100 Years Since the Battle of Dogger Bank where Fritz Peters Earned His First Award for Valour

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by Sam McBride Frederic Thornton “Fritz“ Peters received his first medal for valour in the Battle of Dogger Bank exactly 100 years ago on January 24, 1915.   It was the Distinguished Service Order, second in rank only to the Victoria Cross, which he would earn 27 years later for an attack on a heavily-fortified port in Algeria.   However, several men who witnessed his heroism at Dogger Bank felt he really deserved the Victoria Cross for that action rather just the DSO.

11 friz in 1918 chap 6

Fritz Peters as a newly-commissioned officer in 1912

German warships had been shelling the eastern coast of Britain, hoping to draw out British warships so they could be attacked by u-boats.  The conflict led to a chase in the North Sea at Dogger Bank above Denmark, about half way between Britain and Germany.  It was the war’s first significant battle between British and German warships in the North Sea. Lt. Fritz Peters, 25, was first officer of the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Meteor under Captain Meade.   The speedy Meteor was setting up to torpedo the slower, but much larger, German cruiser Bluecher when it was hit by one of the last rounds from the cruiser before it sank – an 8.2-inch shell that caused extensive damage to Meteor’s engine room.  With incredible calm and coolness, Lieut. Fritz Peters rushed to the engine room – a scary place of fire, scalding water and boiler explosions when damaged in battle – and made it safe.  In the face of  leaking oil in the engine room threatening to explode, he was credited with saving the lives of two ratings and perhaps many more on board if there was an explosion or bursting of the boilers.  Another report said he also pushed an unexploded shell overboard.

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DSO medal

For these actions, Fritz was the first Canadian in the Great War to receive the DSO medal, second in rank only to the Victoria Cross as a British honour for bravery in battle.  It was the highest honour bestowed in the aftermath of the Dogger Bank conflict.  He initially received a Mention in Dispatches for the heroism, and then on March 3, 1915 King George the Fifth presented him with the DSO medal. Writing from the Ypres front to his brother Gerald in Montreal on March 11, 1915, Private Jack Peters said:  “I suppose you know about Fritz winning the D.S.O. and being mentioned in dispatches.  Won’t Father and Mother be tickled to death!  I dare say he is quite satisfied, but I should think that it certainly should help his promotion a lot.“  Gerald wrote to his mother Bertha in B.C.: “How proud you must be about Fritz.  I got your letter and Aunt Florence’s on the same day telling me of it.“ The one person Bertha did not hear from regarding the DSO was Fritz himself.  He detested boastfulness and self-promotion, and never raised the topic of the DSO unless asked.

In early 1918, Peters received the Distinguished Service Cross for heroic anti-U-boat action, and then 22 years later, in 1940 in the Second World War, he earned a bar to his DSC for sinking two U-boats.   For anyone else, this would have been an extraordinary record, but there was more to come for Fritz Peters.    At age 53 he earned the Victoria Cross for leading the attack on Oran Harbour in the Allied invasion of North Africa at 3 am on Nov. 8, 1942.   For the same action, American General Eisenhower awarded him the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross which, for non-Americans, was the equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor as the highest award for valour against enemy forces. There is video on You Tube of the Battle of Dogger Bank , including footage of the Bluecher sinking. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2tQgvmE8s8

dso

Prince Rupert newspaper report

front of 1914 Christmas card

front of 1914 Christmas card

inside of meteor xmas card 001

second scan of dso 001

Citation for DSO in Royal Navy records

Presentation on The Bravest Canadian — Fritz Peters VC November 13, 2014 in Vancouver

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Sam McBride, the author of “The Bravest Canadian — Fritz Peters VC: The Making of a Hero of Two World Wars“, will do a presentation on the book at 10:30 am on Thursday, November 13, 2014  at the Brock House in Vancouver.

fritz peters circa 1935 001

Frederic Thornton “Fritz“ Peters, in about 1935.

The Brock House Society provides a variety of events and activities for members at the Senior Centre at Jericho.  http://brockhousesociety.com

“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.

http://www.abcbookworld.com/view_author.php?id=10982

bcgs book award 001

Certificate for BCGS family history book award

bcgs letter 001

information about the BC Genealogical Society family history book awards

Online features, interviews and reports related to the life and achievements of Fritz Peters VC

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Halifax Chronicle-Herald newspaper

http://thechronicleherald.ca/books/168866-a-hero-s-story-more-than-a-military-man

