Family of Frederic Thornton Peters — Part Three: his sister Helen Dewdney

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by Sam McBride

clockwise, from top left: baby Helen, 1887; with her father Fred and a cat, 1889; and four images of her as a young girl in Charlottetown (McBride Collection)

Mary Helen Peters was born in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island on August 31, 1887.  She was always known as Helen by friends and in the family, and in later years was known as Gran to her three children and ten grandchildren and many of her younger friends.  The first of six children, she outlived all of them, including a younger sister who died in a fireplace accident, three brothers who died in the world wars, and another brother who had a mental disability.

At age eight in early 1898 she moved with her family across Canada by boat, trains and boat again to Victoria on Vancouver Island.  The sea was a constant in her youth, as she went from an Atlantic island to a Pacific island.

She went to schools in Charlottetown and Victoria, and then in 1900 went to Bedford in north London, England where she attended the Bedford School for Girls.  At the same time, her brothers Fritz and Jack attended the Bedford Grammar School.  It is likely they all stayed at the home of their mother Bertha`s stepmother, Sarah Caroline Cambridge Gray, who moved there after the death of her husband, John Hamilton Gray in 1887.  One of Helen`s memories from her time at Bedford was watching with her brothers on a London street in January 1901 as the funeral procession for Queen Victoria solemnly passed by.

clockwise, from bottom left: three images of Helen as a young lady in Victoria; with her brother Gerald in the yard of their Oak Bay home; seen with tennis friends (McBride Collection)

Helen studied piano and music at the Royal Conservatory of Music in London, and became an accomplished pianist.

One of her father`s partners in business ventures in Victoria was the Hon. Edgar Dewdney, the former trail-builder, federal cabinet minister and B.C. lieutenant governor.  Dewdney was uncle and guardian of Edgar Edwin Lawrence “Ted” Dewdney, born December 26, 1880 in Victoria.  Ted`s mother Caroline Leigh died when Ted was four and his father Walter Dewdney died when Ted was 11.  Ted lived with his uncle Edgar and aunt Jane between 1892 and 1897 at Cary Castle in Victoria when it was the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor.

Victoria newspaper report of her wedding

A  keen student of history and literature, Ted wanted to go to university, but his uncle insisted he enter the banking world at an early age.  Ted began as a clerk for the Bank of Montreal in Victoria in December 1897, and was subsequently transferred to the bank branches in New Westminster, Greenwood, Rossland and Armstrong before returning to Victoria in 1908.

Ted was athletic and an outstanding tennis player, winning the West Kootenay Tennis Championship three times in the early 1900s while residing in Rossland.  Helen was also a keen tennis player and participant in tennis-related social events in Victoria.  It is likely that the pair got to know each other in tennis activities or through the Anglican Church.

Ted and Helen married June 19, 1912 at St. Paul`s Anglican Church in Esquimalt, adjacent  to Victoria.  Her father Frederick Peters could not attend because he was tied up with his work in Prince Rupert.  He asked his cousin, Colonel James Peters, to fill in for him in “giving the bride away”.  Col. Peters had retired recently after an eventful 42-year career with the Canadian military, including many years in charge of West Coast defence.  When he arrived in Victoria in command of the first battery to defend Victoria and the Esquimalt Naval Base he was the first of the Peters clan to settle in B.C.  The wedding reception may have been something of a reunion for Col. Peters and another prominent guest, the Hon. Edgar Dewdney.  Twenty-five years earlier Dewdney was Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories and Minister of Indian Affairs during the Riel Northwest Rebellion, in which Col. Peters (then a captain) was in charge of an artillery battery and was honoured with a Mention in Dispatches.  For further information on Col. Peters, see

from bottom left: cutting the cake; the wedding party; Helen beside Ted`s uncle, Edgar Dewdney; Helen (fourth from right) as a bridesmaid for a friend`s wedding (McBride Collection)

Ted and Helen moved to Vernon in the Okanagan region of central B.C., where Ted worked as an accountant with the Bank of Montreal.   On Dec. 6, 1913, their first child, Evelyn Mary “Eve” Dewdney was born.

They were in Vernon at the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914.

from bottom left: Helen and Ted with children Eve, Peter and Dee Dee, 1925; four images of Helen, including her costumes for local productions of Gilbert and Sullivan`s Mikado (McBride Collection)

Her brother Fritz had left the Royal Navy in 1913 after eight years of service.  With war declared, he caught a ride on a steamer going to Britain to rejoin the navy.  Her other brothers Jack, Gerald and Noel had all taken militia training in Victoria and later in Prince Rupert with the Earl Grey Rifles.  Each of them went to enlist in the army but only Jack was accepted.  Tall and thin, Gerald`s chest measurement was below army standards so he failed the physical examination.  Noel was rejected because of his mental disability, which was actually not as bad as it seemed in his appearance.  Gerald went to Montreal to try to enlist, and this time he was accepted.  Noel wasn`t accepted for service until May 1917 when he joined the Canadian Forestry Corps in Britain.  At 33, Ted Dewdney was past ideal age for enlistment, and he was supporting a wife and child, so he did enlist.  If the war had come while he was still a bachelor, he would have rushed to enlist, as he had been extremely active in the Rocky Mountain Rangers militia when he was working as a bank clerk in Rossland in the early 1900s.

In 1915 Ted the Bank of Montreal  transferred Ted to its branch in Greenwood, a small mining community near the U.S. border and on the west edge of the West Kootenay region.  This was his first appointment as branch manager.  A year later he was transferred to manage the New Denver branch in the famous Silvery Slocan district.  Housing for the manager and his family was provided in quarters above the bank, which today serves as the community`s museum.

