By Emily Monks-Leeson
Major-General George Randolph Pearkes was born in Watford, England, in 1888, and immigrated to Alberta in 1906. In 1915, he enlisted with the 2nd Regiment, Canadian Mounted Rifles, and from September 1916 onward commanded the 5th Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles. He was awarded the Victoria Cross at the Battle of Passchendaele.
Pearkes, then a major, was awarded the Victoria Cross in recognition of his skillful command during the capture and consolidation of his unit’s objectives and further ground in Passchendaele, Belgium, from October 30 to 31, 1917. Major Pearkes, who had been wounded in the thigh prior to his troops’ advance, led his unit throughout their attack. His citation in the London Gazette states that, when his unit’s advance was halted by a strongpoint, which a unit to his left had failed to capture, Pearkes himself captured and held the point, thus allowing the continued advance of Canadian troops.
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.
Before the end of the war, Pearkes would be wounded five times, promoted to lieutenant-colonel, and awarded the Victoria Cross, the Military Cross and the Distinguished Service Order. Following the armistice, he became a career officer, was appointed to Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, and served as a staff officer at the Royal Military College of Canada. During the Second World War, Brigadier Pearkes commanded the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade, later becoming the general officer commanding in Chief, Pacific Command, where he oversaw defences on Canada’s west coast. He entered federal politics upon retiring from the army and was elected as the MP, Progressive Conservative Party, for Nanaimo, British Columbia in 1945. He was Minister of National Defence from 1957 to 1960, and became Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia in October 1960.
Major-General George Pearkes died in Victoria, British Columbia on May 30, 1984. The George R. Pearkes Building housing the Department of National Defence in Ottawa is named in his honour, as is Mount Pearkes on British Columbia’s mainland south coast. The complete digitized service file for Major-General George Pearkes is now available in Library and Archives Canada’s Personnel Records of the First World War.
Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.