Canada in the Second World War


Major-General Christopher Vokes

Christopher Vokes, born in Armagh, Ireland, on April 13th, 1904; died in Oakville, Ontario, on March 28th, 1985. Canadian Army Officer.

The son of a British officer, Chris Vokes was educated at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario, from 1921 to 1925. Upon graduating, he joined the Royal Canadian Engineers of the Permanent Force. In 1926-1927, he was a student at McGill University in Montreal and was awarded a Bachelor’s Degree in Science. He completed his education with a two-year stay (1934-1935) at the Camberley Staff College in England.

Starting in 1939, Vokes rapidly rose through the ranks of the Canadian General Staff. With the 1st Infantry Division, he served as Adjutant General, Assistant Quartermaster General, General Staff Officer, grade 1, and as Officer Commanding the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. He proved to be an outstanding operation officer and on June 24th, 1942, was promoted to Brigadier, in charge of the 2nd Infantry Brigade.

It was under Vokes that the 2nd Infantry Brigade landed in Pachino on July 10th, 1943, and started its march through Sicily’s rugged terrain. The Brigade crossed over to mainland Italy in September 1943. On November 1st of that year, Vokes was appointed commander of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division and promoted to Major-General. He took part in the bitter fighting leading to the capture of Ortona on December 27th, 1943. A few months later, on May 23rd, 1944, the 1st Canadian Division, progressing along the Liri Valley, broke through the Adolf Hitler Line. Under Vokes’ command, the 1st Division stayed its northwards course and pierced the Gothic Line on September 3rd, 1944.

On December 1st, 1944, Vokes, was given command of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division. He led his troops through the Battle of the Hochwald, in February-March 1945, then across the plains of northern Germany to the final victory. From June 1945 to May 1946, Vokes remained in Europe as General Officer Commanding the Canadian Army Occupation Force.

Back in Canada, General Vokes was put in charge of the Canadian Army’s Central Command and later of Western Command. He retired from the military in 1959 and, in 1985 published his memoirs, My Story.

It is a matter of great satisfaction to me that no troops under my command ever lost a battle, although there were some very difficult ones in Sicily, Italy, Holland and Germany
Also, I shall always regret deeply, very deeply, there ever had to be casualties. Casualties cannot be separated from battles. A commander at any level cannot shirk unpleasant decisions, whether he be corporal or general or any rank in between. If he does shirk such decisions, he is unfit to command in battle.
The good on the other hand, consists of memories of the camaraderie, the pride, the courage, the fighting skills of Canadian soldiers and, most of all, our discipline and obedience to the will of Parliament.
I think yet of our Canadian soldier’s peculiar wit and great ability to improvise.
You should know our soldiers were kind to the children of our enemies, and kind to those in adversity. And they were, on the whole, great ambassadors for Canada.
Chris Vokes, My Story, 1985

Suggested Reading:

  • Chris Vokes, My Story, 1985
  • J.L. Granatstein, The Generals, The Canadian Army’s Senior Commanders in the Second World War, 1993.