George Randolph Pearkes
George Pearkes 1917.jpg
Major George Pearkes in December 1917
20th Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia
In office
October 12, 1960 – July 2, 1968
MonarchElizabeth II
Governor GeneralGeorges Vanier
Roland Michener
PremierW.A.C. Bennett
Preceded byFrank Mackenzie Ross
Succeeded byJohn Robert Nicholson
Minister of National Defence
In office
June 21, 1957 – October 10, 1960
Prime MinisterJohn Diefenbaker
Preceded byRalph Campney
Succeeded byDouglas Harkness
Member of Parliament
for Esquimalt—Saanich
In office
August 10, 1953 – October 12, 1960
Preceded byAlan Chambers
Succeeded byGeorge Chatterton
Member of Parliament
for Nanaimo
In office
June 11, 1945 – August 9, 1953
Preceded byAlan Chambers
Succeeded byColin Cameron
Personal details
Born(1888-02-28)February 28, 1888
Watford, Hertfordshire, England
DiedMay 30, 1984(1984-05-30) (aged 96)
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Military service
Branch/serviceCanadian Expeditionary Force
Permanent Active Militia
Canadian Army
Years of service1915–1945
RankMajor General
CommandsPacific Command
Canadian Corps
1st Canadian Infantry Division
2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade
13th Military District
Battles/warsFirst World War

Second World War

AwardsVictoria Cross
Companion of the Order of Canada
Companion of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order
Military Cross
Mentioned in Despatches
Canadian Forces Decoration
Croix de Guerre (France)
Legion of Merit (United States)

Major General George Randolph Pearkes, VC, CC, CB, DSO, MC, CD, PC, OD (February 28, 1888 – May 30, 1984) was a Canadian politician and soldier. He was a 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

Born in England in Watford, Hertfordshire, on February 28, 1888, he was the oldest child of Louise and George Pearkes and attended Berkhamsted School. In 1906, he and his brother emigrated to Alberta, Canada, where they settled near Red Deer. In 1911, George joined the Royal North-West Mounted Police and served in Yukon until the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914.[1]

A comprehensive biography of Pearkes was written during his lifetime by Reginald Roy, based on 82 one-to-two-hour tape recorded interviews and considerable primary and secondary sources.[2]

Military career

First World War and Victoria Cross

In 1915, Pearkes enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force 2nd Regiment, Canadian Mounted Rifles; transferring in September 1916 to the 5th Battalion Canadian Mounted Rifles.[3] In the photo obtained from Library and Archives Canada (PA-002310) dated December 1917, Major Pearkes, 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles, is shown wearing the Military Cross service ribbon, but has not yet received the ribbon for the Victoria Cross. He is wearing four wound stripes on his sleeve.

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 Victoria Cross (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.[4]

During the war, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. Aside from the VC, Pearkes was also awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and the Military Cross (MC).

Between the wars

Following the First World War he became a career officer in the army, and went to England in April 1919 to attend the Staff College, Camberley for the first post-war course there.[5] Among his fellow students there included Ronald Okeden Alexander, Bernard Freyberg, Alan Brooke, John Gort and Percy Hobart, all of whom would rise to high rank, as would John Dill, one of the instructors.[6]

Upon his return to Canada, Pearkes was then appointed to the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), one of the three infantry regiments of the regular Canadian Army, also known as the Permanent Active Militia (PAM) or the Permanent Force (PF).[7] 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 in London.[8] Among his fellow students there were Frank McNamara and Sydney Rowell, both from Australia; other students included William Slim and Keith Park.[9]

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, which comprised a number of units raised in western Canada.

Second World War

In December 1939, Pearkes, by then age 51, and his staff left for England where the 1st Division was finally concentrated in a single place as a formation.[10] In February 1940 he developed a serious case of spinal meningitis, but soon recovered.