The period from late May 1916 to late July 1916 was a time of anxiety and sorrow for the Dewdney family.  First they heard that Helen`s brother Jack was not a prisoner of war as previously reported, and was now assumed to have died in April 1915 in the Second Battle of Ypres.  A couple of weeks later they heard that Gerald was missing, and by early July it was confirmed that he had died in the Battle of Mount Sorrel.  Helen`s mother Bertha, who had been residing in England since the late spring of 1915 so as to be close to her boys, was devastated by the deaths of two sons, particularly Gerald, with whom she was particularly close.  She felt she could not return to the house in Prince Rupert with so many memories of Gerald, so she went to live with Helen`s family in New Denver.  This arrangement would continue for 30 years until Bertha`s death at age 84 in 1946.

Their first and only son, Frederic Hamilton Bruce Dewdney, was born May 2, 1917 in New Denver.  He was named after his uncle Fritz, and Fritz was his godfather.  At an early age the boy picked up the nickname “Peter”, and he was known by that name the rest of his life.  As an adult he had his name officially changed to “Frederic Hamilton Peter Dewdney”.  He went by the name “F.H. Peter Dewdney” when he was the Progressive Conservative candidate in three federal elections in the Diefenbaker era.  Each time he was defeated by the popular NDP incumbent MP, Bert Herridge.

The Dewdney family moved to Rossland in 1920 when Ted was transferred to manage the Rossland branch.  A second daughter, Rose Pamela Dewdney, was born in Rossland June 29, 1924.  She acquired the nickname “Dee Dee” and was known by that name as a teenager and throughout her adult life.

The family moved to Trail in 1927 in line with Ted`s appointment there, and then to Nelson in 1929, where Ted retired from the bank in 1940 after 42 years of service.

In each community Helen was active in organizing musical and theatrical productions using local talent.  She would direct, act and play piano; Ted would be stage manager and treasurer for the productions; and they would enlist the help of people throughout the community to participate on stage or behind the scenes.

Throughout her life Helen was an ardent bridge player.  She and her mother rated each community in the West Kootenay region by the quality of its bridge players.

from top left: with Leigh McBride at Banff Springs Hotel; with Herbert Forbes-Roberts, father of Peter`s wife Maxine; with Peter; and in California (McBride Collection)

When Ted retired, the family had to leave the Bank House in Nelson, so he purchased a house at 820 Stanley Street in Nelson.  Eve had left home in 1933 when she married Sandon, B.C.-born mining engineer Jack Fingland and moved with him to Kimberley.  In 1935 Peter began studies at the University of Alberta, where he earned a bachelor’s degree and then a law degree in 1942.

from top left: Dee Dee, Ted and Helen; Ted and Helen; Helen with baby; Helen on visit to Mexico in 1950s; Helen and Eve in the Stanley Street home in Nelson. (McBride Collection)

After graduation he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy and trained at HMS Royal Roads on Vancouver Island.  In the war Lieut. Peter Dewdney served as an officer and commander of Fairmile motor launches in anti-U-Boat operations off Canada`s east coast.

Helen with Dee Dee, granddaughter Eve and a visitor at the McBride cabin and beach at Queen`s Bay, near Balfour (McBride Collection)

Dee Dee earned a bachelor of arts degree at UBC and then a professional librarian certificate at the University of Toronto.   In 1944 Peter married Maxine Forbes-Roberts of St. John`s, Newfoundland, and in 1948 Dee Dee married Nelson lawyer Leigh McBride, who had served as a major in the Seaforth Highlander regiment of the Canadian Army in the Allied invasions of Sicily and Italy.

After Ted Dewdney`s death in 1952, Helen came to live with her daughter Dee Dee McBride`s family.  Helen moved with the McBrides to nearby Trail in 1969 when Leigh began working in the law department of Cominco Ltd.

Helen with Leigh and Sam at University of Oregon graduation, 1973; Helen; Eve, Maxine, Helen and Dee Dee; Helen and Leigh with Sam and Eve; Helen in Las Vegas in early 1970s (McBride Collection)

Helen had several bouts with cancer in her last decade, and died in Trail November 27, 1976.

Family of Frederic Thornton Peters — Part Two: his mother, Roberta “Bertha” Hamilton Susan Gray, Daughter of Confederation


PROMINENT ANCESTORS, clockwise, from top left, Bertha`s grandfather Gen. Sir John Lysaght Pennefather, hero of the Battle of Inkerman in the Crimean War; an 1830 portait of Bertha`s grandmother Margaret Carr, who married Pennefather after the death in Jamaica of her husband Lieut. William Bartley; a 1740 portrait of Adelard Squier Stukeley, father of Mary Stukeley, whose daughter Mary Burns was Bertha`s paternal great-grandmother; Bertha`s father Col. John Hamilton Gray in his senior years; Bertha`s mother Susan Bartley Pennefather when she married John Hamilton Gray at age 16 in 1842; and a younger view of Father of Confederation John Hamilton Gray. (McBride Collection)

by Sam McBride

Frederic Thornton “Fritz” Peters’ mother, Bertha, was the youngest daughter of Col. John Hamilton Gray, a household name in Prince Edward Island because of his role as host and chairman of the historic Charlottetown Conference in 1864.

