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.

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