Sidney Frank Godley, son of a house painter, was born in 1888 in East Grinstead, Sussex and after leaving school at the age of 14, worked in Kentish Town in an ironmonger's shop. Six years later he decided to join the Army and enlisted in the 4th Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), becoming a popular soldier and noted battalion sportsman.
On the outbreak of war in August 1914, Godley's battalion was one of the very first to land in France, arriving at Le Havre on 13 August. After nine days of travelling in both very hot and wet weather the battalion, part of the 9th Brigade, 3rd Division, reached Nimy rail bridge, near Mons, which they were to guard against an expected German advance. Private Godley was a member of a machine-gun section under the command of Lt Maurice Dease, and as the expected enemy advance became overwhelming, and with Dease and others being killed or wounded, Godley was ordered to man a machine gun and cover the battalion retirement. Godley knew this would lead to him either being killed or taken prisoner and he was both wounded and taken prisoner - but not before destroying his machine-gun.
This brave action resulted in both Godley and Dease winning the first two VCs of the Great War. Dease's decoration was to be a posthumous one as he died of his wounds the same day and Godley only learnt of his award when a senior German officer in the Prison Camp at Doberitz congratulated him.
Sidney Godley's other claim to fame concerned a certain likeness to Captain Bruce Bairnsfather's creation ' Old Bill'. The writer doesn't support this claim but Godley was happy to go along with the tenuous link and even encouraged its belief.
After release from prison camp, Godley married in 1919 and he and his wife Ellen Norman were to have two children. Godley was to spend 30 years of his working life employed as a janitor in Cranbrook School, Tower Hamlets, East London. He was always popular and much involved with the local community and, after his death in Epping at the age of 67, he was commemorated in a number of ways including having a housing block named after him. His VC and medals are in private hands.
A much fuller account of Godley's' s career can be found in the updated edition of VCs of the First World War: 1914 (pub 2011), priced £9.99 and available in paperback from the WFA's Online Bookstore (in conjunction with Amazon) and from The History Press: www.thehistorypress.co.uk.
Article and image kindly contributed by the author, Gerald Gliddon.