Bertha went by several names in her life. She was registered as Roberta Hamilton Susan Gray, but known as Bertha in the community, Bertie or ‘B’ to her sisters, Zarig to her children, and Dally to her grandchildren. She enjoyed introducing herself as a Daughter of Confederation, inheriting a playful, eccentric nature and tendency to strident opinions from her father, which she in turn passed on to her son, Fritz. Her reverence for the British Empire, her old-fashioned ideas and wariness towards the United States are understandable in light of the fact she was only two generations away from the Revolutionary War. In contrast, her husband Fred, who was 10 years older, was three generations away. Her generations were long in years because her father was 51 years old when she was born, and his father Col. Robert Gray was 64 when his youngest son John Hamilton Gray was born.

The wedding of Bertha Gray and Fred Peters on October 19, 1886 was a highlight of the closely-knit P.E.I. social scene, bringing together families whose paths crossed many times in the past. Even before Bertha was born, Fred’s sister Carrie Peters was Margaret Gray’s best friend.

BERTHA`S SISTERS AND BROTHER, clockwise from bottom left: sister Harriet Worrall Gray (later married Henry Stokes) in 1864; another of Harriet in Aldershot, England, where she was caregiver for her aged Pennefather grandparents; front, sister Margaret Gray (Lord), standing Florence Gray (Poole) with cousin Edward Jarvis at left, 1868; sister Mary “Mim” Gray (Abbott); stepbrother Arthur Cavendish Hamilton Gray, when serving as a lieutenant with the New Brunswick regiment in the 1890s; and sister Florence with grandmother Lady Pennefather. (McBride Collection)

Like her father and grandfather, Bertha was a voracious reader with firm opinions, such as the superiority of English private schools. As a result, she insisted her children attend private schools in England even when the family could not afford it.

clockwise, from bottom left: Bertha with family dog; with daughter Helen, son Noel and son Jack; three more views of Bertha; Bertha with son and soulmate Gerald; and Bertha and Fred as a young couple. (McBride Collection)

Bertha had six children, four of whom died before her.  She had no qualms about her favourite child, which was Gerald, born in 1894.  Gerald`s fraternal twin brother, Noel, who had a slight but noticeable mental disability, was Bertha`s least favourite child.  The first tragedy in the family was the death of her six-year-old daughter Violet Avis Peters in 1905 as a result of catching fire from being too close to a fireplace in the family home in Oak Bay near Victoria, B.C.  In May 1916 Bertha learned that reports that son Private John Francklyn “Jack” Peters of the 7th B.C. Duke of Connaught battalion was a prisoner of war were inaccurate, and he was presumed to have died at the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915.  Just a couple of weeks later she was devastated to learn that son Lieutenant Gerald Hamilton Peters, also serving with the 7th battalion, had died in a hopeless charge by Canadian troops to recapture Mount Sorrel near Ypres which had been captured the day before by the Germans.  In November 1942 she was notified that her son Capt. Frederic Thornton “Fritz” Peters had died in a plane crash near Plymouth on his way back to England after leading an extremely hazardous attack on Oran harbour in the Allied invasion of North Africa.  She was astounded when a U.S. delegation of senior officers and brass band came to Nelson to officially present the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross to her as Fritz`s next-of-kin, but the Victoria Cross — the highest honour for valour in the British Commonwealth and Empire — came to her in the mail.  The British government downplayed her son`s Victoria Cross because the action in Oran harbour was a sore point in relations with French forces when they rejoined the Allies in the fight against the Nazis following the Allied conquest of French colonies in North Africa.

Nelson, B.C. newspaper report.

Bertha spent the last 30 years of her life residing with her daughter Helen Dewdney`s family in the West Kootenay region of southeastern B.C., first in New Denver, then Rossland and Trail, and finally in Nelson, where she died in July 1946 at age 84, crippled for the last decade of her life as a result of falling down staircase, but still sharp as ever mentally. She impressed her grandchildren by regularly winning cash prizes for crossword puzzle contests sponsored by newspapers.  She could look back on an eventful life, from meeting the Canadian Fathers of Confederation at her P.E.I. home as a toddler, through six years as a Maritime premier’s wife, a decade amongst the leaders of Victoria society, five years in frontier Prince Rupert, and then three decades in small West Kootenay communities, including two world wars that took the lives of three of her sons.

BELOW, from top left: Bertha, Ted and Helen in a 1920s staged scene of an automobile (in fact, none of the three ever owned or drove a car); Bertha at the time of the U.S. DSC presentation in 1944; and (from left to right) Helen, Bertha, Dee Dee and Eve.

Family of Frederic Thornton Peters — Part One: his father, the Hon. Frederick Peters, Q.C.


by Sam McBride

Frederick Peters was born Charlottetown on April 8, 1851, the son of Judge James H. Peters of the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island, and Mary Cunard, eldest daughter of Sir Samuel Cunard. He received his early education in Charlottetown schools and at Prince of Wales College before gaining a Bachelor of Arts degree from King’s College in Nova Scotia.

Following his graduation, Peters studied law in England and later returned to Charlottetown where he set up his first law practice. He was called to the bar at the Inner Temple, London in 1876, and to the bar of Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia the same year.  In England he articled under Lord Alverstone, who later said Peters was the most brilliant student he ever had.  He established a law practice in Charlottetown with his brother Arthur Peters, who followed Fred`s schooling and legal career, almost step for step.