New Brunswick Historical Society newsletter

http://www1.gnb.ca/0007/culture/heritage/NBHSNov2012.pdf

Monday magazine, Victoria, B.C., November 2012

http://www.mondaymag.com/entertainment/177781151.html

Nelson Star

http://www.nelsonstar.com/news/183103291.html?mobile=true

CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum web site, Local Heroes section

http://www.navalandmilitarymuseum.org/resource_pages/heroes/peters.html

CBC Charlottetown – radio

http://www.cbc.ca/player/AudioMobile/Mainstreet+PEI/ID/2336800722/?page=6

http://www.cbc.ca/islandmorning/episodes/2011/11/11/a-pei-war-hero—frederick-thornton-peters

list of authors interviewed by Mark Forsythe on CBC British Columbia

http://www.cbc.ca/bcalmanac/bookshelf

News 1130, Vancouver, B.C.

http://www.news1130.com/2012/11/10/new-book-shines-light-on-bc-veteran

World Naval Ships Forum – discussion

http://www.worldnavalships.com/forums/showthread.php?p=10072543

Victoria Cross forum – discussion

http://victoriacross.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=general&action=display&thread=1801

Military Times – Hall of Valor

http://projects.militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=17107

ww2*awards

http://en.ww2awards.com/person/130

abcbookworld web site

http://www.abcbookworld.com/view_author.php?id=10982

Photos from the presentation of 2013 Heritage Awards by the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation

http://www.flickr.com/photos/pei_museum

The article below in Legion Magazine was done in 2006 before information from the Peters Family Papers became available.   The story of Fritz is included along with the stories of Canada`s other naval VC`s, Robert Hampton Gray and Rowland Bourke.   Further details on all three are in the Local Heroes section of the CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum web site.   Ironically, each of the heroes  has a special connection with the small mountain community of Nelson, British Columbia, 400 miles inland from the West Coast.  Gray and Bourke lived in Nelson, and Peters` U.S. DSC medal was officially presented to his mother as next-of-kin in a ceremony at her home in Nelson.

http://legionmagazine.com/en/index.php/2006/03/valour-in-the-navy/

upboat.net

http://www.uboat.net/allies/commanders/submit.php

Veterans Affairs Canada, virtual memorial for Frederic Thornton Peters.   Click on digital collection.

http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/collections/virtualmem/detail/2495305

Amazon.ca listing and reviews

http://www.amazon.ca/Bravest-Canadian-Story-Fritz-Peters/dp/1926991109

Canadian Expeditionary Force research forum

http://cefresearch.ca/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=10595

Details of mountains in the Nelson, B.C. area named after Fritz Peters and Hammy and Jack Gray, along with geographic naming of Rowland Bourke on the B.C. coast.

http://www.54thbattalioncef.ca/WARPAGES/geographic.htm

Fritz and Operation Reservist noted in An Army at Dawn by Rick Atkinson, winner of Pulitzer Prize

http://books.google.ca/books?id=J4FDFgWB3aYC&pg=PA70&lpg=PA70&dq=frederic+thornton+peters&source=bl&ots=7rAdpFTNVx&sig=RAtEp2BU6hsvXsLtU4XhAdLTsAs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=1Na0UbDoN4SiiQLn14HYBw&ved=0CGYQ6AEwCTgU#v=onepage&q=frederic%20thornton%20peters&f=false

Special Forces roll of honour (SOE)

http://www.specialforcesroh.com/showthread.php?4109-Peters-Frederick-Thornton

Bartley family tree, including Gray and Peters families

http://www.thesilverbowl.com/familytree/BartleyTree-6.htm

CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum web site, Defending the Coast section.  Story of Peters` cousin,  Col. James Peters

http://www.navalandmilitarymuseum.org/resource_pages/coastal_defence/james_peters.html

Veterans Affairs Canada virtual memorial for Fritz`s brother John Francklyn Peters.   Click on digital collection.

http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/collections/virtualmem/photos/1595255

Veterans Affairs Canada virtual memorial for Fritz`s brother Gerald Hamilton Peters.   Click on digital collection.

http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/collections/virtualmem/Detail/1595253

Biography of Fritz`s paternal grandfather Judge James Horsfield Peters

http://biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?id_nbr=6365

Biography of Fritz`s uncle, the Hon. Arthur Peters

http://biographi.ca/en/bio/peters_arthur_13E.html

Biography of Fritz`s maternal grandfather, Col. John Hamilton Gray

http://biographi.ca/en/bio/gray_john_hamilton_1811_87_11E.html

Biography of Fritz`s maternal great-grandfather, Col. Robert Gray

http://biographi.ca/en/bio/gray_robert_1828_6E.html

Biography of Fritz`s paternal great-grandfather, Sir Samuel Cunard

http://biographi.ca/en/bio/cunard_samuel_9E.html

Biography of Fritz`s Loyalist ancestor Charles Jeffery Peters

http://biographi.ca/en/bio/peters_charles_jeffery_7E.html

Biography of Fritz`s Loyalist ancestor Benjamin Lester Peters

http://biographi.ca/en/bio/peters_benjamin_lester_8E.html

Biography of Fritz`s uncle Henry Skeffington Poole

http://biographi.ca/en/bio/poole_henry_skeffington_14E.html

Biography of Admiral Henry Wolsey Bayfield, RN, father of Fritz`s uncle Edward Bayfield

http://biographi.ca/en/results.php?ft=Bayfield

Biography of Fritz`s maternal great-grandfather, Gen. Sir John Lysaght Pennefather

http://www.oxforddnb.com/templates/article.jsp?articleid=21865&back=

Book launch event December 15th at Touchstones in Nelson, B.C.

