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

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Citation for DSO in Royal Navy records

Confederation-related quotes from Col. John Hamilton Gray

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The following quotes from John Hamilton Gray are from “Prince Edward Island and Confederation 1863-1873“ by Reverend Francis W.P. Bolger, St. Dunstan`s University Press, 1964.

Speaking during discussion of Maritime union in the P.E.I. House of Assembly, April 18, 1864, Gray said:  “If the Provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were to be annexed to Prince Edward Island, great benefits might result to our people; but if this Colony were to be annexed to these Provinces, the opposite might be the effect.  …We are here to maintain our rights, and we shall never enter a Union which will deprive us of this birthright.”

Speaking at the final banquet of the Charlottetown Conference September 8, 1864, Gray was prophetic when he expressed the belief that the Charlottetown Conference “would serve as the harbinger of such a union of sentiment and interests among the three and a half millions of freemen who now inhabit British North America, as neither time nor change could forever destroy.”

Oct. 10, 1864 at the Quebec Conference, Gray said “When I spoke of establishing a nationality I only referred to what has been the dream of my life to be one day a citizen of a Great nation extending from the Great West to the Atlantic seaboard.  I sincerely hope that the delegates from all the Provinces will unite to accomplish this great work.  Prince Edward Island is but a small province but it could be to the other provinces all that the little state of Rhode Island is to the great American Union.”

At Ottawa following the Quebec Conference Gray concluded a glowing tribute to the proposed union with the hope that all the people “would soon have their territory washed by the Atlantic at Halifax and by the Pacific at Vancouver Island.”

On Nov.16, 1864 Gray addressed an appeal to the people of Prince Edward Island that was published in all the newspapers:  “Shall we form part of a great nation extending from Halifax to Vancouver, as citizens of which our sons will reach distinction and carve out for themselves fame and fortune… It is a question of life or death to Prince Edward Island.  I pray to the most high God to direct your decision.”

Gray speaking in the 1865 Assembly Debates:  “We (PEI) have little prospect for the future beyond a dwarfed existence and ultimate absorption into the neighboring Republic.  One of these must be chosen, the other rejected – there is no alternative.  Yes, Mr. Speaker, federation or annexation is what we must regard as our future.”

In a letter to his close friend John A. Macdonald dated June 27, 1866, Gray said  “I much regret that all the endeavours of the friends of Confederation in this Island have been unsuccessful, and I have little hope that our people will change, and if Imperial Authorities do not legislate for us Prince Edward Island is lost .”

As it turned out, the PEI government decided not to join New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Upper and Lower Canada in the new country of Canada in 1867, but PEI did join Confederation six years later in 1873 when the Government of Canada assumed the colony`s railway debts and agreed to finance a buy-out of the last of the colony’s absentee landlords.

Describing Gray, the author Bolger said: “Colonel Gray was a man of outstanding honor.  He was universally respected on account of his integrity in the conduct of public affairs.  He was deeply religious and served for many years as an Elder of the Presbyterian Church on the Island.  His training as a soldier endowed him with an unusual amount of courage and tenacity.  When convinced of the rightfulness of a policy, he would not consider compromise.  When Confederation became the issue in Island politics, Colonel Gray unhesitatingly sacrificed political popularity and the emoluments of office in its furtherance.”

Sculpture of Two Col. John Hamilton Grays Will Commemorate 150th Anniversary of Historic Charlottetown Conference

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by Sam McBride

Very pleased to hear that a bronze sculpture of Capt. Frederic Thornton Peters` grandfather Col. John Hamilton Gray will be erected on Great George Street in downtown Charlottetown as part of the celebrations in Prince Edward Island of the 150th  anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference of 1864 which set the stage for the birth of Canada three years later.

The contract for the sculpture has been awarded to Vancouver Island artist Nathan Scott, who did two Terry Fox sculptures in B.C., among other projects.

The sculpture will depict interaction between two Fathers of Confederation named John Hamilton Gray at the time of the Charlottetown Conference in September 1864.  By great coincidence, there were two non-related men of the same name. – one in New Brunswick and my ancestor in Prince Edward Island.   By further coincidence, both men were known as “Colonel Gray“ — the P.E.I. Gray because he was a retired British Army officer, and the N.B. Gray because he held the rank of Lt. Colonel with the New Brunswick militia.   The two men were also direct descendants of United Empire Loyalists – the P.E.I. Gray from Virginia and the N.B. Gray from Massachusetts.

The P.E.I. Gray was host and chairman of the historic conference, while the other Gray was one of the delegates from the neighboring colony New Brunswick.  Both Grays were strong supporters of Confederation at a time when most of the politicians in their colony were against it.   The N.B. Father of Confederation J.H. Gray later went to parliament as an MP, but the P.E.I. Father of Confederation J.H. Gray resigned as leader of the government when his colleagues changed their minds and opposed Confederation.   P.E.I. later joined Canada in 1873 to overcome a financial crisis associated with railway debt, but the former Premier Gray`s attempts to re-enter provincial politics were unsuccessful.

