Military Wiki
Lieutenant-General The Right Honourable
The Lord Freyberg
Freyberg at Cassino, Italy, 3 January 1944.
7th Governor-General of New Zealand

In office
17 June 1946 – 15 August 1952
Monarch George VI
Elizabeth II
Preceded by Sir Cyril Newall
Succeeded by Sir Willoughby Norrie
Personal details
Born (1889-03-21)21 March 1889
Richmond, Surrey,
United Kingdom
Died 4 July 1963(1963-07-04) (aged 74)
Windsor, Berkshire,
United Kingdom
Nationality New Zealand
Military service
Nickname(s) Tiny[12]
Allegiance  United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1914–1937)
 New Zealand (1939–1945)
Years of service 1914–1937
Rank Lieutenant General
Commands 1st Battalion, Manchester Regiment
2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force
New Zealand 2nd Division
X Corps
Awards Victoria Cross (15 December 1916)[1]

Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (29 Jan 46)
Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (24 Nov 42)
Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Companion of the Order of the Bath (1 Jan 35)
Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (1919)
Distinguished Service Order & three Bars (3 Jun 1915,[2] 1 Feb 1919,[2] 7 Mar 1919,[2] 5 Jul 1945[3])
Mention in Despatches (6)[4][5][6][7]
Knight of the Venerable Order of St. John (Dec 45)[8]
Croix de Guerre (France)
Legion of Merit (Commander) (United States) (2 Aug 45)[9]
Grand Commander with swords of the Order of George I (Greece)[10]
Gold Cross of Valour (Greece)[10]
Greek War Cross (1st Class) (10 Apr 42)[11]

Lieutenant-General Bernard Cyril Freyberg, 1st Baron Freyberg VC GCMG KCB KBE DSO*** KStJ (21 March 1889 – 4 July 1963), was a British-born New Zealand Victoria Cross recipient and soldier who later served as the seventh Governor-General of New Zealand.

A veteran of the Mexican Revolution, he became an officer in the British Army during the First World War. Freyberg took part in the beach landings during the Gallipoli Campaign and was the youngest general in the British Army during the First World War,[13] later serving on the Western Front where he was decorated with the Victoria Cross and three DSOs, making him one of the most highly decorated British Empire officers of the First World War. He liked to be in the thick of the action — Winston Churchill called him "the Salamander" due to his ability to pass through fire unharmed.

During the Second World War, he commanded the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in the Battle of Crete, the North African Campaign and the Italian Campaign. Freyberg was involved in the Allied defeat in the Battle of Greece, defeated again as the Allied commander in the Battle of Crete and performed successfully in the North African Campaign commanding the New Zealand division, including the Battle of El Alamein.

In Italy, he was defeated again at the Second Battle of Cassino as a corps commander, but later relieved Padua and Venice, and was one of the first to enter Trieste, where he successfully confronted Josip Broz Tito's Partisans. By the end of the Second World War, Freyberg had spent ten and a half years fighting the Germans.[14]

Early life[]

Bernard Freyberg c. 1914

Freyberg, born in Richmond, London, UK of distant Austrian ancestry,[15] 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 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, reportedly becoming a captain under Pancho Villa. Upon hearing of the outbreak of war in Europe in August 1914, he travelled to England via Los Angeles (where he won a swimming competition) and New York (where he won a prizefight), to earn money to cross the United States and the Atlantic.[16]

World War I[]

In late 1914 Freyberg met Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, and persuaded him to grant him a Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve commission in the 'Hood' Battalion of the newly constituted Royal Naval Division.[16]

In 1915 Freyberg became involved in the Dardanelles campaign. During the initial landings by Allied troops following the unsuccessful naval 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.[16] He received serious wounds on several occasions and left the peninsula when his division evacuated in January 1916.

In May 1916 Freyberg was transferred to the British Army as a captain in the Queen's (Royal West Surrey) Regiment.[17] However, he remained with the 'Hood' Battalion as a seconded temporary major[17] and went with them to France. During the final stages of the Battle of the Somme, when commanding a battalion as a temporary lieutenant-colonel, he so distinguished himself in the capture of Beaucourt village that he was awarded the Victoria Cross.[1][16] On 13 November 1916[18] 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 reinforced the next morning, he attacked and captured a strongly fortified village, taking 500 prisoners. Although wounded twice more, the second time severely, Freyberg refused to leave the line until he had issued final instructions. The citation for the award, published in the London Gazette in December 1916,[1] describes the events concluding with:

The personality, valour and utter contempt of danger on the part of this single Officer enabled the lodgment in the most advanced objective of the Corps to be permanently held, and on this point d'appui the line was eventually formed.[1]

During his time on the Western Front Freyberg continued to lead by example. His bold leadership had a cost: 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-general[16] (although he still had the permanent rank of only captain)[19] and took command of a brigade in the 58th Division in April 1917, which reportedly made him the youngest general officer 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 88th Brigade in 29th Division,[14] 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 cavalry squadron detached from 7th Dragoon Guards to seize a bridge at Lessines, which was achieved one minute before the armistice came into effect, thus earning him a third DSO.[2][20] 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. With his VC and three DSOs, he ranked as among the most highly decorated British Empire officers of the First World War.


