b. 28/02/1888 Watford, Hertfordshire. d. 30/05/1984 Sidney, British Columbia, Canada.
George Randolph Pearkes (1888-1984) was born on 26th February 1888 in Watford, Hertfordshire, England. His father, also George, was a linen draper, and the junior partner in the family department store in Watford. George ran the furniture side of the business. He married Helen Alexander Thompson in 1882, who sadly died the following year. He re-married to Louise Blair in 1887. They had three children, George, William Edward “Ted” and Hilda Winifred.
George was initially educated by governesses before attending a local Dame School. He attended Berkhamsted School, Hertfordshire from 1896-1906 and joined the school cadet corps. He wanted to became either a cavalry officer or a clergyman, but his father could not afford to put him through Sandhurst or university. He suggested that George emigrate and gain sufficient funds to be able to return to England a few years later. George sailed from Liverpool aboard RMS Virginian and arrived in Quebec in June 1906. He joined the Berkhamsted School Farm at Red Deer, Alberta and graduated in 1908. He then worked for George Root on his farm in Red Deer.
By 1909, George owned his own farm block of 160 acres near Dovercourt. In 1910, his mother and sister joined him and his brother Ted in Canada. In 1913, George joined the Royal North-West Mounted Police as a constable. He was stationed at Whitehorse, Yukon. When war broke out in August 1914 he requested discharge by purchase, but the Police refused to release him until February 1915, when he informed his superiors that he was needed to tend his farm.
Instead, he enlisted in 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles at Victoria, Vancouver Island on 2nd March 1915. He was soon promoted to Lance Corporal and became a rough rider. He sailed for England on 12th June and continued training at Shorncliffe. He was made acting Corporal and qualified as a bomb thrower, before heading for France in September 1915. He was promoted to Sergeant in March 1916 and then Bombing Sergeant. On 26th March, he was wounded slightly on the left arm and head by a German grenade at Hooge. After recovery, he was commissioned as a Lieutenant on 30th April.
He was appointed Bombing Officer of 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade on 15th August 1916 and was involved in fighting on the Somme. He transferred to 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles and assumed command of C Company on 27th September. He was then awarded the Military Cross for his actions at Ancre Heights on 1st October, when leading a bombing party in attacking German trenches over a period of 34 hours, clearing 550m of Regina Trench. He was promoted to Acting Captain and Acting Major while commanding a company a month later. He took part in the attack on Vimy Ridge on 9th April 1917 and remained in the region until the latter stages of the Third Battle of Ypres.
On the 30th/31st October 1917 at Vapour Farm, Vanity House and Source Farm near Passchendaele, he skilfullyl handled 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 Major Pearkes was wounded in the 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.
After treatment for his wound, he returned to duty on 4th November. He was promoted to Temporary Major on 30th November and transferred to 116th (Ontario County) Battalion CEF as the senior major. He was then made Acting Lieutenant Colonel and Commanding Officer on 7th January 1918. He was presented with his VC and MC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 22nd June. He returned to the front and was awarded the DSO for his actions during the Battle of Amiens on 8th August – leading his Battalion in an enveloping movement to overcome th enemy. On 17th September at Guemappe, he was severely wounded by a shell, and was evacuated to England for treatment in London. He was convalescing when the war ended. He returned to Canada briefly, before attending the Staff College, Camberley. He was struck off the strength and graduated from the Staff College in 1920 and returned to Canada. In 1923 he was appointed GSO1 at Winnipeg.
He was also committed to the Boys Scouts and started No 14 Troop in Calgary in 1921 and appointed Assistant District Commissioner. George married Constance Blytha Copeman on 26th August 1925 at St Paul’s Garrison Church, Esquimalt, British Columbia, and they had two children – Priscilla Edith “Pep” and John Andre. In 1929, George was appointed Deputy Commandant, Royal Military College, Kingston, Ontario. While there he developed the Staff College Preparatory Course to prepare potential Canadian candidates for the entrance examination to the Staff College, Camberley, Surrey. He then attended the VC Dinner at the House of Lords later that year. He was asked to speak at the dinner. He then became Director of Military Training and Staff Duties at Ottawa. In 1939 he accompanied King George VI in Edmonton on the Royal Tour of Canada.
On the outbreak of WWII, he assumed command of 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade in 1st Canadian Division. He took it to England and was stationed at Aldershot. While visiting the BEF in France in February 1940 he contracted viral meningitis and it was feared that he might die. His wife and son were sent for from Canada but by the time they arrived he was well enough to meet them! On 11th July 1940 he was promoted Major General and assumed command of 1st Canadian Division. He was critical of the Dieppe Raid of 1942 which caused friction with the other commanders. Pearkes returned to Canada and was appointed General Officer Commanding in Chief, Pacific Command, Canada. He was then appointed CB in 1943 and Commander Legion of Merit (USA) in 1944. He retired in 1945.
He then decided to enter politics and in June 1945 was elected Progressive Conservative MP for Nanaimo, British Columbia and later for Esquimalt. He attended the VC Centenary Celebrations in 1956. He was appointed Minister of Defence and became a Canadian Privy Counsellor. He devised a policy for Canada to obtain nuclear warheads, but clashed with colleagues and stepped down. He then became Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. He also served as Grand President of the Royal Canadian Legion, retiring from the post in 1976. He was appointed Companion of the Order of Canada in 1967.
George suffered a bout of pneumonia in 1982 and his health began to fail. He died from a stroke in a rest home in Victoria, British Columbia on 30th May 1984, and was given a state and military funeral and was buried in West of Holy Trinity Cemetery, West Saanich, Sidney, British Columbia. In addition to the VC, DSO and MC he was awarded the Companion of Order of Canada, CB, Knight of Grace of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf, Defence Medal 1939-45, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal 1939-45 with Maple Leaf clasp, War Medal 1939-45, George V Silver Jubilee Medal 1935, George VI Coronation Medal 1937, Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953, Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal 1977, Canadian Forces Decoration with three Bars, Canadian Centennial Medal 1967, French Croix de Guerre 1914-18 with Bronze Star and US Legion of Merit. His medals are held by the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: CANADIAN WAR MUSEUM, OTTAWA, CANADA.
BURIAL PLACE: HOLY TRINTY CEMETERY, SIDNEY, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA. SECTION 4 WEST
Bill Mullen – Image of the Pearkes VC Grave in Sidney, British Columbia.
Thomas Stewart – Image of the Pearkes VC Medal Group at the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa.