b. 14/08/1889 East Grinstead, Sussex. d. 29/06/1957 Epping, Essex.
Sidney Frank Godley (1889-1957) was born at North End, East Grinstead, Sussex on 14th August 1889. The correct spelling of his surname was Godly but a clerical error on his enlistment led to Godley. His father was Frank Godly, a house decorator and sometimes plumber. His mother was Avis nee Newton, a domestic servant cook. One of Sidney’s uncles was Henry George Godly, who was a Metropolitan Policeman involved in the hunt for Jack the Ripper. When his mother died on 3rd September 1896, when Sidney was just 7, he and his brother and two sisters moved to Willesden, North London to live with an aunt and uncle. His father remarried in 1899 to Elizabeth Keenan at Marylebone. Sidney would have two more brothers and five sisters from his father’s second marriage. He was educated at Henry Street School, St John’s Wood, and following a family move, Sidcup National School until 1904.
Sidney began working in an ironmonger’s shop in Kilburn before he enlisted on 13th December 1909. He was stationed with the 4th Battalion in Parkhurst on Isle of Wight at the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, and was mobilised on 7th August 1914. It disembarked at Le Havre, France on 13th August.
At dawn on Sunday, August 23rd, German artillery fired the opening salvoes of the Battle of Mons. This saw the first action of British troops on the continent of Europe since Waterloo. At 9am, German infantry advanced against British positions in the Obourg/Nimy area, intending to seize the four bridges over the Canal. Y Company had two platoons at each bridge with Company HQ at the railway bridge. Lieutenant Dease set up his two machine guns either side of the railway bridge.
By midday, the Germans were very close to the canal, and Dease was badly wounded, and was about to be carried out of the action. Lieutenant Steele, the platoon commander, realised that both guns were about to fall silent and asked for volunteers who knew how to operate them. Sidney immediately came forward. Despite having already being wounded, he had supplied ammunition to the guns throughout the morning. There are conflicting reports of what happened next – one states he cleared the left emplacement of three bodies and brought the gun back into action, but others state he manned the right gun. Under Steele’s command, he manned the gun for two more hours.
By the afternoon, the British position was becoming untenable, and the order to withdraw was received at 1.10pm. Again reports differ on what happened to Sidney next, Steele stated that he remained firing under his command until hit in the head and the gun was irreparably damaged; and he was allowed to go to the rear. In other versions, Godley continued to man the gun, whilst the rest of the Company withdrew. Godley was reputedly the last man on the bridge, except for dead and wounded. Godley had suffered over 20 wounds in all, and began to crawl back to the main road, where two civilians carried him to the hospital in Mons.
He was taken prisoner at the hospital, and underwent extensive surgery in Berlin for bullet wounds and also had skin grafts. He was held at Doberitz POW Camp and later at Delotz, where an official of the US Embassy informed him of the award of the Victoria Cross. He was congratulated by the German Commandant, who allowed a parade in Sidney’s honour. When the guards abandoned the camp during the Berlin Revolution, he and five others jumped a train to the Danish border. He returned to England in December 1918 and his VC was presented to him by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 15th February 1919. He was officially welcomed home by the Mayor of Lewisham on 26th February 1919 and presented with 50 guineas and a copy of the Lewisham Roll of Honour. He was discharged from the Army on 21st May and transferred into the Section B Reserve on 3rd June 1921. His brother, Percival Henry had been killed in action in 1916.
Sidney became a plumber and married Helen Eliza Norman, a housemaid, on 2nd August 1919 at St Mark’s, Harlesden. They went on to have two children, Stanley Sidney, born on 13th May 1920 and Eileen Elizabeth, born in 1922. In 1921, Sidney became caretaker at Cranbrooke School in East London until his retirement in 1951. He became a prominent member of the Old Contemptibles Association, and worked for several service charities, often dressing up as “Old Bill”. In World War II, he served in the 8th (Home Defence) Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment.
After retirement, he and his wife moved several times, ending up in Debden, Essex. Sidney died at St Margaret’s Hospital, Epping, Essex on 29th June 1957. He was buried in St John’s Churchyard, Loughton, Essex, where Reverend Edward Noel Mellish VC assisted at the funeral. In addition to his VC, Sidney received the 1914 Star with Mons clasp, British War Medal of 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oak leaf, George VI Coronation Medal of 1937 and Elizabeth II Coronation Medal of 1953. His medals were owned for a number of years by his grandson, Colin Godley, until they were purchased by an anonymous collector for £230,000 at a Spinks auction on 19th July 2012.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: SOLD AT AUCTION FOR 230,000 IN JULY 2012.
BURIAL PLACE: LOUGHTON CEMETERY, LOUGHTON, ESSEX.
Godley's medal group prior to their sale to an anonymous bidder from the USA in 2012.
Picture was provided by Kevin Brazier, who personally knows Sidney Godley's grandson
Sidney Godley's memorial stone in East Grinstead, unveiled August 2014.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
SECTION F, GRAVE 3051
Lewisham Shopping Centre (Derek Walker)
St Sepulchre Church, Holborn
164 Torrington Drive, Loughton
Godley VC House, Digby Street, Tower Hamlets
Nimy Bridge Memorial, Mons