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.
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.
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.