For Most Conspicuous Bravery: A Biography of Major-General George R. Pearkes, V.C., Through Two World Wars
"I would have followed him through Hell," said one of themen who was serving with George Pearkes at Passchendaele where he wonthe Victoria Cross. If his men were devoted to him, he was equally soto them. In the character of this distinguished Canadian soldier andstatesman "most conspicuous bravery," "utmostgallantry," and "supreme contempt of danger" werecombined with a deep sense of duty and a zeal for service.
Set against the background of Canada's twentieth centurytransformation from a rural and agricultural society into an urbantechnological nation, General Pearkes's career makes a compellingbiographical study.
After proving up his homestead in Alberta, Pearkes joined the RoyalNorth West Mounted Police and served in the Yukon until he was able topurchase his discharge and enlist in 1915. In Europe he was soon in thetrenches, where, wounded five times, he saw the Canadian Army engage inbattle after battle on the Western Front and win a reputation as anelite corps.
In the two decades between the World Wars Pearkes served in thesmall permanent force as district commander, deputy commandant at theRoyal Military College, Kingston, and as Director of Military Trainingin Ottawa. Neglect and apathy in the 1920's and financialstringencies and isolationism in the 1930's made the task ofmaintaining the militia in a state of preparedness increasinglydifficult.
When the inevitable war broke out in September 1939, Pearkes wasamong those who had to forge the weapon. Until late in 1942, when hewas recalled to Canada to take charge of the Pacific Command, Pearkesserved overseas training the 2nd Brigade and later the 1st Division asthe Battle of Britain was waged overhead and plans and techniques forthe eventual invasion of Europe were perfected. Back in Canada hebecame involved in the major political furore caused by the continuingneed for reinforcements. Pearkes's role in the conscription crisisand the "Generals' Revolt" sheds new light on theseimportant issues.
Shortly before the war ended, Pearkes retired, but he soon acceptedthe call to stand as a member of Parliament. From 1945 to 1960, when hewas appointed lieutenant-governor of British Columbia, he served as aConservative defence critic and as Minister of Defence in theDiefenbaker cabinet. He was deeply involved in the highly charged andhotly debated decisions of the cold war era, including Bomarc, theArrow, NATO, NORAD, and provisions for civil defence, and his views onthem will be significant to those interested in Canadian political andmilitary history.