Herbert Victor Peterson was born in Calgary, Alberta. In 1940 he enlisted in the RCAF in Calgary. After preliminary air crew instruction in Canada, he was sent overseas where he undertook further training at Abingdon, England, where he trained on Ansons and Whitleys and graduated as a pilot familiar with these aircraft.
On July 31, 1941, he was posted to No. 10 RAF Squadron, Bomber Command, at Leeming, England. For Bomber Command air crew, there was a low probability of surviving their tour of missions and returning safely to base every time. Over 60% of the air crews who began a tour of 30 sorties were lost, before completing their tour.
Regardless of the terrible odds, bomber crews buckled on their parachutes and began each mission with determination. They fell prey to the hazards of icing and lightning and they perished amidst the bursting shells of anti-aircraft guns. But the greater number died in the desperately unequal combat and overwhelming firepower of tenacious German night fighters.
On each bombing mission there were many who crashed after being hit by flak or enemy fighters. Some airmen survived the crashes, others were rescued at sea, and some were taken prisoner.
A great many of those who died never had a chance to bail out. They perished when their aircraft loaded with tons of explosives and high octane gas either exploded in the air or on impact with the ground. Others were killed when they plummeted 6 to 8 kilometres to the ground after their parachutes caught fire from their burning aircraft.
Over 9,900 Canadians in Bomber Command sacrificed their lives in fighting for freedom and democracy.
By May 29,1942, Peterson had completed many dangerous and risky sorties and was awarded his first Distinguished flying Cross (DFC). His citation read in part as follows:
"...One night in April 1942, he was detailed to attack the German Naval Base at Trondheim. On arrival over the target, despite the intense barrage of anti-aircraft fire which he encountered, he dived to a very low altitude and pressed home his attack. On the following night he carried out another low level attack on the same target. His aircraft sustained severe damage and one engine was put out of action. With great skill and judgment, Warrant Officer Peterson succeeded in flying his aircraft to an emergency landing ground where he made a safe landing."
Peterson continued his bombing missions over enemy occupied territory to heavily defended targets and by June 30/42 he was awarded his second DFC. The citation read as follows: "One night in June 1942, Warrant Officer Peterson was captain of a Halifax aircraft detailed to attack Essen. Whilst over the target the aircraft was held by strong searchlight cones and subjected to intense anti-aircraft fire. The port outer engine was hit and ceased to function. The windscreen was also hit and a piece of Perspex entered Warrant Officer Petersonís left eye. Nevertheless he continued to take evasive action and eventually set out on his return journey.
Whilst over Holland, flying at 11,000 feet, he was attacked by an enemy fighter. His rear gunner delivered a short burst which caused the enemy aircraft to burst into flames and dive out of control. When crossing the Dutch coast the aircraft was again subjected to anti-aircraft fire and the starboard engine was put out of action. Despite Warrant Officer Petersonís injury and severe damage sustained by the aircraft, he succeeded in flying back to this country and landing on an aerodrome with which he was unfamiliar. Warrant Officer Peterson displayed fine courage and determination throughout."
At the beginning of July 1942, Peterson was among the crew of 16 Halifax bombers from No. 19 squadron sent to the Middle East, based at Aquir in Palestine. At this time, German General Rommel was conducting a successful campaign, pushing the British ground forces eastward toward Egypt.
Petersonís crew and other RAF bomber crews carried out almost nightly attacks against Tobruk, and sometimes Benghazi, taking off from Fayid or Shallufa with Aquir being used as a rear base.
By the middle of November the British were advancing westward against the forces of German General Rommel. The Halifax bomber crews also moved westward. In January 1943, Pilot Officer Peterson was posted back to the UK to No. 1659 Conversion Unit at Topcliffe, England to carry out instructor duties.
By May 19, 1944 Peterson had completed 20 dangerous and risky missions on his second tour and was recommended for his third DFC. His citation reads as follows:
"This officer has served in both the African and European theatres of war. Since the award of the last DFC, he has attacked many of the most heavily defended targets in Germany. On several occasions his skill and fortitude were mainly responsible for the safe return of his aircraft and crew. Squadron Leader Peterson is a flight commander of outstanding ability whose fine leadership and organization have been reflected in the high standard of operational efficiency maintained by his flight."
In June 1944 Peterson was repatriated to Canada for 'leave' and by September 1944, he was back in the UK.