New Zealand’s newest Victoria Cross holder Corporal Willie Apiata VC attended a ceremony in Guildford, south of London on Sunday to honour one of our most famous VC recipients Lord Bernard Freyberg VC.
Corporal Apiata said, "It was a privilege to take part in a ceremony to honour one of our most distinguished military commanders. From what I have read about Lord Freyberg he was a fine officer and well respected by his troops as he was known for putting their welfare above his own. No soldier could ask for more."
The ceremony to honour Lord and Lady Freyberg at St Martha’s on the Hill church was also attended by the Prime Minister Helen Clark; the New Zealand High Commissioner Jonathan Hunt, members of the Freyberg family and invited guests.
Lord Freyberg VC won the Victoria Cross on the Somme in 1916 and went on to command the New Zealand forces in WWII. He also served as New Zealand’s Governor General from 1946 to 1952.
The ceremony was the result of a three-year campaign by Christchurch WWII veteran Earle Crutchley to have the graves of Lord and Lady Freyberg repaired. Mr Crutchey made the graves his personal project after he found them in poor repair when he visited the gravesite after attending the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Cassino in 2004.The graves have been repaired and cleaned and a plaque to Freyberg has been erected in the church.
Lieutenant-General Bernard Cyril Freyberg, 1st Baron Freyberg VC, GCMG, KCB, KBE, DSO and three Bars is New Zealand’s most decorated soldier who served in the First and Second World Wars.
Freyberg was born in 1889 in Richmond, London and moved to New Zealand with his parents at the age of two. His family lived in Hawker Street, Mount Victoria and he attended Wellington College from 1897 to 1904.
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 and began lighting flares to distract the defending Turkish forces from the landings taking place at Gallipoli. It was for this action he received his first Distinguished Service Order (DSO).
In the final stages of the first battle of the Somme, he so distinguished himself in the capture of a strongly fortified village that he was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC). By the end of the war Freyberg had added another two DSOs and the French Croix Militaire de Guerre to his name.
It was during WWII that his leadership skills came to the fore as commander of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force and of the New Zealand 2nd Division. He was a popular commander who showed a notable concern for the welfare of his soldiers, regarding it as his duty to conserve New Zealand’s scarce manpower.
Following his retirement from the Army, Freyberg served as Governor-General of New Zealand from 1946 to 1952. In this post he played an active role, visiting all parts of New Zealand and its dependencies. In 1951 the Crown raised Freyberg to the peerage taking the title Baron Freyberg ‘of Wellington in New Zealand and of Munstead in the County of Surrey’.
Freyberg died at Windsor on 4 July 1963 following the rupture of one of his Gallipoli wounds, and was buried in the churchyard of St Martha on the Hill in Guildford, Surrey.