Distinguished World War II Commander General Foulkes visited Perth

Charles Foulkes (left) faces General Paul Reichilt (right) during a conference
Photo courtesy Library and Archives Canada: Lt.-Gen. Charles Foulkes (left) faces General Paul Reichilt (right) during a conference on the surrender of German forces in the Netherlands on May 5, 1945, at which Foulkes officially accepted the surrender.
Posted on: August 12, 2019

One of the most famous World War II commanders, Lt.-Gen. Charles Foulkes, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O. (at the time), made a visit to Perth not long after the end of that devastating war. He visited again in November of 1950, which says something of the great General’s connection to Perth as a military town.

The Perth Courier of Feb. 7, 1946, carried the headline: “Distinguished Canadian Commander Pays Tribute To Lanark And Renfrew Scots.” The article quoted Foulkes: “‘There are no better troops in the world than Canadians,’ said Lt.-Gen. Charles Foulkes, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., ‘who commanded the 2nd Division in France, and the 1st Canadian Corps in Italy. General Foulkes, guest speaker of the Canadian Club at their Friday meeting, was introduced by Lt.-Col. Boyd, C.O. of the Lanark and Renfrew Scottish Regiment.’”

The Lanark & Renfrew Regiment dates back to Oct. 5, 1866, as the 42nd Brockville Battalion of Infantry, with eventually seven companies in the area. It was reorganized in 1897 as the 42nd Lanark and Renfrew Battalion of Infantry, located in the counties of Lanark and Renfrew, and was renamed the 42nd Lanark and Renfrew Regiment in 1900. Lt.-Col. D.W. Boyd commanded the regiment at the time of the Foulkes visit.

General Foulkes would have been well aware of Perth’s history as a military settlement, which dated back some century and a half at that time. Also, a Perth son, Major Alex Campbell, gave his life on Dec. 25, 1943, while serving with the Canadian Infantry (Quebec Regiment). Campbell was with the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment (Hasty P’s), of the R.C.I.C. (Royal Canadian Infantry Corps), and was “Mentioned in Despatches.” He is also noted for penning the poem “Prayer before Battle” during a lull in the Battle of Ortona, Italy.

The Canadian Club was a rather elitist group founded in 1892, with the intention of fostering interest “in matters affecting the welfare of Canada.” Reports on the Perth Canadian Club can be found until at least March, 1965, and many high profile speakers attended the meetings.

Foulkes’ second visit to Perth was reported in the Perth Courier edition of Nov. 16, 1950 under the headline: “Hundreds Honor War Dead At Legion Memorial Service.” The story continued: “Simply and solemnly was the Remembrance Day Service held last Saturday before the cenotaph at the Great War Memorial Hospital, where over 500 people, mindful of the selfless sacrifices of others in the days gone by, paid tribute to the fallen dead … That evening, a dinner was held in the Perth Town Hall, where veterans and a few distinguished guests heard Lieut.-General Charles Foulkes, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., and Chief of the General Staff, speaker for the occasion. Lieut.-General Foulkes introduced his address by referring to the splendid work of Canadians under his command in World War II, some of whom were present in his audience, and paid tribute to the memory of the men of the armed forces from Perth and District who sacrificed their lives for victory against the enemies of the democratic nations.”

It was soon after the war that Foulkes had been appointed Chief of General Staff and in 1951, not long after his second Perth visit, was appointed Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. He retired in 1960, and by that time had added the medals with post-nominal letters: CC (Order of Canada) and CD (Canadian Forces’ Decoration), to the Order of Bath, Order of the British Empire, and Distinguished Service Order medals he had earned by the end of World War II. 

Such was the reverence of the Canadian Army for Foulkes, a section of The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum in London, Ont. features a section on the General and his role in the negotiation and acceptance of the German surrender. In addition, Canadian Army base Garrison Petawawa has an accommodation building named “Foulkes Barracks”.

Like most great leaders, Foulkes had his detractors, and was sometimes criticized for a lack of leadership. However, he went on to make a significant contribution to the evolution of the Canadian Army in post-war years. An advocate of close military ties with the United States, he showed his integrity when he resigned in 1960, in opposition to the government’s non-nuclear policies. He later taught strategic studies at Carleton University from 1968-69, and passed away on Sept. 12, 1969, at the age of 66.

It is fitting that the office of The Governor General of Canada, when bestowing the Order of Canada on Foulkes, cited him “For a lifetime of service to Canada in various military posts including those of Chief of the General Staff and first Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff.” The investiture had only come on April 8, 1969, a few short months before his passing.

If you have any comments or suggestions, please email me at: terry@pdgmedia.ca

Article by Terry O’Hearn