The mysterious story of an Oak Bay man who was one of Canada’s most decorated and least known military heroes is finally being told in a book by Sam McBride, thanks to his discovery of a treasure trove of forgotten letters dating back more than 85 years.
The book, The Bravest Canadian, is the story of Capt. F.T. (Fritz) Peters, and it’s a tale that includes battlefield heroics, shadowy spies and political manoeuvring that might well have been torn from a work of fiction.
But the tale is real, and recounts the personality, motivation and sense of chivalry that inspired the man who won the Victoria Cross, the Distinguished Service Order and the Distinguished Service Cross and bar and the highest medal given to non-Americans by the U.S., the Distinguished Service Cross.
“The only fear that this man had was of boredom,” said McBride.
McBride has spent the past few years transcribing the letters and searching through archives to find out the real story of this Canadian hero, who just happens to be McBride’s great uncle.
“Fritz’s background included some amazing people, and I guess he felt he had to do something spectacular to live up to the family name,” he said.
Most of Peters’ medals came in recognition of his bravery during the Allied invasion of North Africa at the Vichy French port of Oran.
Although Peters survived that action, his unit endured a staggering 90-per-cent casualty rate. His exploits were so famous that they were even recounted in war comics of the time.
If that were the whole story, it would be spectacular enough, but the tale of Capt. Peters also includes his exploits during the First World War and another period during which he worked with the likes of Ian Fleming of James Bond fame and Kim Philby (who was later discovered to be a Russian spy).
That service with Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service saw Peters running a spy school and the pioneering the use of plastic explosives and time delay fuses as well as the technology behind mini-submarines for use in spying.
Why Peters is not better known is a story in itself. His intelligence work meant that some of the files were destroyed or declared secret and a sensitivity to the once-again French allies in the latter part of the war meant that accounts of battles against the Vichy French were politically discouraged.
The story has now been told, however, and the book is being released this Friday (Oct. 26) – the 70th anniversary of the North African campaign where Fritz won his honours.
Peters was killed in an air crash on Nov. 13, 1942 in England.