A Canadian original:
Of United Empire Loyalists stock, Peck commanded the 16th (Canadian Scottish) Battalion in the First World War (a regiment that boasted four VC winners), and led his unit from the front in 10 major battles of the Great War with his personal piper at his side.Bravery on the battlefield matched with moral courage:
When the 16th Battalion left Vancouver for France in 1915, its strength was 1,125 all ranks.
With reinforcements, the unit suffered 1,412 killed and 3,292 wounded in 3½ years of fighting — a toll that puts our casualties after seven years in Afghanistan into perspective.
Cy Peck’s story is told in a new book by his son, Edward. Titled simply Cy Peck, VC: A Biography of a Legendary Canadian(itls), it’s a short book (210 pages) available at Chapters/Indigo or www.cefbooks.ca).
What’s unusual about Peck, as colonel of the regiment, is not only fearlessness (leading his men under heavy machinegun fire and pointing out targets for tanks), but at age 47 he was the oldest Canadian ever to win the VC.
Peck finally reported for duty in Parliament on March 4, 1919, taking his seat as the member for Skeena. He arrived just in time to hear Sir Sam Hughes, the ousted minister of defence, attack Sir Arthur Currie, the former Victoria school teacher who had led the Canadian corps from June 1917 to the end of the war.
That brought out the warrior in Peck, and his maiden speech as an MP was in defence of Currie, who was respected by the men who had served under him. Peck's speech was eloquent and from the heart, dealing with Currie's decisions, the accuracy of Hughes' attack and the high price of war.
It included these words:
"There are thousands of bleeding hearts that will never be healed; thousands of mothers, fathers, sisters, wives and sweethearts who are listening in vain for that footfall upon the garden path that will never sound again."