By Sam McBride
While this blog generally focuses on my mother’s uncle, Capt. Frederic Thornton “Fritz” Peters, VC, DSO, DSC and bar, DSC (U.S.), RN, my thoughts today are on heroes on my father’s side of the family — specifically, my dad Leigh Morgan McBride and his brother Kenneth Gilbert McBride, who both grew up in Nelson, British Columbia and served as officers with the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada regiment in the thick of much of the heaviest fighting of the Italian Campaign of 1943-44 .
Exactly seventy years ago, on July 10, 1943, Leigh hit the beach at Pachino on the southern tip of Sicily as part of the massive Allied invasion of Sicily. A year earlier he had enlisted immediately after graduation in law at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant at the Gordon Head Military Camp in Victoria, and then went to Currie Barracks in Calgary where he was commissioned as a lieutenant in November 1942.
In mid-November1942 Leigh returned to Nelson for a short period before heading overseas for further training in Britain. While in Nelson he met up with his friend, fellow law student and fraternity brother Frederic Hamilton “Peter” Dewdney, who signed up with the Royal Canadian Navy along with his close friends Hammy Gray (future recipient of the Victoria Cross) and Jack Diamond at about the same time that Leigh enlisted in the army. Peter’s decision to opt for the navy was largely influenced by the family tradition established by his uncle, godfather and namesake Fritz Peters. Peter never met Fritz, but often heard stories of him from his mother Helen, who was Fritz’s older sister, and a very close friend during their childhood in Charlottetown and Victoria. In the summer of 1942 Fritz was already famous for his heroic exploits in the First World War, as well as earning a bar to his British Distinguished Service Cross for anti-U-boat action on modified trawlers early in the Second World War.
As it turned out, Peter trained at Royal Roads in Victoria at the same time that Leigh was training at Gordon Head. Peter served through the war on motor launches in anti-U-boat service off Canada’s east coast. Peter also knew Leigh’s brother Ken, but was closer with Leigh because they were the same age, and Ken was three years younger.
In 1948 Leigh would marry Peter’s younger sister Dee Dee. In 1952, after the death of her husband Ted Dewdney, Helen came to live with her daughter Dee Dee McBride’s family. As a result, when I was growing up in Nelson the walls were filled with framed photographs under glass of Helen’s brothers Fritz Peters, Jack Peters and Gerald Peters, as well as Leigh’s brother Ken McBride – all of whom died in the two world wars.
Leigh also never met Fritz Peters, though he trained in Scotland near where Fritz had trained a few months earlier, and he was in North Africa en route to the invasion of Scotland just a few months after Fritz’s memorable bravery in Oran, Algeria.
Ken was in the midst of studies at the University of British Columbia when he enlisted, following in his older brother’s footsteps as an officer with the Seaforths. Ken was not in Sicily, but joined the fight in mainland Italy and was immediately in heavy action against top quality German forces who used Italy’s rugged terrain to full effect in holding g off the Allied invaders.
The story of Leigh and Ken McBride’s unforgettable exploits in Italy – and Ken’s tragic death in action – is told through scanned images of photographs, letters, news clippings and army documents that can be viewed either through the Seaforth link at http://seaforthhighlanders.ca or my personal blog in May 2013 at http://www.sammcbride-bc.blogspot.com.