Early in 1919 Freyberg was granted a regular commission in the Grenadier Guards and settled into peacetime soldiering, as well as attempts to swim the English Channel.[16] 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 the Honourable Francis McLaren) at St Martha on the Hill. Barbara had two children from her previous marriage; she and Freyberg later had a son, Paul (1923–1993).

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. Promoted to the permanent rank of major in 1927 (having been a substantive captain since 1916),[21] he held a GSO2 staff appointment at Headquarters, Eastern Command until February 1929 when he was promoted lieutenant-colonel and appointed to command 1st Battalion, Manchester Regiment.[22]

In 1931 he was promoted colonel (with seniority backdated to 1922)[23] and was appointed Assistant Quartermaster General of Southern Command. In September 1933 he moved to a GSO1 posting at the War Office[24] before being promoted major-general in July 1934.[25] With this promotion, 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,[26] was obliged to retire on 16 October 1937.[27]

Second World War[]

Major General Freyberg (right) at the Battle of Crete

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 in December as a specially employed major-general.[28] 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.[16]

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.[29]

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. Churchill described Freyberg as his "salamander" due to his love of fire and wanting to be always in the middle of the action;[30] An exploding German shell wounded Freyberg at the Battle of Marsa Matruh in June 1942, but he soon returned to the battlefield.[16] Freyberg however 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 promoted to a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath.[31] 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. In April and May 1943 Freyberg briefly commanded X Corps.[32]

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, having already liberated both Padua and Venice, where there was, briefly, a tense standoff with Yugoslav partisans. This success earned him a third bar to his DSO in July 1945,[3] and he was also made a commander of the US Legion of Merit.

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 Crete 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.

Freyberg is closely associated with the controversial decision to bomb the ancient monastery at Monte Cassino, Italy, in February 1944. Freyberg, commanding the troops which fought what later became known as the Second and Third Battles of Monte Cassino, became convinced the abbey, founded in 529 A.D., was being used as a military stronghold. The analysis of one of Freyberg's divisional commanders, Francis Tuker, concluded in a memo to Freyberg that regardless of whether the monastery was currently occupied by the Germans, it should be demolished to prevent its effective occupation. He also pointed out that with 150 foot (45 m) high walls made of masonry at least 10 feet (3 m) thick, there was no practical means for field engineers to deal with the place, and that bombing with "blockbuster" bombs would be the only solution since 1,000 pound bombs would be "next to useless".[33] The theatre commander, General Harold Alexander, agreed to the bombing (which did not employ blockbuster bombs); the ruins were occupied by German forces which held the position until 18 May. Following the war, the abbot of the monastery and other monks confirmed that German troops had not occupied the inside of the abbey and it was not being used for military purposes.[34]


Governor General Sir Bernard Freyberg in 1950

Freyberg's grave in the churchyard of St Martha on the Hill, near Guildford, Surrey

Freyberg relinquished command of the New Zealand division, on 22 November 1945 having 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.[35] His links with the army were cut when his retirement took effect on 10 September 1946. 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. On 1 January 1946 Freyberg was appointed a Knight of the Order of Saint John.[36]

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.[37]

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;[38] 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 near Guildford, Surrey. His wife is buried at his side, and their son, who had been awarded the Military Cross, at the end of their graves.

The Sir Bernard Freyberg Cup is awarded to the winner in single sculls at the New Zealand Rowing Championship.[39][40]


Note: An asterisk (*) denotes a Bar to the DSO.

  • 1889–1914: Bernard Cyril Freyberg
  • 1914-3 June 1915: Commander (temp.) Bernard Cyril Freyberg, RNVR
  • 3 June 1915 – May 1916: Commander (temp.) Bernard Cyril Freyberg, DSO, RNVR
  • May–June 1916: Captain Bernard Cyril Freyberg, DSO
  • June–July 1916: Captain (Temp. Major) Bernard Cyril Freyberg, DSO
  • July-12 December 1916: Captain (Temp. Lieutenant-Colonel) Bernard Cyril Freyberg, DSO
  • 12 December 1916 – 1917: Captain (Temp. Lieutenant-Colonel) Bernard Cyril Freyberg, VC, DSO
  • 1917-1 February 1919: Captain (Temp. Brigadier-General) Bernard Cyril Freyberg, VC, DSO
  • 1 February – 7 March 1919: Captain (Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel; Temp. Brigadier) Bernard Cyril Freyberg, VC, DSO*
  • 7 March–June 1919: Captain (Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel) Bernard Cyril Freyberg, VC, DSO*
  • June 1919 – 1920: Captain (Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel) Bernard Cyril Freyberg, VC, DSO**
  • 1920–1927: Captain (Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel) Bernard Cyril Freyberg, VC, CMG, DSO**
  • 1927–1929: Major (Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel) Bernard Cyril Freyberg, VC, CMG, DSO**
  • 1929–1931: Lieutenant-Colonel Bernard Cyril Freyberg, VC, CMG, DSO**
  • 1931–1934: Colonel Bernard Cyril Freyberg, VC, CMG, DSO**
  • 1934–1935: Major-General Bernard Cyril Freyberg, VC, CMG, DSO**
  • 1935–1941: Major-General Bernard Cyril Freyberg, VC, CB, CMG, DSO**
  • 1941–1942: Lieutenant-General Sir Bernard Cyril Freyberg, VC, KBE, CB, CMG, DSO**
  • 1942–1945: Lieutenant-General Sir Bernard Cyril Freyberg, VC, KCB, KBE, CMG, DSO**
  • 1945–1946: Lieutenant-General Sir Bernard Cyril Freyberg, VC, KCB, KBE, CMG, DSO***
  • 1946–1951: Lieutenant-General His Excellency Sir Bernard Cyril Freyberg, VC, GCMG, KCB, KBE, DSO***
  • 1951–1952: Lieutenant-General His Excellency The Right Honourable The Lord Freyberg, VC, GCMG, KCB, KBE, DSO***
  • 1952–1963: Lieutenant-General The Right Honourable The Lord Freyberg, VC, GCMG, KCB, KBE, DSO***