Famous ancestors, from top left: Mary Cunard, Sir Samuel Cunard, Loyalist James Peters, Tudor secretary of state William Petre, Judge James Horsfield Peters, the Rev. Hugh Peters, (McBride Collection)

Always a supporter of the Liberal Party, Peters was first elected to the House of Assembly in 1890. One year later, after a series of by-elections, the government of Neil McLeod found itself in a minority position and Peters was asked to take over the Premiership and form a government.  He became PEI`s sixth premier since Confederation, serving also as attorney general.  He was the first Liberal to lead the province.
Perhaps the most significant act during his term as Premier of Prince Edward Island was a bill changing the form of the Island Legislature. Previous to his administration, the Legislature consisted of two houses, a Legislative Council and a House of Assembly, much the same as the Senate and the House of Commons in the federal government of today. This system became unnecessary in Prince Edward Island and abolition of the Legislative Council was seriously looked at as a solution. However, such a bill did not have a chance of passing the Upper House so Premier Peters offered a compromise by abolishing both Houses and creating a Legislative Assembly in which members were referred to as Councillors and Assemblymen.

He served as premier and attorney general until resigning in October 1897 to move to British Columbia.  He retained his seat in the Prince Edward Island legislature until 1899 despite no longer residing in the province.  His brother Arthur became premier and attorney general in 1901, serving until his death in office in 1907.

Charlottetown newspaper report of his 1886 marriage to Bertha Gray

Fred Peters was senior counsel for Great Britain against the United States of America in the Behring Sea Sealing Dispute.  Americans laid claim to all seal harvesting in the Bering Sea based on their purchase of Alaska from the Russians, but this was disputed by Britain, Canada and other countries. Peters` co-counsel was federal Conservative Marine and Fisheries Minister Charles Hibbert Tupper of Halifax. Tupper was a son of the Nova Scotia Premier and Father of Confederation Sir Charles Tupper who served briefly as Prime Minister of Canada in 1896. The August 1893 decision of an international arbitration panel solidly in favour of Britain’s position was a feather in the cap for Peters and Tupper, who was knighted.  Peters and Tupper also subsequently served as counsel in the Bering Sea Claims Commission.

In 1896 Frederick Peters attended the founding meeting of the Canadian Bar Association in Montreal and was elected as a vice president of the new organization.

While in Victoria, British Columbia for hearings in the Bering Sea sealing case, Peters and Tupper were impressed with the city`s scenery, mild weather and positive economic prospects, and vowed to move there some time in the future with their families.  Their plan to move across the continent and establish a law practice in Victoria was speeded up by excitement associated with the Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon in the spring of 1897.  The paid wanted to get in on the prosperity of the gold rush in some way. They saw that the city of Victoria stood to gain as a supply point for people and goods going to and from the Klondike. Peters resigned as premier as of October 27, 1897.  He and Hibbert Tupper crossed Canada by train and arrived in Victoria on November 11, 1897.  Their law firm in the west coast capital was established as Tupper, Peters & Potts.

Clockwise, from top left: Fred and Bertha as a young couple, two photographs of Fred, and Fred shown in about 1889 with his daughter Helen and a cat. (McBride Collection)

Impressive homes were built on adjoining lots in 1898 for the Tupper and Peters families in the recently-developed community of Oak Bay, east of Victoria.

Peters invested heavily in mining ventures which faded away as the stampeders left the Yukon for new gold finds in Alaska. This was the start of money problems that would dog him and his family for the rest of his life. By 1902, Peters and Tupper had parted ways in their law firm.

The outcome of the Alaska Boundary Dispute in October 1903 was a huge disappointment for Canadians, especially for Peters, whose reputation suffered because of his involvement with the case as a researcher and his longtime association with Britain’s arbitrator Lord Alverstone, who stunned Canadians by casting the deciding vote for the Americans, who were still angry about losing the seal hunt arbitration a decade earlier.  U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt had threatened to send in the marines if the boundary dispute did not go his way, and Britain was not interested in battling the Americans so far away at a time when their focus was on the rising power of Germany close to home.

Peters found his law work bringing in much less income than he expected and needed, particularly as his wife Bertha wanted their children to attend private school in England.  In 1911 Peters took a job as Solicitor (lawyer) for the new city of Prince Rupert, which looked like it was about to boom as a result of the Grand Trunk Railway establishing a major port that would rival Vancouver in the extent of its business.   However, the boom never happened, and Peters found himself struggling each year to keep Prince Rupert from bankruptcy.  He took on the higher position of City Clerk in 1916.

Clockwise, from centre bottom, Fred in about 1917 visiting his wife and daughter in New Denver; the Peters home in Oak Bay named Garrison House, c. 1900; Prince Rupert newspaper announces his death; his faded tombstone at Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria in 2008; the tombstone when he was buried in 1919. (McBride Collection)

During the Great War Peters was regularly called upon to deliver speeches supporting the war effort to Prince Rupert community groups.  While he was proud of the honours won during the war by his eldest son Frederic Thornton “Fritz” Peters serving with the Royal Navy, the war hit his family hard, as son Private John Francklyn “Jack” Peters died in the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915 and son Lieutenant Gerald Hamilton Peters died a year later in the Battle of Mount Sorrel.  His wife Bertha was in England when she learned of the death of her sons.  Instead of returning to Prince Rupert, where she would be haunted by the memories of her dead sons, she chose to live with her daughter Helen Dewdney in New Denver, B.C.  Fred Peters visited his wife at least once in New Denver, and the couple got together for a short holiday in the spring of 1919, but Fred was already in ill health by then.  He died July 29, 1919 alone in Prince Rupert.  According to his wishes, his funeral was in Victoria and he was buried at historic Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria.

Souvenirs from the Victoria Cross centennial of 1956

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A schedule of special events in June 1956 marked one hundred years since the Victoria Cross was established by Queen Victoria in 1856 to honour the greatest acts of valour in the face of an enemy.

Living recipients throughout the Empire and Commonwealth were invited to attend the ceremonies.  In addition, next-of-kin of deceased VC recipients were invited.

Helen Dewdney in 1968 with great-grandaughter Michele Fingland

It was in the latter capacity that my grandmother, Mary Helen Peters Dewdney (known as “Helen” by her friends and “Gran” by her family) travelled from her home in Nelson, British Columbia to England to represent her late brother, Capt. Frederic Thornton “Fritz” Peters, VC, DSO,. DSC and bar, DSC (U.S.), RN at the centennial celebrations.  It was the first time she visited Britain since studying piano as a girl at the Royal Conservatory of Music in London.

As an Anglophile and a keen student of history, she enjoyed visiting historic venues such as Windsor Castle during the centennial program, but she disliked the marches and music that reminded her of losing not just Fritz in the Second World War, but also brothers Gerald and Jack in the First World War.  She also lost several close cousins and friends in the world wars­.

Images of some of the memorabilia Helen brought home from England are shown here.

Below are the cover and inside spread of a cabaret and tea for the VC centennial participants, including British entertainers such as Benny Hill.

Proper spelling is “Frederic Thornton Peters”, NOT “Frederick”

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by Sam McBride

In the 70 years since his death in Plymouth Sound, the spelling of the name of my greatuncle “Frederic Thornton Peters” has morphed into “Frederick Thornton Peters” in common parlance.

When I do Google searches using the “Frederic” spelling,  it is quite annoying to see the advisory “Don`t you mean Frederick Thornton Peters?” – as if I have made a mistake!  I have written to Canada`s department of Veterans Affairs and they were interested in my information, but it is too much trouble for them to change their documents, publications etc. with the correct spelling.  I may have better luck, over time, in getting Wikipedia to change their listing of his name to Frederic.  It is very difficult to counteract the bureaucratic momentum of anonymous officials of yesteryear who incorrectly assumed the correct spelling of his first name has a “k”.

On the surface it is a trivial matter.  Most would say “What difference does it make?”.  I would normally take that position too, especially as he was always referred to in the family by the nickname “Fritz” rather than his official name anyway.

Is there proof that his name was Frederic rather than Frederick?  Quite a lot, actually.  First of all, his baptismal certificate shows he was named “Frederic Thornton Peters” at his baptism at six weeks of age on October 27, 1889.  This link goes to the Prince Edward Island online register

Baby photo of Capt. Frederic Thornton "Fritz" Peters (1889-1942). McBride Collection.

Secondly, the “k” that was in his first name in his Royal Navy service file is intentionally stroked out.  The words “passed out” are beside the change, so it looks like the change may have been made when he became an officer.  Perhaps he was given an opportunity to review his record, and corrected the spelling of the name.

FTP navy service file showing the correction

Thirdly, Fritz makes clear how he wished his name to be spelled in letters home in 1917 when he was in command of the destroyer HMS Christopher.  Below are scans of the letters and transcription of the text referring to the spelling of Frederic.  The issue arose when his sister Helen Dewdney gave birth to her first, and only, son on May 2, 1917 and said she wanted Fritz to serve as Godfather and to name the boy with Fritz`s official first name of Frederic.  The boy was named Frederic Hamilton Bruce Dewdney, and he would serve as a lieutenant with the Royal Canadian Navy in the Second World War on Fairmile motor launches in anti-U-Boat patrols off the east coast of Canada.  After the war he worked as a lawyer with Cominco Ltd. in Trail, B.C., retiring in 1982.  He died in Trail Nov. 28, 2008 at age 91.  Ironically, he used the “Frederic” name even less than his uncle Fritz did.  From an early age, the boy was known by his nickname Peter.  As an adult, he had his name legally changed to Frederic Hamilton Peter Dewdney.

Transcription — June 2, 1917 letter from Fritz Peters to his mother Bertha:  Dear Mother, Many thanks for your letter of May 4th which I have just received. I am delighted to hear this news of Helen and of course I should be equally delighted to be his Godfather. Be careful to spell his name without the “k” — Frederic — saves ink — war economy. Anyhow it’s how I spell mine…

June 2, 1917 letter re Frederic spelling (he mistakenly lists the date as 1916, but it has to be 1917 because it refers to the boy`s birth in May 1917)

2. Transcription — August 3, 1917 letter from Lieut. Fritz Peters to his mother: My Dear Mother, Very glad to get your letter and to hear that the young chee-ild has been christened Frederic without a “k” — a most important point and one which will doubtless have heavy bearing on the distinguished future that lies before him.

August 3, 1917 letter from Fritz to his mother

Naming of Mount Peters near Nelson after Canadian war hero Fritz Peters, VC

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by Sam McBride

Many residents of Nelson, British Columbia see Mount Peters every day but have no idea of its name or the Canadian war hero it is named after.  Located between Mount Nelson and Taghum, the mountain of modest height is identified on backwoods and topographical maps but not on road maps or tourist literature.  The car pullout near the intersection of  Highway 3a, Granite Road and Government Street has a sign about Historic Baker Street, but no mention of Mount Peters across the river.

Fritz Peters, circa 1935 (McBride Collection)

It is named after Captain Frederic Thornton “Fritz“ Peters, VC, DSO, DSC and bar, U.S. DSC, RN.  The initials after his name reflect his status among the most decorated Canadians ever, including the highest honor of all, the Victoria Cross, which he received for leading an extremely hazardous attack on the harbor of Oran, Algeria in the Allied invasion of French North Africa on November 8, 1942.  For the same action, he won the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), the highest honor bestowed on a non-American by the United States.  He miraculously survived the Oran action in the face of point blank fire from Vichy French shore batteries and warships in the harbor, but died five days later in a plane crash near Plymouth, England on his way back to England to report on the mission and receive medical treatment for injuries to an eye and shoulder he suffered at Oran.

