Bernard Freyberg, 1st Baron Freyberg

Infobox Governor General
honorific-prefix = Lieutenant-General The Right Honourable the Lord Freyburg

name =Bernard Cyril Freyberg, 1st Baron Freyberg
honorific-suffix = VC, GCMG, KCB, KBE, DSO and three Bars
nationality =New Zealand

caption=Freyberg at Cassino, Italy, 3 January 1944.
order =7th Governor-General of New Zealand
term_start =17 June 1946
term_end =15 August 1952
predecessor =Cyril Newall, 1st Baron Newall
successor =Charles Norrie, 1st Baron Norrie
birth_date =birth date|1889|3|21|mf=y
birth_place =Richmond, Surrey, ENG
death_date =death date and age|1963|7|4|1889|3|21|mf=y
death_place =Windsor, ENG
serviceyears=1914-1937, 1939-1945
rank=Lieutenant General
commands=1st Battalion, Manchester Regiment
2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force
New Zealand 2nd Division
awards=Victoria Cross
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George
Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Service Order & three Bars
Mention in Despatches (6)
Croix de Guerre (France)
Legion of Merit (Commander) (United States) [LondonGazette |issue=37204 |linkeddate=1945-07-31 |startpage=3962|endpage= |supp=y |accessdate=2008-08-05]

Lieutenant General Bernard Cyril Freyberg, 1st Baron Freyberg VC, GCMG, KCB, KBE, DSO and three Bars (21 March 1889 — 4 July 1963), arguably New Zealand's most famous soldier and military commander, also served as Governor-General of New Zealand.

He became an officer in the British Army in World War I, during which he won the Victoria Cross.

During the Second World War, he commanded the New Zealand Army Expeditionary Force in the Battle of Crete, the North African Campaign and the Battle of Monte Cassino.

Early life

Freyberg, born in Richmond, London in England, moved to New Zealand with his parents at the age of two. He attended Wellington College from 1897 to 1904.

A strong swimmer, he won the New Zealand 100-yards championship in 1906 and in 1910.

On 22 May 1911 he gained formal registration as a dentist. He worked as an assistant dentist in Morrinsville and later practised in Hamilton and in Levin. While in Morrinsville he was asked to take up a subalternship in the local Territorial Army unit, but he did not succeed in gaining the King's commission.

Freyberg left New Zealand in March 1914. Records exist of him in San Francisco and in Mexico, where he may have taken part in the civil war then raging in that country. Upon hearing of the outbreak of war in Europe in August 1914, he travelled to England.

World War I

In late 1914 Freyberg met Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, and persuaded Churchill to grant him a commission in the Hood Battalion of the newly-constituted Royal Naval Division.

In 1915 Freyberg became involved in the Dardanelles campaign. During the initial landings by Allied troops following the unsuccessful attempt to force the straits by sea, Freyberg swam ashore in the Gulf of Saros. Once ashore, he began lighting flares so as to distract the defending Turkish forces from the real landings taking place at Gallipoli. Despite coming under heavy Turkish fire, he returned safely from this outing, and for his action he received the Distinguished Service Order. He received serious wounds on several occasions and left the peninsula when his division evacuated in January 1916.

Freyberg went to France in May 1916. During the final stages of the Battle of the Somme, he so distinguished himself in the capture of Beaucourt village that he was awarded a Victoria Cross. On 13 November 1916 at Beaucourt-sur-Ancre, France, after Freyberg's battalion had carried the initial attack through the enemy's front system of trenches, he rallied and re-formed his own much disorganised men and some others, and led them on a successful assault of the second objective, during which he suffered two wounds, but remained in command and held his ground throughout the day and the following night. When re-inforced the next morning he attacked and captured a strongly fortified village, taking 500 prisoners. Though wounded twice more, the second time severely, Freyberg refused to leave the line until he had issued final instructions. His citation described the end result of these actions, stating that " [Freyberg] enabled the lodgement of the corps to be permanently held, and on this point the line was eventually formed" for subsequent offensives.

During his time on the Western Front Freyberg continued to lead by example. His leadership had a cost however: Freyberg received nine wounds during his service in France, and men who served with him later in his career said hardly a part of his body did not have scars.

Freyberg gained promotion to the rank of temporary Brigadier and took command of a brigade in the 58th Division in April 1917, which reportedly made him the youngest General in the British Army. He was awarded a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George the same year. In September a shell exploding at his feet inflicted the worst of his many wounds. When he resumed duty in January 1918 he again commanded a brigade in the 29th Division, performing with distinction during the German offensive of March–April 1918. He won a bar to his DSO in September that year.

Freyberg ended the war by leading a squadron to seize a bridge at Lessines, which was achieved one minute before the armistice came into effect, thus earning him another DSO. By the end of the war Freyberg had added the French Croix de Guerre to his name, as well receiving five Mentions in Despatches after his escapade at Saros.

The Interbellum

Early in 1919 Freyberg was granted a regular commission in the Grenadier Guards and settled into peacetime soldiering. From 1921 to 1925 he was a staff officer in the headquarters of the 44th Division. He suffered health problems arising from his many wounds, and as part of his convalescence he visited New Zealand in 1921.

On 14 June 1922 he married Barbara McLaren (a daughter of Sir Herbert Jekyll and the widow of Hon. Francis McLaren) at St Martha on the Hill. Barbara had two children from her previous marriage, and she and Freyberg later had a son, Paul, born in 1923.