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Sam McBride, author of “The Bravest Canadian – Fritz Peters, VC: The Making of a Hero of Two World Wars” will launch the book in Nelson, British Columbia on Saturday, December 15th

He will be in the lobby of the Touchstones Nelson – Museum of Art and History at 502 Vernon Street in Nelson from 1 pm to 3 pm.

While Capt. Frederic Thornton “Fritz” Peters never lived in Nelson himself, his mother Bertha Gray Peters and his sister Helen Dewdney and her family resided in Nelson from 1929 to 1969.  Previously, they lived in the nearby West Kootenay communities of New Denver, Rossland and Trail as Helen’s husband Ted Dewdney was transferred around the region to manage branches of the Bank of Montreal.  

After Capt. Peters’ death in an air crash near Plymouth, England in November 1942, a delegation from President Roosevelt and General Eisenhower came to Nelson in February 1944 to officially present the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross medal he earned for action in the harbour of Oran, Algeria to his mother Bertha Gray Peters as next-of-kin. 

In 1946, a mountain on the west edge of Nelson was named Mount Peters in his honour.  Since then, Helen Dewdney’s children and descendants have donated a number of artifacts and photographs to the museum and archives in Nelson, mostly related to the Hon. Edgar Dewdney, builder of the Dewdney Trail, who was Ted Dewdney’s uncle and legal guardian after Ted’s parents died when he was 11. 

 

“The Bravest Canadian” Now Available in Bookstores and Online

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A new book released in Canada and abroad this month tells the story of one of Canada’s most decorated – and least known — military heroes, Capt. Frederic Thornton “Fritz” Peters, VC, DSO, DSC and bar, DSC (U.S.), RN.

Previous attempts at biographies of Peters were stymied by a lack of information in official records, but The Bravest Canadian – Fritz Peters, VC: the Making of a Hero of Two World Wars by Sam McBride is based on a treasure trove of recently-discovered personal letters that reveal his personality, motivations and zest for battle.   They also answer many questions about his mysterious life, including service with Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, exploits in the Gold Coast colony of west Africa in the inter-war years, three stints of Royal Navy service over a 37-year period, and his tragic death in a flying boat crash returning to England after miraculously surviving heavy fire from all directions when he led a charge into the Vichy French-held Algerian port of Oran.

Book release coincides with 70th anniversary of Victoria Cross Action in Operation Torch

November 8, 2012 was the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of North Africa, code-named Operation Torch.  The invasion of Vichy French territory was the first large combined operation of British and American forces, and would prove to be a turning point in the war against Nazi Germany.   The initial targets of the invasion were Oran and Algiers in Algeria, and Casablanca in Morocco. 

Fritz Peters’ courage in leading an attack by two converted Coast Guard cutters through barriers and inside Oran harbor at 3 a.m. on Nov. 8, 1942 in the face of point blank fire from French shore batteries and moored warships was honored with the highest awards for valor offered by Britain and the United States.

Born in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in 1889, Peters moved with his family in 1898 to Victoria, British Columbia, where he lived until joining the Royal Navy in 1905, aside from time in England at naval prep schools.   The Peters family resided in Oak Bay and then Esquimalt before moving to Prince Rupert.

Loyalist Heritage Shaped Fritz Peters’ Character

Peters was determined to live up to his family’s tradition of military leadership and courage in battle, going back to United Empire Loyalist leaders in the Revolutionary War, and a prominent general of the Crimean War.  Peters’ father, P.E.I. Premier Frederick Peters, was a close grandson of shipping magnate Sir Samuel Cunard, one of the reasons why his son Fritz chose a career in the navy. 

At age 53 in 1942, Fritz Peters was the oldest Victoria Cross (VC) recipient in the Second World War.  Twenty-seven years earlier, in January 1915, he received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) medal, second only to the VC as an award for valor, in the Battle of Dogger Bank in the North Sea.  He was also Mentioned in Dispatches, earned a British Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) in 1918, and then a bar to his DSC in 1940.  His Oran gallantry was recognized with the Victoria Cross and the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross, the highest medal for valor awarded by the U.S. to non-Americans.