Born in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in 1889, Peters moved with his family to Victoria, B.C.  in 1897 and lived there until joining the Royal Navy in 1905 – five years before the formation of the Royal Canadian Navy.  He served with the Royal Navy, primarily on destroyers and gunboats, until resigning as a lieutenant in 1913; then rejoined when war came in August 1914, serving on destroyers, initially as a first lieutenant and later in command, until retiring in 1920; and rejoining again at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, when he alternated between anti-sub naval operations and work with Britain`s Secret Intelligence Service, including command of a spy school for expatriates from Occupied Europe who returned to their home countries to combat the Nazis with sabotage.  He is believed to be the only Canadian to receive multiple awards for valor in both world wars, and the only person in the history of the Victoria Cross to receive it for action against France.

In the First World War Peters was mentioned in dispatches and received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) medal for courageous action as a lieutenant on the destroyer HMS Meteor that saved lives after a shell from a German cruiser hit the engine room in the Battle of Dogger Bank in January 1915.  He received the British Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) in 1918 for “showing exceptional initiative, ability and zeal in submarine hunting operations and complete disregard of danger, exceptional coolness and ingenuity in his attacks on enemy submarines.” He won a bar to his DSC in 1940 for leading a flotilla of anti-sub trawlers that sank two enemy submarines.

The only time Fritz Peters was in Nelson was passing through while working as an engineer with the CPR in 1913-14, but his mother Bertha Peters lived in Nelson from 1929 until her death in 1946, and his sister Helen Dewdney was in Nelson from 1929 until 1969.  Bertha lived with her daughter Helen`s family in New Denver after the death of her husband Fred Peters in 1919, subsequently moving with them to Rossland, Trail and then Nelson as Ted Dewdney was transferred by his employer, the Bank of Montreal.

Nelson newspaper report of U.S. DSC presentation to Mrs. Peters in Feb. 1944.

On February 2, 1944 a delegation of American officers representing President Roosevelt and General Eisenhower came to Nelson with soldier musicians in a brass band to formally present the U.S. DSC medal to Mrs. Peters as next-of-kin of her late son.  With Nelson Mayor Stibbs and representatives of civic organizations in attendance, the ceremony was held in the Dewdney house at Stanley and Mill streets.  In stark contrast to the extravagance of the American presentation, the Victoria Cross – which Bertha Peters, as a granddaughter of  a United Empire Loyalist and ardent Anglophile, valued far more than the American medal – arrived in the regular mail with no ceremony or even a cover letter.  At the time, the casual delivery of the VC was thought to be an administrative mistake during busy wartime conditions, but British military files that became public in the 1970s show it was intentional, as France had resumed as an ally against the Nazis and the British wanted to avoid antagonizing the French with reminders of their vigorous action against the Allies in Oran harbor.  British Admiral Andrew Cunningham, who directed naval operations under Allied Commander Gen. Eisenhower, issued an order in December 1942 that “silence is the best policy“ regarding the Oran VC.   The awarding of a VC was normally cause for celebration, so the news media of the time were surprised that only a terse statement of commendation for the medal was released.  Publicity of the medal in Canada was mainly generated by Peters` friends and relations in letters and interviews.

The idea of naming the mountain first arose at a meeting of the Nelson Board of Trade in December 1945, a month after it was announced that the late Lieutenant Robert Hampton “Hammy” Gray, VC, DSC, RCNVR had posthumously been awarded the Victoria Cross for sinking a Japanese destroyer.  According to Nelson Daily News reports, Frank Putnam, the provincial minister of agriculture, mentioned to a board member that a new topographical map of the Nelson area was coming out soon, so it was an opportune time to propose the naming of geographical features in the Nelson area in honor of local war heroes.  A committee consisting of H.M. Whimster and H.W. McMillan was set up to make inquiries and present recommendations to the board.  Their discussions with the government naming authorities found there would be difficulty in changing the name of mountains already named after someone else, and the standard at the time was to have just one name for a mountain, so “Hampton Gray Mountain“ would be unacceptable.

view of Mount Peters from Stanley and Mill Streets in Nelson. At left is the Dewdney home, site of the U.S. DSC medal presentation, as it looks today. (Sam McBride photo)

Following the committee`s recommendation, the board proposed that a peak in the south end of Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park that can be seen on a clear day from Rosemont be named Grays Peak (honoring Hammy`s brother RCAF Flight Sergeant J.B. `Jack` Gray, who was the first Nelson boy to die in World War Two, as well as Hammy, who was the last), and the mountain west of Grohman Creek based on the Kootenay River be called Mount Peters.  The names were approved by the provincial government in March 1946, but there has been little follow-up since then to advise residents and visitors of the mountain names, especially Mount Peters.

Whimster`s daughter Lois Arnesen remembers the naming of Grays Peak but not Mount Peters, as she knew the Grays but had never known Peters.  She is not surprised her father, who was a printer by trade, would recommend that mountains be named in honor of the heroes, as he was a keen mountaineer and member of the Alpine Club.

For Nelson`s Victoria Cross winner from World War One, Lieutenant Rowland Bourke, VC, DSO, RNVR, there is a Bourke Rock on the B.C. coast near Bella Bella named in August 1944, and Bourke Mountain (later changed to Mount Bourke) north of Tofino, named in July 1946.

