What kind of war must we be prepared to fight? With the introduction of nuclear weapons and the anticipated production of long-range ballistic missiles, it is obvious that the methods of waging any future war have clearly changed from those of World War II. Looking into the future is at best a risky business, but our military advisers must plan ahead, and it is their present opinion that a third world war would commence with a sudden ferocious thermonuclear attack of great intensity…
(Pearkes, Debates, 5 Dec 1957, 1900)
George Randolph Pearkes was a solider, politician, and winner of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the British Empire. He was born on 28 February 1888 in Watford, Hertfordshire, England and immigrated to Alberta in 1906. He joined the North West Mounted Police and fought with the 2nd and 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles. Pearkes began his military career as a private; he retired as major general.
Distinguishing himself in the field, Pearkes proved to be an invaluable officer to the 5th C.M.R. according to its commander, Lieutenant Colonel Draper. He was multiple times wounded in action and received the Military Cross for leading a bombing party in 1916. At the battle of Passchendaele, he won the prestigious Victoria Cross for “supreme contempt of danger and wonderful powers of control and leading.”
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.
In late November, Pearkes was recommended for a promotion to senior major with the 116th Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Sam Sharpe. After Sharpe suffered a nervous breakdown while on an officers’ course in England, Pearkes assumed command of the 116th in January 1918.
On 17 September 1918, heavy enemy shelling of the 116th command dugout left Pearkes clinging to life. He survived but was placed out of action for the rest of the war. Major Dougall Carmichael assumed command until the armistice. Pearkes resumed command from late November until demobilization.
He continued his military career after the war and became command officer of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. As General Officer of the Pacific Command during the Second World War, Pearkes was critical of Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s war policies, leading to his forced retirement. Quebec Liberal MP, Jean-François Pouliot, thought the general was “too fascist.” Conservative Howard Green accused the Government of smearing the Victoria Cross winner, declaring, “it will be a long time before we have a more outstanding soldier in this country.”
In the August 1945 federal election, Pearkes won the riding of Nanamio for the Progressive Conservative Party. He was Minister of Defence (1957—1960) in the Diefenbaker Government. On 13 October 1960, he was appointed 20th Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia and served for eight years.
He died on 30 May 1984.
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