Georges-Philias Vanier (1888-1967) was born in the Little Burgundy neighbourhood of Montreal to an Irish mother and francophone father. After finishing his law studies at Université Laval, he began practising law in 1911. He enlisted with the 22nd Battalion on November 10, 1914, with the rank of captain. During the First World War, his bravery in battle earned him the Military Cross from Great Britain and the Legion of Honour from France. He was gravely wounded in the Battle of Chérisy, near Cambrai, France, on August 28, 1918, resulting in the amputation of one of his legs.
Upon returning to Canada after a long convalescence, Vanier resumed his law practice. He acted as aide-de-camp (personal assistant) to the governor general of Canada at the time, British Army officer Viscount Byng of Vimy, for four years beginning in 1921. He continued in this diplomatic track, and in 1939 became Canada's representative in France. With the outbreak of the Second World War he was forced to take refuge in England. He returned to France in 1944 as Canada's first ambassador to the country. He returned home in 1953, and in 1959 was named governor general of Canada, becoming the first French-Canadian to hold the post. He died while still in office, on March 5, 1967. Vanier is buried in the chapel of La Citadelle de Québec, the headquarters of the Royal 22nd Regiment, with which he distinguished himself during the Great War.
Vanier's son Jean is the founder of L'Arche, the international federation dedicated to supporting people with intellectual disabilities.
Service Record Details
Date of Birth: April 23, 1888 (Montreal, Quebec)
Date of Attestation: November 10, 1914
Age at Enlistment: 26 years
Height: 6 feet, ½ inch
Weight: 168 pounds
Description: Light complexion, blue eyes, light hair. Roman Catholic.
Home Address: 861 Dorchester Street West, Montreal, Quebec
Trade: Advocate (Lawyer)
Married: No (After the war he marries Marie Eugenie Pauline Archer.)
Details of Family: Father, Philéas Vanier, living at 861 Dorchester Street West, Montreal, Quebec.
Next of Kin: Father (Philéas Vanier)
Branch of Service: Canadian Expeditionary Force
Theatre of War: England, France
- June 9, 1916 – Vanier is reported wounded. (Part B, Page 21)
- September 25, 1918 – A medical case sheet records that he was wounded "T & T" (through and through) the chest wall and the leg, and that his leg was amputated. (Part A, Page 101)
- September 24, 1919 – He is struck off strength by reason of being medically unfit. (Part B, Page 321)
- February 4, 1920 – His record of service indicates that he experienced "shell shock" when wounded on June 9, 1916. (Part B, Page 321)
Interesting Details from the Service Record
- June 27, 1916 – He is with the machine gun section of the 22nd Battalion. (Part A, Page 81)
- June 27, 1916 – A cable sent to his father in Montreal advises that Vanier is now well enough to travel after recovering from shell shock. (Part A, Page 84)
- July 4, 1916 – A report from the I.O.D.E. (Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire) Hospital in London describes the origin of his shell shock: "While in trenches a shell exploded near him. He was unconscious from this for a few minutes but dozed for a couple of days. Walked to dressing station and was sent to C.C.H. [Canadian Convalescent Hospital] for a week." It goes on to describe his present condition: "Patient suffering from insomnia, nervous feeling of compression in the head, and occasional feeling of numbness of fingers and toes. Knee jerks. Slightly exaggerated, other reflexes normal." (Part A, Page 103)
- July 14, 1917 – A note on a casualty form indicates that he was awarded the Legion of Honour (Knight's Cross) "by the President of the French Republic, for distinguished services rendered during the course of the campaign." (Part A, Page 100)
- July 1918 – There are several pages of correspondence between various military officials concerning the "reported death of Major Vanier of the 22nd Battalion." In one letter, Chief Press Censor of Canada, Ernest J. Chambers, refers to Vanier's parents: "I would like to set the minds of these good people at rest if there is nothing in the report for they are the very whitest kind of people, and as the members of the family are very much devoted to one another, I can quite understand how they feel on account of the suspense they must be enduring." (Part A, Pages 65 to 73)
- September 8, 1918 - A "Night Letter" is sent via the Great North Western Telegraph Company of Canada to his father, Philéas Vanier, in Montreal, advising him that his son has had his right leg amputated due to a gunshot wound. (Part A, Page 60)
- 1920s – There are several pages from his own diary. In the entries he mentions milestones in his professional career, such as promotions and leaves of absence, and in his personal life, including the birth of a daughter in 1923 and of a son in 1925. (Part B, Pages 343 to 355)
- March 19, 1920 – A confidential letter asks if he would accept "a Majority" in the 22nd Regiment if offered one. (Part A, Page 27)
- May 20, 1920 – He is to be a major in the 22nd Regiment of the Permanent Force. His appointment will be published in The London Gazette. The service file contains a large number of documents related to this appointment. (Part A, Page 16)
- September 29, 1921 – He marries Marie Eugenie Pauline Archer in Montreal. (Part A, Page 186)
- July 18, 1922 – He passes the Staff College Entrance Examination. (Part A, Page 170)
- November 10, 1924 – He is described in a confidential report as "[a] very hard working officer of high mettle and courage. Possesses an attractive personality and a deep sense of loyalty and good comradeship. His knowledge of subjects other than military is wide and his interest in things general and especially in Imperial questions most marked. He possesses marked grit and determination. Suited for command or staff. " (Part B, Page 25)
- May 19, 1925 – A record of service documents his career in the First World War, including his honours and awards. (Part B, Page 21)
- January 14, 1977 – There is a long list of medals and decorations he received during his entire military and diplomatic career. (Part B, Page 337)
The London Gazette
The London Gazette—Supplement 31119, Page 602, January 10, 1919
"Capt. (A./Maj.) George Philias Vanier, D.S.O., M.C., 22nd Bn., Quebec R., Can. Infy. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. The battalion commander having become a casualty, this officer organised the remnants of the battalion which had suffered heavily the previous day, and led the men in the second attack with great dash. He was first seriously wounded in the side, but carried on until severely wounded in both legs. (M.C. gazetted 3rd June, 1916.)"
Military Medals, Honours and Awards
No records found