George Pearkes (1888-1984) was born in England in 1888 and immigrated to Alberta with his brother in 1906. He joined the Royal Northwest Mounted Police in 1911 and served in the Yukon before joining the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He enlisted as a private in the Canadian Mounted Rifles, based on his experience in the Mounted Police. During the First World War Pearkes served with several different mounted and rifle battalions. He was also wounded numerous times. On October 30 and 31, 1917, during the Battle of Passchendaele, as a member of the 5th Mounted Rifles, he captured and held a strategic position that enabled him to continue his advance towards his objective. He stayed with his troops despite a wound in the thigh. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for this action. He also received the Military Cross and Distinguished Service Order during the war, and had achieved the rank of lieutenant-colonel by the time the conflict ended. He earned the Military Cross on December 21, 1917, when he led a bombing party that cleared 600 yards of trench and captured 18 prisoners. He then held the trench until his battalion was relieved. His Distinguished Service Order was awarded to him in 1919 for surrounding and overcoming an enemy position that captured 16 enemy guns in the closing days of the war.
After the armistice and demobilization Pearkes continued to serve in Canada’s military, eventually reaching the rank of major general. He was stationed at bases across Canada, and commanded briefly overseas during the Second World War. He was later charged with overseeing the Pacific Coastal defenses in the event of a Japanese attack. After suppressing a mutiny of conscripts in British Columbia, Pearkes retired from the military and went into politics. He was an extremely successful candidate for the Progressive Conservative Party and was the Minister of National Defense from 1957 to 1960 under John Diefenbaker. It was Pearkes who made the controversial recommendation to Diefenbaker to cancel the Avro Arrow. Diefenbaker resigned from politics shortly thereafter. Pearkes became Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia in 1960 and served until 1968. He lived to be 96 and died on May 30, 1984, in British Columbia.
Service Record Details
Date of Birth: February 26, 1888 (Watford, England)
Date of Attestation: March 2, 1915 (Victoria, British Columbia)
Age at Enlistment: 26 years
Height: 5 feet, 11 1/2 inches
Weight: 161 pounds
Description: Fresh complexion, brown eyes, dark brown hair. Roman Catholic. 1 vaccination mark left arm.
Trade: Ex-RNWMP (Royal Northwest Mounted Police)
Details of Family: Mother—Mrs. L. Pearkes, living at 1312 Stanley Avenue, Victoria British Columbia
Next of Kin: Mother (Mrs. L. Pearkes)
Prior Military Service: 5 years with Royal Northwest Mounted Police
Theatre of War: France
- March 1916 – A notes indicate that Pearkes was admitted to No. 14 General Hospital in Boulogne, France, with a gunshot wound to the arm. (Pages 80 and 85)
- October 1, 1916 – He is “wounded slightly at duty.” (Page 81)
- November 15, 1918 – A medical board report describes injuries he received from shell fire and the six-hour operation he underwent. A missile had entered over his eight lateral rib and lodged behind his chest wall. He had two large holes in his diaphragm, which was full of blood. His spleen was “hopelessly shattered”. He also had a flesh wound in his arm. (Pages 66-67)
- February 15, 1919 – A “Medical History of an Invalid” form, completed at Bramshott Military Camp, gives a detailed, handwritten account of the operation performed to remove shrapnel from his abdomen and left arm. One of the resulting scars in the abdominal region is 12 inches long. (Pages 62-64)
- February 17, 1919 – He is diagnosed with appendicitis and discharged from hospital two days later. (Page 86)
Interesting Details from the Service Record
- March 9, 1915 – A medical case sheet incorrectly lists his birthplace as Dublin, Ireland. (Page 60)
- September 22, 1915 – He lands in France. (Page 80)
- March to April 1916 – On March 31 he is promoted to sergeant while in the field at Étaples. A month later he is to be temporary lieutenant. (Page 68)
- March 2, 1917 – In his will he bequeaths his real estate and his personal estate to his mother, Mrs. Pearkes of Mount Tolmie, Victoria, British Columbia. (Page 41)
- September 30, 1919 – He is struck off strength due to demobilization. He plans to live in Oshawa, Ontario. (Page 37)
- January 7, 1919 – He is awarded the French Croix de Guerre. (Page 72)
- January 16, 1920 – A note indicates that he has graduated from the Staff College at Camberley in Surrey, England. (Page 72)
- November 3, 1941 – His record of service provides a succinct account of his assignments during the war as well as his casualties and military honours. (Pages 90-91)
The London Gazette
The London Gazette—January 11, 1918, Supplement 30471, Page 722
“For most conspicuous bravery and skilful handling of the troops under his command during the capture and consolidation of considerably more than the objectives allotted to him, in an attack.
“Just prior to the advance Maj. Pearkes was wounded in the left thigh. Regardless of his wound, he continued to lead his men with the utmost gallantry, despite many obstacles.
“At a particular stage of the .attack his further advance was threatened by a strong point which was an objective of the battalion on his left, but which they had not succeeded in capturing. Quickly appreciating the situation, he captured and held this point, thus enabling his further advance to be successfully pushed forward.
“It was entirely due to his determination and fearless personality that he was able to maintain his objective with the small number of men at his command against repeated enemy counter-attacks, both his flanks being unprotected for a considerable depth meanwhile.
“His appreciation of the situation throughout and the reports rendered by him were invaluable to his Commanding Officer in making dispositions of troops to hold the position captured.
“He showed throughout a supreme contempt of danger and wonderful powers of control and leading.”
Military Medals Honours and Awards
No records found