George Pearkes

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Major General The Honourable
George Randolph Pearkes
20th Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia
In office
October 12, 1960 – July 2, 1968
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor General Georges Vanier
Roland Michener
Premier W.A.C. Bennett
Preceded by Frank Mackenzie Ross
Succeeded by John Robert Nicholson
Personal details
Born (1888-02-28)28 February 1888
Died 30 May 1984(1984-05-30) (aged 96)
Nationality Canadian
Awards Victoria Cross
Companion of the Order of Canada
Companion of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order
Military Cross
Canadian Forces Decoration
Croix de guerre (France)
Legion of Merit (United States)
Military service
Allegiance  Canada
Service/branch  Canadian Army
Years of service 1915 – 1945
Rank Major General
Commands Pacific Command
Canadian Corps
1st Canadian Infantry Division
2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade

First World War

Second World War

Major General George Randolph Pearkes, VC, PC, CC, CB, DSO, MC, CD (February 28, 1888 – May 30, 1984) was a Canadian politician; soldier; recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy awarded to British and Imperial forces; and the 20th Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia.

Early life[edit]

Born in Watford, Hertfordshire, England in 1888, the oldest child of Louise and George Pearkes, he attended Berkhamsted School. In 1906, he and his brother emigrated to Alberta where they settled near Red Deer. In 1911, George joined the North-West Mounted Police and served in Yukon until the outbreak of the First World War.[1]

Military career and Victoria Cross[edit]

Pearkes during World War One.

In 1915, he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force 2nd Regiment, Canadian Mounted Rifles; transferring in September 1916 to the 5th Battalion Canadian Mounted Rifles.[2]

Pearkes was 29 years old, and an acting major during the Battle of Passchendaele when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC:

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 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.[3]

During the war, he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel. He received the Victoria Cross, the Military Cross and the Distinguished Service Order.

Following the First World War he became a career officer in the army. He was appointed to Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. During the 1920s and early 1930s he was stationed as a staff officer in Winnipeg, Manitoba and in Calgary, Alberta. He also served as staff officer at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario. In 1925 Pearkes married Constance Blytha Copeman and they had two children. In 1936, he attended the Imperial Defence College for two years.

From 1938 to 1940 he was District Officer Commanding 13th Military District in Calgary. With the opening of hostilities with Germany in the Second World War, Brigadier Pearkes was given command of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade, a component of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division.

This comprised a number of units raised in western Canada. In December 1939, Pearkes and his staff left for England where the 1st Division was finally concentrated in a single place as a formation.[4] In February 1940 he developed a serious case of spinal meningitis, but soon recovered.

In November 1941 Pearkes was asked to assume temporary command of the expanding Canadian Corps, taking the place of Andrew McNaughton who was on an extended leave. General Montgomery of the British Army, whose opinions of Canadian officers were crucial in the careers of senior officers overseas in the mid-war period, felt that Pearkes was a "gallant soldier" with "little brains".[5]

In August 1942 Pearkes was returned to Canada and became General Officer Commanding in Chief Pacific Command, primarily a home defence organization for western Canada. He oversaw defences on Canada's West Coast.

In 1943 Pearkes was part of the planning for Operation Greenlight, retaking the Aleutian Islands from the Japanese.

During the Second World War, in 1944, Pearkes was instrumental in suppressing the Terrace Mutiny, a revolt by conscripts stationed in Terrace, British Columbia resulting from the announcement that conscripts would be deployed overseas. Although successful, Pearkes was extremely critical of the actions that led to it in the first place, stating he had been placed in the "intolerable position of being ordered to enforce a policy which his past experience gained in applying similar policies has proven ruinous to discipline of [troops], and of being in an utterly dishonourable position, and [Pearkes said] that he will NOT issue instructions to his [junior commanders] placing them in an impossible situation."[6]

When it became clear that the government was not considering deploying troops for the fighting in the Pacific, Pearkes requested a change of command, or to be allowed to retire. The Cabinet War Committee eventually decided on the latter, and he retired from the Army in February 1945. He went into federal politics, winning the Nanaimo, British Columbia riding for the Progressive Conservative Party.

Political career[edit]

Pearkes during the 1940s.

In the 1945 federal election, he was elected as a Progressive Conservative Party candidate in the riding of Nanaimo, British Columbia. He was re-elected in 1949. In the 1953 election, he was elected in the riding of Esquimalt—Saanich, British Columbia. He was re-elected in the 1957 and 1958 elections.

He was Minister of National Defence from 1957 to 1960 under Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. In 1958, Pearkes recommended that the Avro Arrow programme be cancelled. In a historic turning point for Canadian aviation, the costly programme was cancelled in 1959 in favour of a costly alliance on missile defense with NORAD. He resigned from federal politics in 1960.

Lieutenant governor[edit]

He became Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia on October 13, 1960, and became one of the few Lieutenant Governors to agree to an extended term, serving until July 1968.

In 1967, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada.


In August 1925, he married Constance Blytha Copeman. A daughter, Priscilla Edith ("Pep"), was born in 1928 though she died while still a young child. A son, John Andre, was born in 1931.


Pearkes' name has been honoured in various ways, including:

He donated a ceremonial sword to Berkhamsted School to be awarded each year to the school's best senior NCO cadet.

Victoria Cross[edit]

Further information[edit]

He later achieved the rank of Major General. His grave/memorial are at Holy Trinity Cemetery, West Saanich, Sidney, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Section 4 - West. Headstone.

The medal[edit]

His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Canadian War Museum (Ottawa, Canada).

Honours and awards[edit]

Major General George Pearkes received numerous awards during his life these include

UK Victoria Cross ribbon bar.svg Order of Canada (CC) ribbon bar.png Order of the Bath (ribbon).svg Dso-ribbon.png
Military cross BAR.svg Order of St John (UK) ribbon.png 1914 Star BAR.svg British War Medal BAR.svg
Ribbon - Victory Medal MID.png Defence Medal BAR.svg Canadian Volunteer Service Medal BAR.svg War Medal 39-45 BAR.svg
GeorgeVSilverJubileum-ribbon.png GeorgeVICoronationRibbon.png Ribbon - QE II Coronation Medal.png Canada100 ribbon.png
QEII Silver Jubilee Medal ribbon.png CdnForcesDecoration+3rosettes.PNG Croix de Guerre 1914-1918 ribbon.svg US Legion of Merit Commander ribbon.png

Ribbon Description Notes
UK Victoria Cross ribbon bar.svg Victoria Cross (VC)
  • 1917
Order of Canada (CC) ribbon bar.png Order of Canada (CC)
  • Companion
  • 1967
Order of the Bath (ribbon).svg Order of the Bath (CB)
  • Companion
Dso-ribbon.png Distinguished Service Order (DSO)
  • 1919
Military cross BAR.svg Military Cross (MC)
  • 1918
Order of St John (UK) ribbon.png Order of St John (K.stJ)
  • Knight of Grace
1914 Star BAR.svg 1914-15 Star
British War Medal BAR.svg British War Medal
Ribbon - Victory Medal MID.png World War I Victory Medal
  • With MID Oakleaf
Defence Medal BAR.svg Defence Medal
Canadian Volunteer Service Medal BAR.svg Canadian Volunteer Service Medal
  • With Overseas Clasp the Overseas Clasp should be shown on the graphic of his ribbons
War Medal 39-45 BAR.svg War Medal 1939–1945
GeorgeVSilverJubileum-ribbon.png King George V Silver Jubilee Medal
  • 1935
GeorgeVICoronationRibbon.png King George VI Coronation Medal
  • 1937
Ribbon - QE II Coronation Medal.png Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal
  • 1953
Canada100 ribbon.png Canadian Centennial Medal
  • 1967
QEII Silver Jubilee Medal ribbon.png Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal
  • 1977
  • Both UK and Canadian Versions of this Medal
CdnForcesDecoration+3rosettes.PNG Canadian Forces Decoration (CD)
  • 3 Clasps
  • 42 years service in the Canadian Forces
Croix de Guerre 1914-1918 ribbon.svg Croix de Guerre
  • 1914-1918
  • French Version
  • With Palme
  • Awarded in 1919
US Legion of Merit Commander ribbon.png Legion of Merit

He was sworn in as a Member of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada on June 21, 1957. This gave Him the right to use the honorific prefix "The Honourable" and the post nominal letters "PC" for life.

He Received the Key to the City of

He Received the Freedom of the City of


He received honorary degrees from many universities including



External links[edit]

Parliament of Canada
Preceded by
Alan Chambers
Member of Parliament for Nanaimo
Succeeded by
Colin Cameron
Preceded by
The electoral district was created in 1952.
Member of Parliament for Esquimalt—Saanich
Succeeded by
George Louis Chatterton