by Sam McBride

On Remembrance Day 2021 I was very pleased to participate in the dedication of a new CPR memorial in Calgary, Alberta in honour of six former CPR employees who won the Victoria Cross in either World War One or World War Two.

At the ceremony I represented my great-uncle Capt. Frederic Thornton Peters, VC, DSO, DSC and bar, US DSC, RN, who had been a third engineer with CP Ships off the coast of British Columbia before earning the VC for his valour in leading the naval attack on the port of Oran, Algeria in the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942.

The ceremony followed strict Covid protection protocols which limited the number of attendees, but the event was live-streamed for TV viewing, and later made available on the CP web site.

I was interested to see that one of the other heroes honoured in the CP memorial was Captain Ronald Neil Stuart, VC, DSO, RD, who, like Fritz, was an officer with the Royal Navy. It is likely that the two knew each other, particularly in association with Q Ships in World War One. Q ships were Allied ships with hidden weaponry. They would appear to be helpless transport ships that would be an easy target for German u-boats. As soon as the u-boats above the surface of the water were in range, the gunnery would come out and start firing on the vulnerable enemy subs. Stuart`s service on Q ships was recognized in his decorations, while Fritz was captain of a ship that did a dramatic rescue at sea of Royal Navy crewmen whose Q ship had sunk. Stuart served under Capt. Gordon Campbell on a Q ship where he won the Victoria Cross in 1916. A year later, Fritz Peters led the rescue of Campbell and crewmen whose Q ship was sunk by a U-boat.

Fritz Peters in 1942. Family photo.

BACKGROUND and CITATION: “Frederick Thornton Peters was born in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, on 17 September 1889, son of the Attorney General and the first Liberal Premier of that province. He was educated at St. Peter’s Private School, later went to school in Victoria, British Columbia, and from there to Naval School in England.

He graduated as a midshipman and three years later he received his commission as a sub-lieutenant.

Peters’ military career encompassed three stints of service. After cadet training in 1905, he went to sea as a midshipman with the Channel Fleet, and then service on gunboats and destroyers in the China Station of Weihai before retirement as a lieutenant in 1913.

One of the jobs Fritz had after his first retirement from the Royal Navy in 1913 was as third engineer with Canadian Pacific Railway ships in the interior of British Columbia, including service on the Kootenay Lake sternwheelers.

He left that position when he rejoined the Royal Navy in August 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War.

During the First World War he was decorated with the Distinguished Service Order, the first ever given to a Canadian, and the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry in action.

VC Action:

Frederick Thornton “Fritz” Peters was 53 years old, and a captain in the Royal Navy during the Second World War when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC:

Operation Reservist (part of Operation Torch, the Allied landings in French North Africa) was an attempt to capture Oran Harbour, Algeria and prevent it from being sabotaged by its French garrison. The two sloops HMS Walney and HMS Hartland were packed with British Commandos, soldiers of the 6th US Armored Infantry Division and a small detachment of US Marines.

On 8 November 1942 Captain Peters, commanding in Walney, led his force through the boom towards the jetty in the face of point-blank fire from shore batteries, the sloop La Surprise, and the destroyer Epervier. Blinded in one eye, he alone of 11 officers and men on the bridge survived. Besides him, 13 ratings survived Walney sinking. The destroyer reached the jetty disabled and ablaze and went down with her colours flying. Captain Peters and a handful of men managed to reach the shore, where they

were taken prisoner. Hartland came under fire from the French destroyer Typhon and blew up with the loss of half her crew. The survivors, like those of Walney, were taken prisoner as they reached shore.

Captain Peters was also awarded the U.S. Army Distinguished Service Cross for the same actions.

Citation: “Captain Peters was in the ‘suicide charge’ by two little cutters at Oran. Walney and Hartland were two ex-American coastguard cutters which were lost in a gallant attempt to force the boom defences in the harbour of Oran during the landings on the North African coast. Captain Peters led his force through the boom in the face of point-blank fire from shore batteries, destroyer and a cruiser – a feat which was described as one of the great episodes of naval history. The Walney reached the jetty disabled and ablaze, and went down with her colours flying. Blinded in one eye, Captain Peters was the only survivor of the seventeen men on the bridge of the Walney. He was taken prisoner but was later released when Oran was captured. On being liberated from the gaol, he was carried through the streets where the citizens hailed him with flowers. He won the D.S.O. and D.S.C. in the last war. He was born in 1889.” – The London Gazette, 18th May 1943

Four other VC recipients who previously worked for CPR

In addition to Capt. Peters and Capt. Stuart, the other four Victoria Cross recipients who formerly worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway and are honoured at the new memorial are Sergeant Major John Robert Osborn VC, Private Michael James O’Rourke VC, Sergeant William Merrifield, VC, MM, and Private James Peter Robertson VC.

New CP memorial in Calgary in honour of Victoria Cross winners who formerly worked for the CPR. Dedicated Nov. 11, 2021