Graham Beresford Parkinson, known as Ike, was born in Mount Cook, Wellington, on 5 November 1896. He was the son of Henry Ainslie Parkinson, a schoolteacher, and his wife, Ethel Constance Young. Ike attended Greytown School and Newtown District High School and completed his education with two years at Wellington College, which he left in December 1911. In 1913 he passed the entrance examination for the Royal Military College of Australia at Duntroon; the following year he took up one of the officer cadetships reserved for New Zealanders.
Parkinson performed solidly at Duntroon. In April 1916 he graduated and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Royal New Zealand Artillery. After a period as an instructor at a training camp, he embarked for overseas service with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in June 1917. During his service with the New Zealand Field Artillery in Egypt and France, Parkinson showed himself to be ‘a most promising officer’, who was ‘steady and reliable’. He returned to New Zealand in mid 1919.
His first posting after the war was as adjutant to the Wellington Garrison Artillery Division. In February 1920 Parkinson was a member of a small force sent to Fiji to help deal with unrest related to a strike. He was promoted to captain in January 1921. Between 1922 and 1924 he served in Dunedin as an instructor to Territorial Force artillery units. In August 1924 he was transferred to Auckland and placed in charge of the city’s harbour defences. Parkinson left New Zealand for the United Kingdom in July the following year. He attended a gunnery staff course and was attached to various Royal Artillery units. On 30 August 1926 he married Barbara Waiohine Howe in Birmingham. They returned to New Zealand late in 1927.
Over the next five years Parkinson held staff and instructional positions in Wellington. In November 1932 he was promoted to major. After four years in Auckland (1933–37) as a staff officer and artillery instructor, he was posted back to Wellington, appointed commander Royal New Zealand Artillery and made a temporary lieutenant colonel. In April 1938 he was stripped of his temporary rank, apparently as a punishment for having private work done at ordnance workshops. A year later he regained his rank and in September he was made a substantive lieutenant colonel.
In January 1940 Parkinson was posted to 2NZEF, was placed in command of the 4th Field Regiment and embarked for the Middle East. He was a fatherly figure, ‘gruff and heavily built, with a sandy moustache’, who was held in high regard by his men. He was mentioned in dispatches for his work during the first Libyan campaign in late 1940. During the Greek campaign of April 1941 his resourceful leadership was central to the successful withdrawal of much of the New Zealand forces in the Pinios Gorge. In the battle of Molos and during the latter stages of the campaign he displayed great coolness and gallantry. After being evacuated from Greece to Egypt, Parkinson was active in rebuilding 2NZEF’s artillery units and in studying the lessons of the campaign. He was appointed a DSO and mentioned in dispatches for his achievements during this period.
In August he was promoted to brigadier and given command of the training group at Maadi Camp. In November 1941 Parkinson returned to New Zealand to take command of the 1st New Zealand Army Tank Brigade, which was in the process of being formed at Waiouru. Between the end of 1941 and mid April 1942 he commanded the 7th Infantry Brigade Group, before resuming command of the tank brigade.
Parkinson returned to the Middle East in January 1943 and took command of Maadi Camp the following month. In April he was given command of the 6th New Zealand Infantry Brigade, which he led in the Allied offensive across the Sangro River in central Italy at the end of 1943. When Major General Howard Kippenberger was wounded on 2 March 1944, Lieutenant General Bernard Freyberg placed Parkinson in command of the New Zealand Division and promoted him to temporary major general. Parkinson commanded the division during its hard-fought and ultimately unsuccessful assault on Cassino in mid March 1944. His failure to commit more infantry to the assault has been the subject of criticism.
After the battle Parkinson relinquished his temporary rank and returned to command the 6th Brigade until June 1944, when he was appointed the 2nd New Zealand Division’s commander, Royal Artillery. In August 1944 he returned to the 6th Brigade, which he led successfully until the end of the Italian campaign. He was very disappointed not to be given temporary command of the division after Freyberg was injured in late September 1944, but in recognition of his services in Italy he was granted a bar to the DSO, made a CBE, mentioned in dispatches and appointed an officer in the US Legion of Merit.
In July 1945 Parkinson was placed in command of all New Zealand troops in Egypt. He returned to New Zealand in November and in the new year was appointed quartermaster general at Army Headquarters. In December 1946 he became the New Zealand military liaison officer in London. He left the United Kingdom in September 1949, and in November was appointed commandant, Southern Military District, in Christchurch. He relinquished this appointment in November 1951 and retired from the army with the rank of brigadier in April 1952. In December 1951 Parkinson became the secretary-treasurer of the St John Ambulance Association in Christchurch, and he worked assiduously to strengthen the association until his retirement in 1961. He died in Christchurch on 10 July 1979. His wife, Barbara, died in 1982. There were no children of the marriage.
Ike Parkinson was a highly competent brigade commander, a ‘hard-fighting, burly soldier, full of soldierly craft and shrewdness, well aware that war is an ugly business’. He was a respected and somewhat aggressive man who was devoted to the profession of arms.