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A Hero’s Painful Memories

Bernard “Tiny” Freyberg VC, CMG, DSO ended World War One a highly decorated hero – celebrated in Britain as well as his homeland of New Zealand. He had served with the British forces: his Distinguished Service Order (DSO) was won at Gallipoli, his Victoria Cross (VC) on the Somme and, at the age of 27, he was made the youngest Brigadier-General in the British Army. He would go on to command the 2nd New Zealand Division in World War Two and become Governor-General of New Zealand.

Born in London, he grew up in New Zealand after his family emigrated and he attended Wellington College, in the capital city.

In 1921, still suffering from the many wounds he received during the war, he returned to New Zealand for several weeks to recuperate. He turned down all requests for public appearances and a civic reception, but he did take time to visit his old school and address an assembly of the boys.

One of those schoolboys, Max Riske, vividly recalled the event some 60 years later in a radio interview. As Max explains, the boys were expecting a stirring speech from a glorious war hero – but got something quite different from the man who had lost two brothers and many friends in the war.

Year:1921 (Recorded in 1981)

Location:Wellington, New Zealand

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A Hero’s Painful Memories

Bernard “Tiny” Freyberg VC, CMG, DSO ended World War One a highly decorated hero – celebrated in Britain as well as his homeland of New Zealand. He had served with the British forces: his Distinguished Service Order (DSO) was won at Gallipoli, his Victoria Cross (VC) on the Somme and, at the age of 27, he was made the youngest Brigadier-General in the British Army. He would go on to command the 2nd New Zealand Division in World War Two and become Governor-General of New Zealand.

Born in London, he grew up in New Zealand after his family emigrated and he attended Wellington College, in the capital city.

In 1921, still suffering from the many wounds he received during the war, he returned to New Zealand for several weeks to recuperate. He turned down all requests for public appearances and a civic reception, but he did take time to visit his old school and address an assembly of the boys.

One of those schoolboys, Max Riske, vividly recalled the event some 60 years later in a radio interview. As Max explains, the boys were expecting a stirring speech from a glorious war hero – but got something quite different from the man who had lost two brothers and many friends in the war.


Year: 1921 (Recorded in 1981)

Length: 0:01:02

Production Company: Radio New Zealand

Source: Radio New Zealand Collection, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Catalogue Reference: 24272 Looking back: interview with Marcus Riske


People: Bernard Freyberg, Marcus “Max” Riske

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

Tags: 1921, World War One, World War Two, WWI, WWII, Brigadier-General, Bernard Freyberg, Marcus “Max” Riske, Governor-General, Wellington, Wellington College, New Zealand Division, Victoria Cross, Britain, Gallipoli, the Somme

Subject: 1921, Bernard Freyberg, speech, Wellington College


Image Title: Brigadier-General BC Freyberg, The Weekly News, November 28, 1918.

Image Source: http://media.api.aucklandmuseum.com/id/media/v/310932?rendering=original.jpg


Although Max Riske recalls the Wellington College assembly as being on Anzac Day (25 April 1921), according to newspaper reports, Freyberg actually visited Wellington College on 1 July 1921. It appears to have been the only public appearance he made during his New Zealand visit in June – July 1921, spending the rest of his time recuperating at his parent’s Wellington home.

He would not be back in the country until the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, when he returned to lead the New Zealand Division, which departed for the fighting in Europe and North Africa in January 1940. 

In his farewell radio broadcast to the nation, he spoke at length about his World War One experience and the friends he lost. 

Bernard Freyberg was wounded nine times during World War One and one of his Gallipoli wounds would finally cause his death in 1963, when it ruptured.