There are interesting connections between the three Victoria Cross winners with links to Nelson.  Some war correspondents called the Oran harbor action “another Zeebrugge“, referring to the famous British attack in 1918 on the heavily-defended port of Zeebrugge-Ostend, Belgium to trap German submarines by blocking the entrance with scuttled warships.  Bourke`s was one of eight VC`s awarded for the Zeebrugge attack, which was similar to the Oran operation in audacity but with a very different objective, as the Oran attack attempted to keep the harbor in good condition for delivery of supplies needed for the Allied invasion.  Peters was able to break through the boom protecting the harbour and reach the target landing site, but the defenders sank the two attacking ships with intensive fire and sabotaged the harbor facilities. Born in 1885, Bourke was close in age to Peters and held a similar rank in the Royal Navy, with Bourke rising later to Lieutenant-Commander and Peters to that same rank and then Acting Captain.  While there is no record of Bourke, Peters or Gray encountering each other, Mrs. Peters knew Hammy Gray well because he was best friend and fishing buddy of her grandson Peter Dewdney and a regular visitor to the Dewdney house before the pair went to war as officers with the Royal Canadian Navy.  Bertha Peters` maiden name was Gray, but the two families were not related.

view of Mount Peters from the parking lot across the Kootenay River. (Sam McBride photo)

Further information and photographs and other memorabilia of Peters and Gray can be seen in the Virtual Memorial of the Veterans Affair Canada web site.  Bourke isn`t in the Virtual Memorial because he had the good fortune of surviving war service, passing away in retirement in Victoria in 1958 at age 73.  Information on mountains and landmarks named after Kootenay war heroes is on the 54th battalion web site.

Nelson Daily News article Nov. 1945

Hilarious BBC broadcast of 1937 fleet review by inebriated Woodrooffe

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Lieutenant-commander (ret.) Thomas Woodrooffe has a place in the story of Captain Frederic Thornton “Fritz” Peters because his weekly war report on the BBC on December 3, 1942 was the first time the public heard details of the Oran harbour attack of November 8, 1942 for which Captain Peters received the Victoria Cross and the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross.

At the time the attack was happening in Oran harbour in the French colony of Algeria, Woodrooffe was on a ship in the Gulf of Arzew about 20 miles to the east, where he could see and hear the intense shelling and explosions in Oran Bay.  Two days later, after the City of Oran surrendered to advancing American troops, Woodrooffe visited the devastated harbour and interviewed witnesses and participants in the battle from both sides.  In line with security standards of the time, he did not mention Peters` name in the broadcast, but other journalists later connected the dots and concluded that the courageous leader of the U.S.-British attack on the harbour as part of the Allied invasion of North Africa was indeed Captain Peters.   A couple of weeks later Admiral Andrew Cunningham, naval head for Operation Torch and second-in-command overall to General Dwight Eisenhower, announced that “silence is the best policy“ regarding the Oran harbour attack because the harbour conflict was a sore point in relations with French forces who had rejoined the war against the Nazis after the Allies conquered Algeria and Morocco.  The Woodrooffe broadcast inadvertently foiled any plans Cunningham  may have had to extensively hush up the harbour attack with no announcements of honours won in the conflict.

Woodrooffe is famous in history for two things: first, while commentating on the 1938 FA cup football/soccer game that was scoreless well into an overtime period, he said he would “eat my hat” if there was a goal.  After a goal was scored, he arranged to have a cake baked in the shape of a hat, and ate it to fulfill his on-air pledge.

He is also famous for one of the classics in the history of inebriated broadcasting.   In 1937 the BBC arranged for him to provide commentary for the review of the fleet planned for May 20, 1937 in celebration of the Coronation of King George the Sixth.  The power of the British navy was to be demonstrated and celebrated in the evening at Spithead between the south coast of England and the Isle of Wight.   For centuries Britain had depended on its strong navy to keep the British Isles and the British Empire safe from foreign attack.  As a retired navy man, Woodrooffe was an obvious choice to do the commentary.   During the afternoon before the evening review several of Woodrooff`s navy buddies thought it would be a good joke to ply him with drinks to get him as drunk as possible for his broadcast.  His report came out live on BBC radio.

salvo fired by battleships in 1937 Coronation fleet review

The link below goes to the audio from the fleet review.  The first part of the report is quite slow-moving, as Woodrooffe slurringly chats about the sparkling lights of the massive illuminated fleet and the greatness of the Royal Navy.  In retrospect, one of the jokes from the night was Woodrooffe`s proud announcement that “the fleet is lit up”, when it could likewise be said that Woodrooffe was lit up with liquor.  A dramatic change in the tone of the commentary happens at about three minutes and twenty seconds into the broadcast when the battleship HMS Nelson Woodrooffe is broadcasting from turns in such a way that a surprised Woodroofe blacks out temporarily and can no longer see the lights from the fleet.  “The fleet has disappeared!  The fleet has disappeared”` Woodrooffe shouts in panic.  He rambles on about the magical disappearance of Britain`s greatest asset, the hundreds of warships of His Majesty`s navy.   He exclaims “There is nothing between us and the heavens!  Nothing at all!” just before a BBC technician mercifully cut off his microphone.  Somehow he kept his job after the drunken report.  Five years later he soberly reported the heroics of an unnamed naval commander in Oran Bay.

Woodrooffe came back for the Queen's Coronation Naval Review in 1953, as indicated in this program of the event. Fritz Peters' niece Dee Dee McBride watched the review when she went to England for coronation-related events in 1953, and brought this program home as a souvenir.

