Bernard Freyberg was a soldier who served two nations, New Zealand and England. He was young enough to serve throughout the First World War and be given senior command in the Second; and his career covers an extraordinary range of experience and friendship, setback and achievement.
Brought up in New Zealand Freyberg became a champion swimmer, was trained as a dentist, and departed in January 1914 to look for adventure, which he found when he joined the Royal Navy Division in London. He became a popular hero for his famous swim at Gallipoli, for his VC won in France in 1916, for being wounded nine times, and as one of the youngest of brigadier-generals. His friendship with Winston Churchill, the Asquith family and 'the Argonauts', including Rupert Brooke, gained him entry into English Society.
After the war, encouraged by his close friend Sir James Barrie, he wrote an (unpublished) account of his experiences in France and, at the same time, decided to make the army his career. He married in 1922 into the family of Gertrude Jekyll, of gardening fame; he nearly swam the English Channel in 1925; but just when he was reaching high rank in the 1930s, he was invalided out of the army - a devastating blow.
Even so, he returned to active service in 1939 when he also renewed his links with New Zealand, and accepted command of the Second New Zealand Division which he led throughout the war; through Greece, North Africa, and Italy. The Division, regarded as a 'crack' unit by Rommel and the Afrika Korps, was especially praised by Montgomery. But for them, he averred, the victory at El Alamein would not have been possible.
Freyberg's reputation, however, was clouded by the disaster of the fall of Crete in May 1941, the full story of which was not revealed until publication of Freyberg's biography by his son. It is a tale of faulty planning, high-level misunderstanding and cover-up, even of victory in defeat; but it was also a mystery which Freyberg himself was unable to solve in his lifetime, while ULTRA was still 'classified'.
He relinquished command of the New Zealand Division upon his appointment as Governor-General of New Zealand in 1945. He had been a soldier's soldier; a commander who never talked down to his men and he became a Governor-General with the common touch. Later, ennobled, he became Deputy Constable and Lieutenant-Governor of Windsor Castle. He died from a rupture of one of his old war wounds.
|1914||Death of father James FREYBERG|
|1922||Married Dame Barbara JEKYLL GBE OBE in Church of St Martha, Albury|
|1923||Birth of son Col. Paul Richard FREYBERG OBE, MC 2nd Baron Freyberg|
|1936||Death of mother Julia HAMILTON|