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A Brief Biography of Bernard Cyril Freyberg

Updated on December 4, 2017
'Photo of Bernard Freyberg', 1919.
'Photo of Bernard Freyberg', 1919. | Source

British born Bernard Cyril Freyberg was born Richmond, near London, on March 21st, 1889 before moving to New Zealand at the age of 2. From 1897 to 1904, he attended Wellington College, and proved himself to have a natural talent for swimming – going on to win the New Zealand 100 yards championship in 1906, and again in 1910. He earned his formal registration as a dentist in 1911, and gained employment as an assistant dentist for a time, before being convinced to enter military service.

At the outbreak of war in 1914, he left for England where he was able to meet with Winston Churchill, then serving as the First Lord of the Admiralty. He was able to convince Winston Churchill to grant him a commission into the British Royal Naval Division, earning him a place in the Hood Battalion, where he fought first at Antwerp, and later at Gallipoli. During the Gallipoli campaign, he was able to make good use of his swimming ability – swimming between ships, and lighting flares, in order to distract the Turkish forces from the real landings. He came under heavy fire many times at this point, but was able to return safely despite the injuries he received. He later earned himself the Distinguished Service Order for his actions.

Freyberg distinguished himself once more on the Western front during the final stages of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Acting as a temporary lieutenant-colonel at the time, he was able to lead his men in the capture of the small village, Beaucourt-sur-l'Ancre. Despite gaining further injuries, he refused to leave the field until after he was able to give final orders to his name. He was later awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions.

In April of 1917, he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General and took command of a brigade of the 58th Division, and later another in the 29th Division. He served with the same level of distinction he had shown previously during the final days of the war.

In the years between the two Great Wars, he held his position in the military. Also meeting, and ultimately marrying, Barbara McLaren on June 14th, 1922, in a service held at St Martha on the Hill church. The widow of the Honorable Francis McLaren, a British Member of Parliament killed during the war, she had two children from her previous marriage – the two later had a son of their own, Paul, born on 1923.

The discovery of a heart problem lead to him being declared unfit for active service in 1937, and forced his retirement. However, at the outbreak of the Second World War he was able to return to active duty when he offered his services to the New Zealand government, and was given of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force. He was later given command of Allied forces during the Battle of Crete in 1941. During this time he earned himself a reputation as an excellent tactician, earning himself another promotion to the rank of Lieutenant-General, as well as a knighthood. After another injury forced him into hospital for over a month, in 1944, he eventually returned service in command of the New Zealand Division once more for its final operations.

Freyberg relinquished command of the New Zealand Division in 1945, settling into his new role as Governor-General of New Zealand, eventually retiring officially from military service on September 10th, 1946. In 1951, his many years of distinguished service earned him the title of Baron Freyberg of Wellington in New Zealand and of Munstead in the County of Surrey. He served in his role as Governor-General until 1953, when he was offered the post of Deputy Constable and Lieutenant-Governor of Windsor Castle, returning to England with his wife.

Freyburg died on July 4th, 1963, due to complications caused by the rupture of one of his old injuries. He was buried in the churchyard of St Martha on the Hill, near Guildford, Surrey. His wife was later buried by his side.

© 2015 Dallas Matier

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