cent of the population of Scotland. He relinquished this post six months later, as the urgency of more public duties were thrust upon him. He was Controller General of Factory and Storage Premises, Director General of Equipment and Stores at the Ministry of Supply (1942-46) and for six years until 1946, Cecil was the business member of the Industrial and Export Council of the Board of Trade, having been called to London by Sir Andrew Duncan.
It was in 1942 that Sir Cecil was made a Deputy Lieutenant of the County of the City of Glasgow, in recognition of his contribution to the West.
There is a remarkable story about the influence that Sir Cecil commanded during the war, and his ability to get ‘things done’ and it involves another Great Scot - Sir Alexander Fleming.
The following is an abridged extract from ‘The Life of Sir Alexander Fleming’.
“During and after a miraculous patient cure in 1942 using purified penicillin, Alexander Fleming and Howard Florey both believed that the time had come to start mass-production of a substance capable of achieving such marvels.
In August, Fleming said to his friend, Dr Allison: 'Things look promising ... I am going to see Sir Andrew Duncan, the Minister of Supply. He is a Scot and a friend. Will you, on your side, make the Ministry of Health people get a move on and press for the industrial manufacture of penicillin?'
Fleming duly went to see Sir Andrew who, much impressed by the miraculous effects of the substance, replied: 'I am going to give you a committee, and a very active man who will get things moving.'
Sir Andrew sent for Sir Cecil Weir, the Director-General of Equipment, and a remarkable organizer. 'Fleming', said the Minister, 'has been talking to me about penicillin. He believes, and so do I, that it offers immense possibilities for the treatment of wounds and of numerous diseases. I want you to do everything you can to organize its production on a great scale.'
On September 25th, 1942, Sir Cecil Weir summoned to a conference at Portland House, Fleming, Florey, Raistrick, Arthur Mortimer (his assistant) and representatives of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries; in short, all those interested in the manufacture of penicillin.
Sir Cecil Weir said that all information about the substance and its production must be shared. Research-workers and industrialists must keep one single goal before their eyes: rapid and abundant production. The reaction was unanimous, enthusiastic and favourable. All undertook to share their secrets and to enlist their knowledge and their talents in the service of the community.”
Upon leaving the Ministry in 1946, Cecil took the post of Economic Advisor to the Allied Control Commissions for Germany followed by two years as Chairman of the Dollar Exports Board.
It was about this time that Cecil sold the White House in Helensburgh and biding his time between properties in Luxembourg and London.
In 1952 Sir Cecil became head of the United Kingdom delegation to the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community and served in that capacity for three years. He was appointed KCMG in 1952 and was also, in this same year, elected President of the Institution of Production Engineers. He also served as Chairman of the British Tabulating Machine Co. Ltd and was on the Boards of British Enka Ltd and the Pyrene Co.Ltd. In his later years he served as a part time member of the British Transport Commission.
Despite the posts of high office, Sir Cecil remained a partner in the family firm. It was said of Sir Cecil that ‘he was one of the most successful representatives sent abroad by Britain in the 20th Century’. He had a remarkable memory, a good sense of humour and great deal of charm and a gift for getting the best out of those associated with him in any project.
One of his final contributions to the promotion of British industry came in 1958/59 when Sir Cecil headed a working party created by the Federation of British Industries to investigate ways that Britain could expand her overseas trade.
In his autobiography ‘Civilian Assignment’, Sir Cecil stated: “one gets as much out of public life as one puts in. It may not be very remunerative, but it provides compensation in experiences and education and satisfaction which no money can buy.”
Sir Cecil Weir, or “wee Cecil” as he was known, died at his home, 19 Thorney Court, Kensington, London, on 30 October 1960, leaving an estate of £36,687 12s. 3d. He was survived by his son and daughter, but not by his wife, Lady Weir, who had died tragically in an air disaster in Italy in October 1958.
Image: Copyright Design Society