Duties With Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service

In the inter-war years he developed technology for miniature submarines, and was an early user of plastic explosives and time-delay fuses in his work with secret intelligence.  In 1940 he commanded a school for spies and industrial sabotage for expatriates who later returned to their native countries in Occupied Europe to fight the Germans from within. 

Peters’ admirers included Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Allied commander-in-chief U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower, and British naval commander Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham.  However, several level American officers were bitter opponents of Peters in planning and conducting the Oran harbor attack, and blamed him for heavy casualties suffered by U.S. troops.

Tragically, Peters died as a passenger in an air crash before he had a chance to tell his side of the story.  Later, British authorities chose to downplay the Oran action to avoid antagonizing the French when they resumed as allies against the Nazis.  Some government documents were destroyed, and others were kept secret for 30 years.  As a result, the personal story of Fritz Peters – recipient of six medals for valor in two world wars – remained a mystery until the author’s discovery of the Peters Family Papers. 

 

Itinerary for Helen Peters Dewdney and other Canadians at the Victoria Cross Centenary in England in 1956

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itinerary page 4

itinerary page 6

itinerary page 5

by Sam McBride

My posting in this blog dated Dec. 22, 2011 features scans of tickets, invitations, theatre programs and other memorabilia my grandmother Helen kept as souvenirs from the Victoria Cross Centenary events in June 1956 marking the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Victoria Cross as the ultimate award for valour in the British Empire.

Helen was invited to England for the centenary as next-of-kin to her brother, Capt. Frederic Thornton Peters, VC, DSO, DSC and bar, DSC (U.S.), RN, who received the Victoria Cross and the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross for heroism in the attack on the harbour of Oran, Algeria on Nov. 8, 1942 in the Allied invasion of North Africa.  He miraculously survived the Oran action, but died five days later when the flying boat transporting him back to England to report to Prime Minister Churchill on the Oran action crashed in Plymouth Sound.

Going through family papers recently I discovered the seven-page itinerary that Helen and other Canadian participants received for the centenary events.

1914 Christmas card from Frederic Thornton Peters on HMS Meteor

March 28, 2012

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by Sam McBride

Among the memorabilia of Frederic Thornton “Fritz” Peters, VC, DSO, DSC and bar, DSC (U.S.), RN that exists today in the family collection is a Christmas card he sent home to his parents and siblings in Prince Rupert, British Columbia in December 1914.

Scans of the front and inside of the card are shown below.  The back of the card was blank.  The pre-printed message in the card is “With Christmas Greetings and all Good Wishes for the New Year.”  Then, in Fritz’s handwriting, is a personal message which I have not yet been able to figure out.  It looks like “Your hangle mongle”.  Members of the family often used nicknames and pet phrases in letters to each other, but this is not repeated in any other correspondence.

front of 1914 Christmas card

Fritz had served in the Royal Navy from 1905 until retiring in 1913, and then rejoined the navy at the outbreak of war in August 1914, serving as a lieutenant second-in-command of the destroyer HMS Meteor out of Devonport.  His service on Meteor drew front page news coverage on two occasions.  First, in October 1914 Meteor stopped the German hospital ship Ophelia after a sea battle off Texel Island.  After search and interrogation, Fritz and other Meteor officers concluded the ship was scouting for German submarines, and directed it to Yarmouth where it was converted for British use.

inside 1914 Christmas card

In January 1915 in the Battle of Dogger Bank in the North Sea, Meteor ‘s engine room was hit by an 8.2-inch shell from the German cruiser Blucher.   In the face of flames and bursting boilers, Fritz courageously rushed straight to the engine room, saved the lives of two ratings and prevented further damage to the ship from explosions.  He was Mentioned in Dispatches and then in March 1915 received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) medal from King George the Fifth.  For a naval officer, the DSO was second only to the Victoria Cross as an award for valour.

There was talk among Fritz’s naval colleagues and friends that his actions at Dogger Bank could have qualified for a Victoria Cross.  It may have made a difference if he was in command of the warship rather than a “Number One” (second-in-command).  In November 1915 Fritz was placed in command of the HMS Greyhound.

In 1918 Fritz received his next major award for valour in battle, the Distinguished Service Cross, for anti-submarine heroics.  Returning for Royal Navy service in the Second World War, he won a bar to his Distinguished Service Cross in 1940, and then won the Victoria Cross and U.S. Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry in leading the attack through the boom of Oran harbour in the Allied invasion of North Africa of November 1942.

My book The Bravest Canadian about the extraordinary two-world-war naval career and mysterious life of Frederic Thornton Peters in his native Canada — as well as exploits in Britain, Africa and around the world — will be published later this spring.

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

March 17, 2012

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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.

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

December 19, 2011

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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

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