In the general election of 1922 he stood unsuccessfully (coming second) as an Independent Liberal candidate for Cardiff South. He represented New Zealand on the International Olympic Committee in 1928-30.

After a further staff appointment, at Headquarters Eastern Command, Freyberg was appointed to command 1st Battalion, Manchester Regiment, in 1929. With his promotion to the rank of Major General in 1934, at the age of only 45, he seemed headed for the highest echelons of the army. However, medical examinations prior to a posting in India revealed a heart problem. Despite strenuous efforts to surmount this, Freyberg, who was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1936, was obliged to retire on 16 October 1937.

World War II

The British Army classified Freyberg as unfit for active service in 1937. However, following the outbreak of war in September 1939 he returned to its active list. Following an approach from the New Zealand government, Freyberg offered his services and subsequently gained appointment as commander of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force and of the New Zealand 2nd Division.

In the chaos of the retreat from the Greek mainland campaign of 1941, London gave Freyberg command of the Allied forces during the Battle of Crete. Controversy surrounds his use of ULTRA intelligence messages during this battle. [ [ The controversies - The Battle for Crete | NZHistory ] ]

Promoted to Lieutenant General and knighted via Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, Freyberg continued to command the New Zealand 2nd Division through the North African and Italian campaigns of the British Eighth Army. He had an excellent reputation as a divisional-level tactician. Freyberg disagreed strongly with his superior, General Claude Auchinleck, and insisted that as a commander of a national contingent he had the right to refuse orders if those orders ran counter to the New Zealand national interest. On the other hand, Freyberg enjoyed a good relationship with General Bernard Montgomery, who thought highly of the experienced New Zealander.

In the climactic Battle of El Alamein in October–November 1942, the New Zealand Division played a vital part in the Allies’ final breakthrough; for his leadership of it Freyberg was immediately upgraded to a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. During the ensuing pursuit of the Axis forces across North Africa to Tunisia, where they surrendered, he led the New Zealanders on a series of well-executed left hooks designed to outflank successive enemy defence lines.

Freyberg was injured in an aircraft accident in September 1944. After six weeks in hospital he returned to command the New Zealand Division in its final operations, which involved a series of river crossings and an advance of 250 miles in three weeks. By the time of Germany’s capitulation, the New Zealanders had reached Trieste, where there was, briefly, a tense standoff with Yugoslav partisans. This success earned him a third bar to his DSO, and he was also made a commander of the US Legion of Merit. By the time he relinquished command of the division, on 22 November 1945, he had accepted an invitation to become Governor-General of New Zealand – the first with a New Zealand upbringing. He left London for his new post on 3 May 1946, after being made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George. His links with the army were cut when his retirement took effect on 10 September 1946.

Freyberg had excelled in planning set-piece attacks, such as at Operation Supercharge at Alamein, Operation Supercharge II at Tebaga Gap, and in the storming of the Senio line in 1945. However, the two occasions that Freyberg commanded at Corps level—at Tebaga Gap and Monte Cassino—counted as less successful. Throughout the war he showed a disdain for danger. He showed notable concern for the welfare of his soldiers, taking a common-sense attitude to discipline and ensuring the establishment of social facilities for his men. He had become a very popular commander with the New Zealand soldiers by the time he left his command in 1945.


Following his retirement from the Army, Freyberg served as Governor-General of New Zealand from 1946 until 1952. In this post he played a very active role, visiting all parts of New Zealand and its dependencies.

The Crown raised Freyberg to the peerage as Baron Freyberg of Wellington in New Zealand and of Munstead in the County of Surrey in 1951.

After his term as New Zealand Governor-General had finished Freyberg returned to England where he sat frequently in the House of Lords. On 1 March 1953 he became the Deputy Constable and Lieutenant-Governor of Windsor Castle; he took up residence in the Norman Gateway the following year.

In 1955, Freyberg High School in Palmerston North, New Zealand opened.

Freyberg died at Windsor on 4 July 1963 following the rupture of one of his war wounds, and was buried in the churchyard of St Martha on the Hill in Guildford, Surrey. His wife is buried next to him and his son nearby.



* "" (L Barber and J Tonkin-Covell, 1989)
* "" (Paul Freyberg, 1991)
* "VCs of the First World War - The Somme" (Gerald Gliddon, 1994)
* "The Register of the Victoria Cross" (This England, 1997)
* "Monuments to Courage" (David Harvey, 1999)

External links

* [ Official biography] at Government House, Wellington. Accessed 14 February 2006.
* [ First World - Who's Who - Bernard Freyberg] . Accessed 14 February 2006.
* [ "Freyberg, Bernard Cyril"] at the "Dictionary of New Zealand Biography". Accessed 14 February 2006.
* [ New Zealand Troops who have won the Victoria Cross] . Accessed 14 February 2006.
* [ Location of grave and VC medal] (Surrey). Accessed 14 February 2006.
* [ Photo of Generals Freyberg and Morshead conferring "in a shell hole" in North Africa]

NAME=Freyberg, Bernard Cyril Freyberg, Baron
SHORT DESCRIPTION=Military leader, viceroy, Victoria Cross
DATE OF BIRTH=21 March 1889
PLACE OF BIRTH=Richmond, London, United Kingdom
DATE OF DEATH=4 July 1963
PLACE OF DEATH=Windsor, Berkshire, United Kingdom

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