“Mike” Pearson

Written by: Dr. John English

Nickname given in his youth to Lester Bowles Pearson, Canada’s 14th prime minister, by a someone who thought “Mike” was more macho.

In the First World War, the aviators quickly became, in the words of British Prime Minister Lloyd George, the “knights of the air,” the modern gladiators. The glamour of their aerial combat in fragile Sopwith Camels and other primitive biplanes captured headlines and created enduring legends, such as Canada’s Billy Bishop or Germany’s Manfred von Richthofen. 

Lester’s older brother Marmaduke – rapidly shortened to Duke – quickly enlisted in the newly formed Royal Naval Air Force, and young Lester was eager to follow. His Methodist minister father begged the Methodist Minister of Militia Sam Hughes to allow Lester to return to England from Salonika where he had spent many dreary months as a medic. Hughes nearly always granted favours to Methodists, and Lester soon found himself at Oxford where he first began to train for the trenches. Duke, however, quickly persuaded him to forget the dreary trenches and join him in the romance of the air. 

On a November night in 1917 after Lester arrived at Hendon air base for training, he had stirring dreams about his future as “Sir Lester, knight of the azure blue.”  The following morning he introduced himself to his instructor. “Lester,” the British instructor winced. “That’s a sissy’s name. You’re Mike.”

And Mike it would remain. A half century later The Right Honourable Lester Pearson, PC, OM, CC, OBE, chose a single word for the title of his three-volume memoir: Mike. The simple name fitted the extraordinary man. 

Image source: Parli

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