Fritz Peters’ first medal was for rescue work following Messina disaster

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Frederic Thornton “Fritz” Peters was a 19-year-old midshipman on the battleship HMS Duncan wintering at Malta when Italy was devastated by one of the worst natural disasters of the twentieth century.  In the early morning of December 28, 1908 a 7.2 earthquake and tsunami hit Messina, killing about 70,000 residents of the city and many thousands more on the Italian mainland.

Men on Duncan rushed to Messina to assist with the emergency, along with crews from other ships of the Royal Navy, as well as ships of the Italian navy and the navies of France, Russia and the United States.

damage from 1908 earthquake in Sicily (McBride Collection)

For leading shore rescue parties, Fritz Peters was awarded the silver Messina Earthquake Medal, personally presented by Italy’s King Victor Emmanuel.  The king gave out medals in gold, silver and bronze.  While in Sicily Peters acquired photographs of the aftermath of the earthquake (including the two presented here) and mailed them to his parents and siblings in Victoria, British Columbia.

Messina home destroyed (McBride Collection)

It was the first of a raft of medals Peters would earn in three stints of service in the Royal Navy over a period of 38 years.  His next medal was the Distinguished Service Order — an award for gallantry second only to the Victoria Cross — in March 1915.  He received the DSO from King George the Fifth for saving lives of crew members on the destroyer HMS Meteor at the Battle of Dogger Bank in the North Sea on January 24, 1915.

top: front and back of the Messina Earthquake Medal; bottom, standard formal portrait of Frederic Thornton Peters circa 1912, and detail that shows he is wearing the Messina medal

Ancestry of Frederic Thornton Peters, VC

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One of Canada`s greatest war heroes, Frederic Thornton “Fritz” Peters, was strongly influenced by his United Empire Loyalist roots.  Three of his four grandparents (Judge James Horsfield Peters, Mary Cunard and Col. John Hamilton Gray) were direct descendants of Loyalists who sided with King George against the colonial rebels in the American Revolutionary War.  The Loyalist ancestors were James Peters and his wife Margaret Lester of Hempstead, Long Island, New York; Col. Robert Gray of Norfolk, Virginia; and Abraham Cunard of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Loyalist James Peters in 1816 (McBride collection)

Frederic Thornton Peters ancestry chart

The fourth grandparent, Susan Bartley Pennefather (wife of John Hamilton Gray) was the daughter of Lieut. William Bartley and Margaret Carr, both of Anglo-Irish stock.  Susan was just a baby when Bartley died while serving in Jamaica.  Bartley`s commanding officer, Major Sir John Lysaght Pennefather, married Margaret and she became Lady Pennefather.

According to A Peters Lineage, this branch of the Peters originated in France and migrated through Flanders to Devon and Cornwall.  A distant ancestor, the Rev. Hugh Peters, was a Puritan who arrived in America in 1636 and was a founding governor of Harvard College.  He later returned to England and was a right-hand man of Oliver Cromwell in the English Civil War.  The first Peters ancestor to permanently settle in North America was Dr. Charles Peters from London, who arrived in New York in 1703 and married Mary Hewlett, who was a third-generation New Yorker, as her Dutch ancestry went back to when the city was known as New Amsterdam.

The most famous ancestor was Abraham Cunard`s son Sir Samuel Cunard, who pioneered steam-driven passenger service across the North Atlantic and was a major factor in the economic development of Canada`s Maritime provinces.  Fritz Peters` father Frederick Peters (who served as Premier and Attorney General of Prince Edward Island from 1891-1897) was a grandson of Sir Samuel Cunard.  The Cunard ancestors –known at the time as Kunders — were among the first Germans to settle in North America, arriving in modern-day Pennsylvania in the 1680s.  A century later, Abraham and his brother Robert stayed loyal to King George in the American Revolution, but the rest of the Cunard family sided with the rebels.

Ancestry of the Cunards in Germany goes back to Duke John of Cleves (brother of Ann of Cleves, fourth wife of England`s King Henry the Eighth) in the 1500s.

ancestors of Fritz`s father, the Hon. Frederick Peters

Cunard ancestors going back from Loyalist Abraham Cunard of Pennsylvania

Biography of Fritz Peters, VC to be published in 2012


Fritz Peters circa 1912 (McBride Collection)

Capt. Peters 1942 (McBride Collection)

Captain Frederic Thornton “Fritz“ Peters, VC, DSO, DSC and bar, DSC (U.S.), RN would rate among the greatest Canadian war heroes on the basis of his gallant exploits in either the First World War or the Second World War. The combination of these accomplishments – including three major honours for valour in each of the wars – give him a special place in Canada`s pantheon of military heroes.

Previous attempts to tell Peters` story have been stymied by the lack of a paper trail due to his   involvement in top secret and controversial projects, his detestation of publicity and self-promotion, and never settling for long in one place. The heart of The Bravest Canadian is a recently-discovered treasure trove of letters from and about Fritz Peters and his family that give insight into his life experience, what he was thinking, and what made him tick.

His Maritime establishment family revered war heroes in its ancestry, ranging from Loyalist officers in the Revolutionary War, through the wars and British Empire skirmishes of the 19th century.  Fritz was expected to live up to this tradition, which he did in spades. He was a loveable eccentric, in the best traditions of the Royal Navy in which he served.  He loved the Empire and the exhilaration of battle the way other men loved their wife and children.

His is a world-wide story, encompassing boyhood on both coasts of Canada, naval servicer at the romantic China Station, tense battles with German U-boats in both wars, a mysterious career in the spy world, and culminating as leader of a modern-day Charge of the Light Brigade inside an Algerian port against Vichy French guns lined up against him in every direction.