By Sam McBride
Soon after the book “The Bravest Canadian – Fritz Peters, VC: The Making of a Hero of Two World Wars“ went to press last fall, I got a very welcome response to an inquiry I had posted on internet forums regarding one of Fritz Peters` closest friends.
I heard from Ben, a grandson of Commander Cromwell Varley, DSO, RN. Varley – known as “Crom“ by his descendants – met Fritz when they were both cadets in 1905 on the training ship Britannia, and they remained lifelong friends.
Crom served on submarines in the First World War, and in the years between the wars he invented and developed miniature one-man, two-man and three-man submarines. Fritz helped in designing and building specialized pumps for the vessels. On his regular returns to England from work in the Gold Coast colony in central Africa, Fritz always visited and stayed with the Varley family. He chose Varley`s wife Rosalind to be executor of his will. After Fritz`s death in 1942, Rosalind Varley arranged for Fritz`s belongings (including medals) to be sent to his mother Bertha in Nelson, British Columbia, Canada.
I was pleased to hear from Ben that his mother Juliet, who remembered Fritz from his visits to the Varley home more than 70 years ago, was in good health at 87 years of age. I had a wonderful phone conversation with Juliet and her husband John Fell, who himself was a retired Royal Navy officer. John knew Crom (who died in 1949) quite well, but never met Fritz.
Juliet had many happy memories of Fritz. “My childhood would not have been the same without Fritz Peters,“ she said. Fritz was “extremely generous“, she recalled. He always brought presents for the children on his visits to the Varleys. Among his gifts to her was a “stuffed monkey“ (like a teddy bear) that he brought from Africa. She said the entire family enjoyed the entertaining stories Fritz told during his stays. At meals, he was particularly fond of cheese, she noted.
I subsequently received a Christmas card from Juliet with kind thoughts regarding “The Bravest Canadian.“
“It is an excellent book, which we much enjoyed reading, and the photographs are lovely,“ she wrote.
“I especially like the 1941 one with his friend Dorothy Burgess and the one in 1942, just before the Oran mission, which brought back such happy memories of the many times he stayed with us. He was always so kind and generous to me and my sister, who was his god-daughter. We regarded him as one of the family.“