Memorable Manitobans: Joan Pollock Graham Birdwood [Baroness Birdwood] (1913-2000)
Born at Winnipeg on 18 May 1913, daughter of Christopher Norman Graham and Ada Ruth Pollock, In the early 1920s her family moved to Yorkshire, England. Her father, a Scottish aristocrat and performer, likely influenced her interest in the music industry and politics. She worked at the Royal Opera House and for the armed services entertainment group ENSA. In 1947, she joined the Red Cross and served as secretary to Lieutenant Colonel the Honorable Christopher Birdwood, the only son of an English Field Marshal. In 1953, Birdwood’s wife filed for divorce citing his long-standing affair with Jane Graham as the cause.
The new Lady Birdwood was known as a maverick and her sense of style, especially with eyeglasses, was noted by her receiving a national award as “Spectacle Wearer of the Year.” She shared a distaste for communism with Lord Birdwood, and this passion manifested itself in an extremism after her husband’s death in 1962. She launched Choice, a right-wing newspaper that, in 1977, called for the removal of non-white people from Britain.
Lady Birdwood’s racist views, antisemitism, and support for apartheid in South Africa were so repellent that Lord Birdwood’s family took out a full-page advertisement in the national press disassociating the family from her views. Attempts to enter mainstream politics failed, and in 1991 Lady Birdwood was tried and found guilty of ten counts of inciting racial hatred.
She died on 28 June 2000. Her Times obituary recalled Birdwood as a “controversial and contradictory figure whose extreme views on race, politics, and public morality were strangely at odds with the gentle and sympathetic personality admired by her friends.”
Birth registration, Manitoba Vital Statistics.
“The dowager Lady Birdwood,” The Guardian, 30 June 2000.
“A very English extremist,” Searchlight Magazine, December 2004.
This page was prepared by James Kostuchuk.
Page revised: 11 December 2020