New marker for VC winner

Final resting place of George R. Pearkes becomes more visible

Jim Cumming

Jim Cumming

Canada has a diverse military history and the Saanich Peninsula is no stranger to the service given by men and women in times of conflict.

Searching for that history, however, can sometimes be daunting. On the weekend, it became easier to locate the final resting place of one of the nation’s Victoria Cross winners. On Saturday, the family of Major General George R. Pearkes attended a ceremonial unveiling of a new grave marker at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in North Saanich. Pearkes was buried there in 1984.

Pearkes is one of Canada’s Victoria Cross (VC) winners. The honour is bestowed upon servicemen for gallantry in action and service to one’s fellow soldiers and has only been awarded to 96 Canadians, or people closely associated with this country. The first VC was awarded in 1854 — the last in 1945. Pearkes earned his VC in 1917 during the Battle of Passchendaele in the First World War.

“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” read the citation in the London Gazette on Jan. 11, 1918. “Just prior to the advance Maj. Pearkes was wounded in the left thigh. Regardless of his wound, he continued to lead his men with the utmost gallantry, despite many obstacles.”

A career soldier, Pearkes retired from the army at the rank of Major General and became a Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament, elected four times. He was appointed B.C.’s Lieutenant Governor in 1961. He died in Victoria in May 30, 1984.

Jim Cumming, the sexton at Holy Trinity Church and himself a retired naval commodore, says the gravestone replacement on the weekend makes it easier for people to find Maj. Gen. Pearkes.

“It’s an effort by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to mark some of the graves of VC winners who are interred in Canada,” he explained. “It makes it highly visible and easy to find.”

Pearkes was buried at Holy Trinity with a flat headstone. Cummings said unless you walked right up to it, you might miss it. The new marker is upright and resembles the familiar shape of Canadian military gravestones. The unveiling on Saturday involved some of Pearkes’ family, Cumming said, as well Legion members and past members of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry — the unit with whom Pearkes was associated during his service in the years between the wars.

Pearkes didn’t live on the Peninsula at the time of his death, but Cumming said he had family with land in the area and loved to visit. He chose Holy Trinity’s cemetery as his and his wife’s final resting place.

The site is part of the church’s tour program. Cumming said they will be offering cemetery tours during the upcoming Flavour Trails event in North Saanich on August 23. In addition to Pearkes’ grave, Cumming said Holy Trinity is home to some of the Peninsula’s pioneers, representing much of the area’s history. — with files from Veterans Affairs Canada