Ever wondered what Peter Pan would have been like, had he grown up? Peter Pan’s creator, James Barrie, knew, because that is how he described his friend Bernard Freyberg.
Barrie, a successful playwright, met Freyberg while the latter was recovering in a London hospital from war wounds in 1916-17. They formed a firm friendship, thought later by Freyberg’s son to be in the fashion of a father-son relationship. Barrie, nearly thirty years’ Freyberg’s senior, became the supportive father that Freyberg had been denied in his own youth.
It was thanks to Barrie that Freyberg got interested in writing, discovering he had a passion for it – penning his war experiences which remains unpublished today. Barrie kept a room for Freyberg in his third-floor flat on Robert Street (Adelphi Terrace), where Freyberg spent time writing: Barrie encouraged him, declaring that Freyberg had a ‘great natural gift’ for it. Freyberg leaped into it with the same enthusiasms he showed for every new interest, and began penning a war memoir at a great rate, talking to Barrie about his style and about reducing the adjectives, all the while ‘waving manuscripts’. In a sense, such an effusion of words was therapy. But there was no question about his ability as a writer. Freyberg, it seems, was a man of wide talent. ‘Barrie days’, Freyberg called this time, and he found himself dreaming about it, later. They remained friends to the end. When Barrie lay dying in 1937, Freyberg sat vigil, along with their mutual friend, Cynthia Asquith.
So what was it about Freyberg that made Barrie describe him as ‘Peter Pan grown up’? Kindness, empathy, a deeply sharp intellect – all wrapped in an almost child-like view of the world, a sense of joy at life. For more, you’ll need to check out my book Freyberg: a life’s journey – click to buy from the publisher, or at any good bookshop.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2020