Sir Bernard Freyberg in 1919

image: Wikipedia commons

 

Bernard Cyril Freyberg became a distinguished army officer and Governor-General of New Zealand, and in 1951 was created the first Baron Freyberg of Wellington, New Zealand, and of Munstead in Surrey.

In 1922 he married Barbara, daughter of Sir Herbert and Lady Jekyll of Munstead House on her birthday the 14th June at St Martha’s Church, Chilworth. His best man at the wedding was Sir James Matthew Barrie who wrote Peter Pan (1904). It was while staying at Munstead House that Barrie thought of the story of the little boy who would not grow up. Herbert Jekyll the brother of Gertrude Jekyll had inherited Munstead House from their mother, Julia Jekyll, when she died in 1895. Barbara’s (1888-1973) first husband was Francis Walter Stafford McLaren who was killed in action in 1917, and is buried in Busbridge churchyard. His wooden headboard is the only one ever designed by Edwin Lutyens. 

Freyberg was born in Richmond and emigrated with his parents in 1891, at the age of 2, to New Zealand. He was educated at Wellington where he excelled at sport winning many swimming championships. He qualified as a dentist, and then began a military career and in 1914 was commissioned into the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. He became a friend of Sir Winston Churchill and served at Antwerp and Gallipoli. In 1915 Freyberg officiated at the funeral of Rupert Brooke the poet, as he commanded Brooke’s battalion, and he chose the place on the island of Skyros. 

In 1917 at the age of 28 he became the youngest brigadier-general in the British Army. He was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) at the battle of the Somme, and commanded the 29th Davison near Passchendaele. He was wounded nine times during the First World War and received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) with three bars, and the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG). He is the most decorated man in the British Army. He worked at the British War Office during the wars, and commanded the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force in the Middle East 1939-1945.

Freyberg became governor-general of New Zealand in 1945-52.

  

Statue of Sir Bernard Freyberg in Auckland, new Zealand
image: Ann Laver

 

On leaving New Zealand he was asked to be lieutenant-governor and deputy-constable of Windsor Castle in 1953. Freyberg spent his time between London and Munstead House, the family home, which is still occupied by the family.

Freyberg died in 1963 and was buried at St Martha’s Church, Chilworth, and his wife, Barbara, who died in 1973, next to him. Their graves have been restored and on the 20th September 2007 a ceremony was held, organised by the New Zealand High Commission and New Zealand Defence Staff in London, to honour Freyberg. Helen Clark, the New Zealand Prime Minister, laid a wreath on Lady Freyberg’s grave in memory of her welfare work with New Zealand troops during WW11 for which she was awarded a GBE in 1943. There was a plaque to Freyberg placed in the church. 

More about his life can be read in Bernard Freyberg, VC, soldier of two nations (1991), by his only son, Paul Freyberg (1923-1993), and can be seen in the museum's local studies library.

 

 

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