30-31 October 1917 – George Randolph Pearkes, VC, DSO, MC, CDG
A Centenary Action

George Randolph Pearkes, VC, DSO, MC, CDG

Then-Major George Pearkes, VC, MC in December 1917 displaying his MC ribbon (the VC ribbon had not yet been received) and four wound stripes.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-002310.

George Pearkes was born in Watford, England. Immigrating to Canada, he served 5 years with the North-West Mounted Police before enlisting in Victoria, B.C. on 2 March 1915 with the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles (CMR). Pearkes’ service is a remarkable example of progression through the ranks, with both the medals and wounds to show for it.

Before embarking for England, Pearkes had already been promoted to Lance-Corporal. In September 1915, the 2nd CMR landed in France, where Pearkes soon attended a course at Grenade School, becoming a bomb thrower. By the early spring of 1916 he was an Acting Lieutenant and attached to the 8th Brigade’s Headquarters as Brigade Bombing Officer. In May 1916, Pearkes was hospitalized with severe gunshot wounds to the head and arm.  In September 1916 he was transferred to the 5th CMR, quickly becoming Acting Captain, then Acting Major. By October 1916 he had been wounded again.

In December 1916 Pearkes received the first of many awards – the Military Cross, for his actions on 21 November 1916. (See Image Below).

The official citation for Pearkes’ Military Cross.
Credit: Library And Archives Canada, Reference: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 7681 – 35, Item Number: 567692, Record Group: Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), p. 101.

On 30 October 1917, the 5th CMR’s went into the attack on the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade’s left flank, bordering with the 18th British Corps. Fighting along a unit boundary line tends to create awkward, disjointed advances, and this proved true again as the 5th CMR’s British counterparts were unable to keep pace, creating a dangerous open flank.

Although wounded by shrapnel in the buttocks, Pearkes had led the 5th CMR’s through hard fighting to their objectives. With reinforcement hampered by the swampy low grounds of the Lekkerboterbeek (literally “Yummy-butter-brook”) tributaries, the men were on their own against increasing enemy counter-attacks. Locating enfilading fire coming from a strong point called Source Farm, Pearkes rallied his men and charged over the unit boundary line, taking the place by storm. Now greatly reduced in strength (some sources say only 20 fighting men – see Canadian War Records Office, Thirty  Canadian V.Cs., p. 69), Pearkes established a defensive line from Source Farm to Vapour Farm, and they continued to beat back enemy counter attacks. All this while, Pearkes had kept battalion headquarters appraised of the situation via carrier pigeons (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force – 1914 – 1919, p. 322).

Realizing the importance of Pearkes’ gains, General Currie issued orders “at 7:00 p.m. that every effort should be made to hold the line.” (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force – 1914 – 1919, p. 323). When reinforcements of the 2nd CMR’s advanced over the swampy ground to join them, many were seen to fall from heavy enemy machine gun fire. But those that could carried on, reinforcing Pearkes’ tenuous position and saving the situation.

For his actions and leadership over 30 – 31 October 1917, Pearkes received the Victoria Cross. Pearkes survived the war, despite being wounded on five separate occasions, and ultimately received a Mention in Despatches, the Military Cross, the Distinguished Service Order, the French Croix de Guerre, and the Victoria Cross. He would end the war as a Lieutenant-Colonel in command of the 116th (Ontario County) Battalion, and remained a career soldier, serving again in the Second World War. He then retired and entered politics, ultimately serving as the Minister of National Defence from 1957 – 1960.

George Randolph Pearkes, VC, DSO, MC, CDG passed away in Victoria, B.C. in 1984.

The official Victoria Cross citation of then-Captain (Acting Major) George Pearkes, MC (second entry in left-hand column).
Credit: The London Gazette, Publication date: 8 January 1918, Supplement: 30471, Page: 722.
The official Distinguished Service Order citation of then-Lieutenant-Colonel George Pearkes, VC, MC copied into his service file.
Credit: Library And Archives Canada, Reference: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 7681 – 35, Item Number: 567692, Record Group: Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), p. 102.