L–R: Major-General G.R. Pearkes, VC and C. D. Howe, during memorial service for General James Wolfe, 1 January 1941
L–R: Major-General G.R. Pearkes, VC and C. D. Howe, during memorial service for General James Wolfe, 1 January 1941

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. Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery of the British Army, whose opinions of Canadian officers were crucial in the careers of senior officers overseas in the mid-war period, said Pearkes was a, "gallant soldier" albeit one with, "little brains."[11]

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.[12]

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

The Canadian Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, talking with Major-General George Pearkes during a visit to the 1st Canadian Infantry Division, 26 August 1941
The Canadian Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, talking with Major-General George Pearkes during a visit to the 1st Canadian Infantry Division, 26 August 1941

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."[13]

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

Pearkes during the 1940s
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 less costly reliance on missile defense with NORAD. He resigned from federal politics in 1960.

Lieutenant governor and later life

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. Pearkes died on May 30, 1984 in Victoria, British Columbia, and is commemorated at the Holy Trinity Cemetery, West Saanich, Sidney, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Section 4 – West. His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.


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 in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire to be awarded each year to the school's best senior NCO cadet.

Honours and awards

Major General George Pearkes received numerous awards during his life, including the following.

UK Victoria Cross ribbon bar.svg
Order of Canada (CC) ribbon bar.png
Order of the Bath (ribbon).svg

Military cross BAR.svg
Order of St John (UK) ribbon -vector.svg
1914 Star BAR.svg
British War Medal BAR.svg

Ribbon - Victory Medal MID.png
Defence Medal BAR.svg
Canadian Volunteer Service Medal BAR 2.svg
War Medal 39-45 BAR.svg

Ribbon - QE II Coronation Medal.png
Canada100 ribbon.png

QEII Silver Jubilee Medal ribbon.png
CD-ribbon and 3 bars.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
Distinguished Service Order (DSO)
  • 1919
Military cross BAR.svg
Military Cross (MC)
  • 1918
Order of St John (UK) ribbon -vector.svg
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 2.svg
Canadian Volunteer Service Medal
  • With Overseas Clasp
War Medal 39-45 BAR.svg
War Medal 1939–1945
King George V Silver Jubilee Medal
  • 1935
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
CD-ribbon and 3 bars.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 also received the Order of the Dogwood in 1968. [15]


Honorary degrees

Honorary degrees
Location Date School Degree Gave commencement address
 British Columbia October 1944 University of British Columbia Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [16]
 British Columbia May 1965 University of Victoria Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [17]
 British Columbia 1965 Simon Fraser University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [18]
 Ontario 31 May 1976 Royal Military College of Canada Doctor of Military Science (DMSc) [19]
This list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items. (September 2020)


  1. ^ George Randolph Pearkes fonds
  2. ^ "For Most Conspicuous Bravery, A biography of Major-General George R Pearkes, VC through two World Wars" by Reginald Roy, University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver, 1977. 388 pages.ISBN 0-7748-0068-2
  3. ^ Sherbrooke Hussars website – Victoria Crosses Archived January 17, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ "No. 30471". The London Gazette (Supplement). 8 January 1918. p. 722.
  5. ^ Granatstein 2005, p. 16.
  6. ^ Roy 2011, pp. 81−82.
  7. ^ Roy 2011, p. 83.
  8. ^ Granatstein 2005, p. 17.
  9. ^ Roy 2011, pp. 126−129.
  10. ^ George R. Pearks – Army Years, WWII Archived 2007-10-17 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Granatstein 2005, pp. 31−32.
  12. ^ Granatstein 2005, p. 32.
  13. ^ George R. Pearkes – Army Years, Mutiny Archived 2007-10-17 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ "Freedom of the City". City of Port Alberni. 18 October 2013. Retrieved 13 October 2021.
  15. ^[bare URL PDF]
  16. ^ "Honorary Degrees – Alphabetical | University Archives Blog". Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  17. ^ "University of Victoria -Honorary degree recipients - University of Victoria". Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  18. ^ "Past honorary degree".
  19. ^ "Royal military college Canada honorary degree recipients". 19 July 2016.


Military offices Preceded byAndrew McNaughton GOC 1st Canadian Infantry Division 1940–1942 Succeeded byHarry Salmon Preceded byRonald Alexander GOC-in-C Pacific Command 1942–1945 Succeeded byFrank Worthington