A native of Toronto, Major General Hebert Alan Sparling received his early education at Ottawa and Saint John, New Brunswick. He entered the Royal Military College in the summer of 1925, graduating four years later, with the nickname “Sparky,” as his brother had before him.
Upon graduation, Lieutenant Sparling posted to B Battery, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (RCHA), in Kingston, where he served in various appointments. From October 1932 until August 1933, he attended the Artillery Staff Course (Canada) and undertook the United Kingdom’s year-long Gunnery Staff Course. On completion, in November 1934, he became an Instructor-in-Gunnery at the Royal Canadian School of Artillery in Kingston. In March 1935, he was appointed to similar duties in Winnipeg, serving until the spring of 1938. Before attending Camberley Staff College in January 1939, he serviced as a 3rd Grade Staff Officer in the Directorate of Military Operations and Intelligence. They terminated the Camberley Staff College on 3 September 1939, when Great Britain declared war on Germany.
Returning to Canada, he served in the Adjutant General’s Branch and, on promotion to Major, served several months in the Directorate of Military Training and Staff Duties. In April 1940, he served as a Brigade Major, Royal Artillery, at the artillery headquarters of the 2nd Canadian Division. He embarked with the Division in August and continued to serve there until promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in May 1941.
Once again, returning to Canada, as the Directorate of Military Training in Ottawa, until his return overseas in September 1942. The following month, he commanded the 13th Field Regiment, a post he held until May 1943. Many appointments followed, General Staff Officer on the staff of the Brigadier, Royal Artillery with attachment to 21 Army Group Mission in North Africa, an extension to the staff of the Brigadier Royal Artillery, Headquarters 8th Army for the assault on Italy. He was an observer to the 1st Canadian Tank Brigade in Sicily, called back to the United Kingdom to report on Sicily, observer to Headquarters 8th Army and in the same capacity to Headquarters 13 British Corps in Italy. He was recalled to the United Kingdom in October 1943.
On arrival in England, Brigadier Sparling commanded the Royal Artillery, 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. In December, he returned to Italy to assume the same appointment with the 5th Canadian Armoured Division, serving there until December 1944. He transferred to Headquarters 1st Canadian Corps in Italy and appointed Commander Corps Royal Artillery, a post he held in North-West Europe until after VE Day. In June 1945, he returned to Canada to command the 6th Canadian Infantry Division Artillery, then forming for service in the Pacific Theatre. Following the surrender of Japan, he returned to Europe as Commander Royal Artillery, 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, Canadian Army Occupation Force in Germany.
In May 1946, with the 3rd Division’s return to Canada, he became the District Officer Commanding, Military District Number 2, headquartered in Toronto. The following year on the reorganization of the Army, he assumed the appointment of Officer-in-Charge Administration at Headquarters Central Command. The summer of 1947 brought him command of the Western Ontario Area. In July, he again returned to Army Headquarters to serve as Deputy Chief of the General Staff. The following year, he attended the one-year course at the Imperial Defence College. In November the same year, he was called back to Canada, promoted to Major-General and assumed the duties of Vice-Chief of the General Staff.
In December 1955, he went to Washington to fill the dual appointments of Chairman, Canadian Joint Staff and Canadian Representative to the Permanent Military Committee of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In September 1958, he returned home to become General Officer Commanding Central Command. In June 1962, Major-General Sparling commenced retirement leave and retired to pension early the following year.
Active in retirement, he worked as a member of the Ontario Police Commission for 16 years. For ten of these years, he was Executive Officer of the Toronto Redevelopment Advisory Council, a voluntary group advising on Toronto’s downtown development. Maintaining his close association with The Royal Regiment, he chaired the Royal Canadian Artillery Association’s History Committee, guiding the production of the definitive two-volume Regimental history, The Gunners of Canada. In January 1969, he accepted the appointment of Colonel Commandant of The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery, a role he undertook until early 1975.
Major-General Sparling received the Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order. He also received the United States of America Legion of Merit Officer Grade.
He resided in Oakville, Ontario, from 1962 until he died in 1995.