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.
“The horrible smell of burnt flesh”
Wellington-born William Fell was a 19-year-old midshipman on board the Royal Navy battleship HMS Warspite in 1916. He took part in the Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle of the First World War. The Warspite was hit several times and 14 of her crew were killed.
In a 1961 radio programme, ‘First War Sailor’, Captain Fell (as he later became) vividly recounts his experience. He was a 'snotty', as the teenaged junior midshipmen were called in Navy slang, and his position at the transmitting station meant he was locked in the bowels of the ship as the battle raged above.
The rush to enlist
Leonard Leary was a law student at Victoria College (now Victoria University) when war was declared in August 1914. Fiercely patriotic, he was among the men who rushed to sign up to fight at the earliest opportunity. In this extract from a 1982 radio documentary, Leary recalls the heady days when war broke out. He headed down to the Wellington wharves with a group of fellow pro-Empire students to express his support for the war effort, and to enlist in the NZEF.