The lifespans of the two Grays were quite similar.  The N.B. Gray was born in 1814 and died in 1889, while the P.E.I. Gray was born in 1811 and died in 1887, a couple of weeks before his granddaughter Helen Peters Dewdney was born, and two years before the birth of grandson Frederic Thornton “Fritz“ Peters, who would become one of Canada`s greatest war heroes, and the subject of my book “The Bravest Canadian — Fritz Peters VC: The Making of a Hero of Two World Wars“.   Though Fritz never knew his famous grandfather, the stories he heard of him from his mother and aunts were strong factors in Fritz choosing a military career and considering going into politics.

Col. john Hamilton Gray, c. 1864

Col. John Hamilton Gray of Prince Edward Island, c. 1864

NB JHGray

Col. John Hamilton Gray of New Brunswick

The P.E.I. Gray never ventured West, but the N.B. Gray moved to Victoria, B.C. in 1872 to serve as a judge on the B.C. Supreme Court.   He is buried in Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria, not far from the gravesite of the P.E.I. Gray`s son-in-law Frederick Peters and granddaughter Violet Peters.   Established in 1873, the Victorian-style Ross Bay Cemetery has the graves of numerous frontier B.C. politicians and celebrities.  The P.E.I. Gray rests in Sherwood Cemetery, which today is very close to Charlottetown Airport, about three miles north of the city.

The new sculpture is in keeping with P.E.I.`s program to develop its history-oriented tourism industry.   Tourism in P.E.I. has increased substantially in recent years, largely due to the island province becoming a popular stop for cruise ships.

For further details of the statue project, view the links below.

http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/News/Local/2013-08-21/article-3358604/John-Hamilton-Gray-to-live-again-on-Great-George-Street/1

http://www.timescolonist.com/island-artist-nathan-scott-lends-talent-to-project-on-p-e-i-1.705881

http://www.sculpturebynathanscott.com/blog.html

 

 

 

Author of “The Bravest Canadian — Fritz Peters VC: The Making of a Hero of Two World Wars“ Interviewed Today By Radio Station in Winnipeg, A City Justly Proud of Its Valour Road

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by Sam McBride

Earlier today it was my pleasure to be interviewed by Dahlia Kurtz of AM680 CJOB Winnipeg regarding my book on Capt. Frederic Thornton “Fritz“ Peters. The live interviews were broadcast in two segments between 2 pm and 3 pm Central Time.

Dahlia read the book and was amazed by the incredible life of Fritz Peters, including three major awards for valour in both world wars, service with the Secret Intelligence Service, and surviving hundreds of threats to his life in wartime as well as between the wars in frontier Ghana in central Africa. Several times she asked: “Why don`t we know about this great Canadian hero?“

She noted that Winnipeg is particularly interested in Victoria Cross stories because of its distinction of having three Victoria Cross recipients who grew up on the same street, within a block of one another. In 1925, Pine Street in Winnipeg was renamed Valour Road in recognition of the courage of three young men who all lived on the 700 block of the street. Corporal Leo Clarke, Sergeant-Major Frederick William Hall, and Lieutenant Robert Shankland each received the Victoria Cross for acts of bravery during the First World War.

http://www.cjob.com/dahlia/

Maritimes Book Tour Generates Surge of Interest in the Story of War Hero Fritz Peters

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by Sam McBride

My two-week book tour through the three Canadian Maritime provinces was a wonderful experience, and exceeded all expectations in publicizing “The Bravest Canadian — Fritz Peters VC: The Making of a Hero of Two World Wars“ throughout New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, as well as Prince Edward Island, where Fritz was born and his story is best known.

It was a thrill to meet so many people who came by my book signing sessions and either bought copies of the book or expressed interest in Fritz and the book.  These included several current members of the Canadian military, as well as relatives who told me about the heroes of their own family.

I particularly enjoyed meeting several third cousins for the first time, as well as leaders of the PEI Genealogical Society, the New Brunswick Historical Society and the Cunard Steamship Society who I have corresponded with extensively in the past, but not met in person.   Extremely pleased that my enthusiastic supporter in St. John`s, Newfoundland, Dr. David Peters,  came to my presentation at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, and we had a good chat afterwards.

Several people I talked to noted that next year, 2014, will be present opportunities to raise awareness of the Fritz Peters story across Canada. These are 1) the 150th anniversary of the historic Charlottetown Conference, in which Fritz`s family had a central role; 2) the centennial of the start of World War One, where Fritz Peters earned three major honours for valour; and 3) the 75th anniversary of the start of World War Two, where Fritz again received three awards for valour, including the Victoria Cross and the highest medal of the United States.

