“The Bravest Canadian — Fritz Peters VC“ Wins B.C. Genealogical Society 2012 family history book award

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On June 12, 2013 the British Columbia Genealogical Society announced that “The Bravest Canadian — Fritz Peters VC: The Making of a Hero of Two World Wars“ won the society`s 2012 Family History Book Award.

The award was presented to author Sam McBride at the B.C. Genealogical Society awards night in Burnaby, B.C.  The BCGS web site at www.bcgs.ca has more details on the annual book award.

This is the book`s first West Coast award. In February 2013 the letters-based biography of Capt. Frederic Thornton Peters, VC, DSO, DSC and bar, DSC (U.S.), RN was honoured with a Heritage Award from the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation.


bcgs book award 001

Certificate for BCGS family history book award

bcgs letter 001

information about the BC Genealogical Society family history book awards

New Book “The Bravest Canadian” Tells the Story of Capt. Frederic Thornton Peters, VC, DSO, DSC and bar, DSC (U.S.), RN

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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 the pantheon of Canadian military heroes.

Frederic Thornton Peters, soon after joining the Royal Navy at age 15 in 1905. (McBride Collection)

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 new book The Bravest Canadian coming out in spring 2012 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.   The author of The Bravest Canadian is Trail, B.C. writer Sam McBride, who discovered the collection of letters, and used them along with established sources as well as other new material to help unravel the mysteries of his granduncle Fritz’s amazing life.  The book also features an array of family photos made available for publication for the first time, as well as the Victor Comics feature on Fritz Peters’ valour at Oran harbour that earned him the Victoria Cross as well as the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross, which was the higher honour the U.S. could bestow on a non-American.

Acting Captain Frederic Thornton Peters, in 1942 on leave in Scotland, where he led the planning an training for Operation Reservist, the extremely hazardous mission to capture Oran harbour intact for the needs of the massive Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942. (McBride C9llection)

Peters’ 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.  As a young boy, Frederic Thornton Peters was expected to live up to this tradition, which he did in spades.   His love of military life was reflected in the Germanic nickname of “Fritz” by which he was known by relatives and friends.  He was a loveable eccentric, in the best traditions of the Royal Navy in which he served.

His is a world-wide story, encompassing boyhood on both coasts of Canada, naval service 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 the harbour of Oran, Algeria against Vichy French guns lined up against him in every direction.

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.

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