Honours (ribbon bar)[]

(ribbon bar, as it would look today; – UK decorations only)

UK Victoria Cross ribbon bar.svg UK Order St-Michael St-George ribbon.svg Order of the Bath UK ribbon.png Order of the British Empire (Military) Ribbon.png

DSO with 3Bars.png Order of St John (UK) ribbon.png 1914 Star BAR.svg British War Medal BAR.svg

Victory Medal MID ribbon bar.svg 39-45 Star BAR.svg Africa Star BAR.svg Italy Star BAR.svg

War Medal 39-45 BAR.svg GeorgeVSilverJubileum-ribbon.png GeorgeVICoronationRibbon.png UK Queen EII Coronation Medal ribbon.svg


Arms of B
Bernard Freyberg Arms.svg
The arms of Bernard Freyberg consist of:
Or, on a chief sable, four mullets or.
Two salamanders enflamed proper.
New Zeal and Honour
Other elements

See also[]

  • Freyberg Field – a football stadium in Auckland


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "No. 29866". 15 December 1916. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 "No. 31219". 7 March 1919. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "No. 37161". 3 July 1945. 
  4. "No. 29664". 11 September 1916. 
  5. "No. 35821". 11 December 1942. 
  6. "No. 36065". 22 June 1943. 
  7. "No. 37368". 27 November 1945. 
  8. "No. 37417". 1 January 1946. 
  9. "No. 37204". 31 July 1945. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 McGibbon, Ian. "Freyberg, VC". diggerhistory. Retrieved 26 November 2010. 
  11. "No. 35519". 7 April 1942. 
  12. Mead, p. 146.
  13. "Youngest General WW1". Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 Kay, p. 549
  15. Ewer, Peter (2010). Forgotten Anzacs: The Campaign in Greece, 1941. Scribe Publications. p. 30. ISBN 9781921372759. Retrieved 19 October 2013. "By distant ancestry, Freyberg was related to Austrian mercenaries who had fought for the Russian tsar against Napoleon at the Battle of Borodino in 1812." 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 16.5 16.6 16.7 "Nazi Shell in Egypt Wounds One of British Empire's Most Fabulous Soldiers". Life. 17 August 1942. p. 28. Retrieved 19 November 2011. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 "No. 29626". 16 June 1916. 
  18. "No. 31259". 28 March 1919. 
  19. "No. 30106". 1 June 1917. 
  20. "No. 31583". 3 October 1919. 
  21. "No. 33281". 3 June 1927. 
  22. "No. 33463". 29 February 1929. 
  23. "No. 33699". 17 March 1931. 
  24. "No. 33978". 15 September 1933. 
  25. "No. 34070". 17 July 1934. 
  26. "No. 34238". 31 December 1935. 
  27. "No. 34444". 15 October 1937. 
  28. "No. 34758". 22 December 1939. 
  29. "The controversies – The Battle for Crete". New Zealand History online. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 9 July 2009. 
  30. Stevens (1962), p. 121. Ancient superstition had it that the lizard-like salamander could live in fire.
  31. "No. 35794". 20 November 1942. 
  32. "Orders of Battle". Orders of Battle. Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  33. Majdalany, pp. 114–115.
  34. Hapgood, D, & Richardson, D, 1987. Monte Cassino, Gordon and Weed, Inc, New York.
  35. "No. 37453". 1 February 1946. 
  36. "No. 37417". 1 January 1946. 
  37. "No. 39362". 19 October 1951. 
  38. "No. 39791". 3 March 1953. 
  39. Stu Piddington (20 February 2011). "Mahe Drysdale offers no excuses for loss". Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  40. "Haigh's back where she belongs". Retrieved 1 November 2013. 


External links[]

Military offices
Preceded by
Brian Horrocks
GOC, X Corps
April 1943 – May 1943
Succeeded by
Richard McCreery
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Cyril Newall
Governor-General of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Charles Norrie, 1st Baron Norrie
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
New Creation
Baron Freyberg
Succeeded by
Paul Freyberg

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