On March 30, 1916, at Hamilton, Ontario George Reginald Parke, a 27-year-old druggist, enlisted as a lieutenant with the 173rd Overseas Battalion. He had all of 4-months experience with the 91st Canadian Highlanders.
He came from a family of druggists. His father, Walder Parke founded McGregor and Parke Drug Store at 1 Market Square in Hamilton, Ontario. It would be later named Parke and Parke in 1917 and would become one of the largest pharmaceutical manufacturers and supplies in Canada.[i]
He served with the 173rd Battalion and left with them from Canada aboard the SS Olympic on November 13, 1916. Parkes was to qualify “GOOD” at the 1st School of Instruction for Assistant Instructors in Physical Training and Bayonet Fighting on December 18, 1916. Eleven days later he would be taken on strength with the 18th Battalion and arrived after the New Year on January 2, 1917.
He arrived at a battalion that had blooded itself at the confusion at the craters at St. Eloi and had been bloodied further at the Somme from September to November of 1916. It now was located near Bully-les-Mines in France in preparation for the next major operation it would participate, the attack on Vimy Ridge. Though the men of the Battalion did not know this, Lieutenant Parke would be just one of slew of officers replacing others that had been promoted, wounded, got ill, or died. Being from Hamilton, he was not from the geographic area that most of the men had come from, but now the vagaries of war had filled the Battalion with men from Toronto, Peterborough, and a number of other communities.
On that day he, along with two other lieutenants, Morton, and Wright, arrived as replacements. Morton was a fellow officer of the 173rd Battalion and from Hamilton and Wright was from Toronto. These new officers did not have much time to acclimate themselves to their new surroundings and they may have been lucky to be placed at the head of a platoon with a seasoned sergeant at their side.
As it was, Lieutenant Parke was not to be with the Battalion long. On February 23, 1917, while serving with the Battalion in the Roelincourt sector he participated in a trench raid with the objective of destroying dugouts and trench mortars that had been clearly identified. He was one four men, the other being non-commissioned soldiers, that were considered “wounded or missing.”[ii]
The 18th Battalion and 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade war diaries impart no other information. Lieutenant Parke is simply declared wounded and missing.
It would take until June 28, 1917, before his status as “Killed in Action” would be determined. Two of the men listed as missing and wounded where later recovered and it was determined through German sources that Lieutenant Parke had been captured and succumbed to his wounds the same day. His body was never positively identified, and he is commemorated at the Vimy Memorial.
A news report from the Toronto Telegram in July of 1917, would summarize his death:
“NOW REPORTED KILLED
After being reported as missing since March 31st, and wounded and missing on April 9th, Lieut. George Reginald Parke is now reported as killed in action on the former date. He was a Phm.B. of 1911, and his father belongs to the firm of Parke and Parke, of Hamilton. He went overseas with a Hamilton unit. Two brothers, both serving in France, have each been wounded, and one has been awarded the Military Cross.”
As to the aforementioned brothers, at the time this article was written it was two brothers. Harold served with the sister battalion to the 18th with the 20th where he earned his Military Cross and Roy with the 58th Battalion. He was also a druggist. In May of 1918, the youngest son, Charles, joined the Canadian Engineers.
Lieutenant Parke did not serve long with the 18th Battalion, but he appears to have earned the battlefield credentials to help lead a trench raid resulting in his ultimate sacrifice. His father’s firm soldiered on with the help of his younger brother and grew to some prominence in the Canadian pharmaceutical industry.
Perhaps, in the future, more information will bring to light the events of that trench raid that left at least four men dead, one of them from Hamilton, Ontario.
[i] (Vintage Hamilton Facebook Group, 2022)
[ii] Lieutenant George Reginald Parke, Corporal Arthur Lawrence Buck, reg. no. 124559 and Privates James Albert Jones, reg. no. 123364 and Martin King, reg. no. 745111 were eventually listed as having died.