Remembering ANZAC Day
long and illustrious history of Swimming and British Military heroes, New
Freyberg, is one of the most fabulous.
Observed as a day of Commemoration, not a holiday, April 25, 2015 marks
the 100th anniversary of the day members of the Australian and New Zealand Army
Corps(ANZAC) first landed on the Gallipoli peninsula, in the war against the
Ottoman Empire, during WWI. What had
been planned as a bold strike to knock the Ottomans out of the war quickly
became a disastrous stalemate,
as the campaign dragged on for eight months,
with total casualties on both sides exceeding 100,000. The 1981 film, “Gallipoli”, starring Mel
Gibson,shows much of the conditions that these soldiers endured. In 1934, the “ANZAC Cove”became hallowed ground
for the world to remember the horrors of war.
Less well known is the story of Bernard Freyberg – whose swim in the early dawn hours of one-hundred
years ago, must rank as one of the most courageous swims in history.
in London in 1880 and taken to New Zealand as a child, Bernard Freyberg was a
strong swimmer, twice wining the national 100 meter championship of New Zealand
in 1906 and 1010. Trained as a dental
assistant, he dreamed of being a soldier.
a King’s commission, he left New Zealand in
1914 to join Pancho Villa’s revolutionary army and then lit out
for London when WWI started. Stranded in Los Angeles, he earned fare to New
York by winning a swimming meet.
Stranded in New York, he earned fare to London by winning a
prizefight. Unknown in London he
accosted Winston Churchill and demanded a commission, claiming to have been a
captain in Villa’s army.
to Gallipoli, Freyberg literally earned immortality with a feat of personal
bravery which Sir James “J. M.” Barrie (best
remembered today for penning Peter Pan) chose as an example for a lecture on “Courage” in 1922.
is the thing. All goes if courage
goes. What says our
glorious Johnson of courage: ‘Unless
a man has that virtue he has
no security for preserving any
other.’ We should thank our Creator
three times daily for courage instead
of for our bread, which,
if we work, is surely the one thing
we have a right to claim of Him.
This courage is a proof of our
immortality, greater even than
gardens ‘when the eve is cool.’ Pray for it.
‘Who rises from
prayer a better man, his prayer is
answered.’ Be not merely
courageous, but light-hearted and
gay. There is an officer
who was the first of our Army to land
at Gallipoli. He was
dropped overboard to light decoys on
the shore, so as to deceive
the Turks as to where the landing was
to be. He pushed a raft
containing these in front of
him. It was a frosty night,
and he was naked and painted
black. Firing from the ships was
going on all around. It was a two-hours’ swim in pitch darkness.
He did it, crawled through the scrub
to listen to the talk of the
enemy, who were so near that he could
have shaken hands with them,
lit his decoys and swam back. He seems to look on this as a gay
affair. He is a V.C. now, and you would not think to
look at him
that he could ever have presented
such a disreputable appearance.
Would you? (indicating Colonel Freyberg).
The Turks rushed over to repulse
what they thought was a big landing force while the British landed further down
the peninsula. For this swimming feat,
credited with saving thousands of British lives during the landing, Freyberg
got the D.S.O. (Distinguished Service Order).
Later in the same ill-fated campaign, he won the Victoria Cross for
leading a charge, although wounded four times.
After recovering from his wounds and already a living legend, Freyberg
was promoted to Brigadier General in 1917.
After the war, Freyberg lived in
England trying unsuccessfully to get elected to Commons and several times to
swim the English Channel, once missing by only 400 yards. When WWII broke out in 1939, he was again a
hero as commander of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
In the long and illustrious history
of Swimming and
British Military heroes, Bernard Freyberg is one of the most fabulous.
Excerpted from a forthcoming book on
the importance of swimming to world history and warfare from the International
Swimming Hall of Fame.