One of the most extraordinary and daring feats in the war has been accomplished by a young New Zealander, who however, is not serving with the New Zealand forces. Many people in the Dominion will remember “Tiny” Freyberg, who, as a schoolboy was a champion swimmer. He is now full blown major, has been wounded three times and has been twice mentioned in dispatches. He was evidently born to be a soldier. Some time ago he went out to Mexico and offered his services to Huerta. Huerta did not want him, so he went and fought with Villa on the opposite side. Returning to England he joined the Naval Brigade; fought at Antwerp; was wounded; received his captaincy, and was mentioned in dispatches. Afterwards, he came out with the Brigade to the Dardanelles. When an attack was about to be delivered further down the Peninsula, it became necessary to make a demonstration opposite the Bulair lines, so that reinforcements would not be sent from that quarter.
It was decided to despatch three boatloads of men ashore to light flares on the beach, so as to draw the fire of the enemy in the Bulair lines and engage their attention while the marines landed at Cape Helles. Freyberg was to command the landing party. He, however, pointed out to Major-General Paris that this meant sacrificing the lives of the men, not one of whom would be likely to return alive, and he suggested that he himself should be allowed to perform the mission by swimming ashore.
It was therefore arranged that on the 4th April he was to go in the destroyer Kennet and make a reconnaissance. This was done, the destroyer being fired at by the Turkish held batteries and maxima. On the following evening three cutters and two picket boats were loaded with men as if for a night landing, and Freyberg, having had his skin painted Khaki, got into the Kennet, which was to drop him in the sea about half a mile from the shore. By this time night had fallen, but there was faint moonlight. In the uncertain light it was not easy to judge distance, and young Freyberg found that he was in for a swim of two miles, with three old flares and two Holmes lights, which he carried in a waterproof bag, with sufficient air in it to support the weight in the water.
He also carried, attached to a belt round his waist, a small revolver, and a sheath knife. He was put into the water sometime after midnight, and he judged that it took him an hour and a half to swim ashore. He had to dodge the ordinary landing place, where there were barbed-wire entanglements, and landed on a rugged bit of beach. From there he crawled inland for a quarter of a mile to a place where on the previous day he had noticed some trenches, and he could hear the Turks and see them striking matches to light their cigarettes in the lines higher up. The water had been bitterly cold, and he now felt symptoms of cramp, so he crawled back to the beach, landed again, and lit a second flare. He repeated the performance a third time, still further along the shore, the Kennet meantime having opened fire over the other lights with her 12 pounders and maxima.
Having safely accomplished this mission, Major Freyberg started to swim back on a line due south, as arranged, steering by a compass on his wrist, to a spot where it had been arranged the Kennet would pick him up. The Kennet, however, was not there, and so he had to float about for nearly an hour. The day before they had seen a shark following the boat, several of these brutes having no doubt been attracted by the dead bodies from the transport Manitou, which met her fate in these waters – and when a great porpoise rose before him about halfway across, he admits that he got an awful fright.
After floating for about an hour, and all firing having by that time ceased, he started to swim in the direction in which he thought the Kennet might be, and presently, in answer to his “cooees,” the destroyer came along and picked him up. This uncertain floating around in the dark, the moon having gone down – was the worst part of the whole adventure. Subsequently Major Freyberg was sent for by the General who thanked him and told him he would hear more about his very plucky action.
The Chronicle, Friday, April 24, 1987