I have attached scans of a sample of print publicity from the book tour, and the links below have some, but not all, of the TV, radio and social media coverage.  I did about 10 interviews by phone before i travelled, and then about another dozen while in the Maritimes between September 24th and October 5th, 2013.

 

http://atlantic.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=1013315&binId=1.1145463&playlistPageNum=1

http://thechronicleherald.ca/book/event/1154374-the-bravest-canadian-fritz-peters-the-making-of-a-hero-of-two-world-wars-by-sam-m

https://www.facebook.com/myWaterfront

http://www.armyrats.com/posts/tag/battalion/

http://www.news957.com/category/listen/rick-howe-show/page/2/

http://www.cbc.ca/player/Radio/Local+Shows/Maritimes/ID/2408922242/

https://twitter.com/ns_mma

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front page of Moncton newspaper, with long story on inside pages

 

 

charlottetown Buzz feature 001

from PEI events BUZZ

 

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one of many newspaper listings publicizing the book tour events

 

Strong Maritime Heritage of Fritz Peters, VC

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Canada has many war heroes, but the only one to receive multiple awards for valour in both world wars, including the highest honour of the Victoria Cross, is a true child of the Maritimes: Captain Frederic Thornton “Fritz“ Peters, VC, DSO, DSC and bar, DSC (U.S.), RN.

Born in Charlottetown in 1889, Peters has a special place in the hearts of Prince Edward Islanders as the only P.E.I.-born Victoria Cross recipient, but he came from a family which also has an extraordinary impact on the history of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Three sides of his family were United Empire Loyalists who stayed loyal to King George the Third in the American Revolution, and had to move en masse to the Maritimes after the victory of the rebels. Both of Fritz`s grandfathers – Col. John Hamilton Gray and Judge James Horsfield Peters – were direct descendants of United Empire Loyalists, as was his paternal grandmother Mary Cunard. His other grandmother, Susan Ellen Bartley Pennefather, was born in Jamaica, raised in Anglo-Irish aristocracy, and was residing in India when she married John Hamilton Gray, who brought her to his native Prince Edward Island after resigning as a British cavalry officer.

Ancestor James Peters led a large group from Long Island, New York who settled in the future site of Saint John, New Brunswick in the spring of 1783. Later settling in Gagetown, New Brunswick, his sons and grandsons included attorneys general, magistrates, militia chiefs, lawyers and assembly members who would dominate public life in New Brunswick in the late 18th century and through the 19th century.

Judge James Horsfield Peters

Judge James Horsfield Peters

Fritz Peters` paternal grandfather, Gagetown, N.B.-born Judge James Horsfield Peters, married Nova Scotian Mary Cunard of Bushville/Miramichi, who was a daughter of the famous Halifax-based industrialist Sir Samuel Cunard, and they settled in Charlottetown, where James Horsfield Peters was lawyer and agent for Cunards before his judicial appointment. Two of their sons – Fritz`s father Frederick Peters and his brother Arthur – would serve as premier and attorney general of P.E.I.

Fritz`s maternal grandfather, Charlottetown-born Col. John Hamilton Gray, earlier served as premier and had the distinction of hosting and chairing the famous Charlottetown Conference of 1864 that set the stage for the creation of Canada as a self-governing, sea-to-sea country. Gray`s father Col. Robert Gray was a Loyalist from Virginia who helped raise a King`s regiment and was in the thick of fighting against the rebels in the Revolutionary War.

Col. john Hamilton Gray, c. 1864

Col. john Hamilton Gray, c. 1864

21b Samuel-Cunard-App A

Sir Samuel Cunard

Another ancestor, Loyalist shipbuilder Abraham Cunard from Pennsylvania, met his future wife Margaret Murphy from South Carolina on a Loyalist evacuation voyage to Nova Scotia in 1783, and they settled in Halifax and later in Rawdon, N.S. Several of their sons were deeply involved in businesses that were central to economic development in all three Maritime provinces , most notably Sir Samuel Cunard, the founder of Cunard Steamship Lines and one of the greatest businessmen in Canadian history.

As a boy, Fritz Peters heard stories of his famous ancestors and resolved to live up to their standard of leadership, excellence and public involvement.

The biography titled “The Bravest Canadian – Fritz Peters VC: The Making of a Hero of Two World Wars“ by Fritz`s greatnephew Sam McBride is based on a recently-discovered treasure trove of family letters of the Grays and Peters going back to the 1700s, including 27 letters written by Fritz that give insight into his personality and motivations that resulted in exceptional courage and coolness in battle.

The author will sign books and meet with Maritime genealogy and history buffs in a book tour September 25-Octotber 5, 2013 through Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, including a presentation on Tuesday, Oct. 1st at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax.

MP publication features Fritz Peters book

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Many thanks to Alex Atamanenko, Member of Parliament, British Columbia Southern Interior, for promoting “The Bravest Canadian — Fritz Peters VC: The Making of a Hero of Two World Wars“ in his recent newsletter to constituents.

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