Featured image © IWM (HU 115135)
2nd Lieutenant Victor Godfrey of the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers was just one of 19,241 men killed on the First Day of the Battle of the Somme – 1st July 1916. As a junior officer in 90th Brigade, Victor contributed to the assault on Montauban and helped consolidate the position 17th Battalion Manchester Regiment’s advanced position at Triangle Point – the furthest advance of the British III Army on the fateful day. This is Victor’s Biography.
Victor Godfrey was born on 14th December 1895 and baptised at St Mark’s Church, Surbiton. His parents were Sidney Charles and Susan Godfrey, who were residents of Balaclava Road, Surbiton. Sidney was a Coachbuilder. By 1911 the family lived at 12 Nettlestead, Adelaide Road, Surbiton. Victor was then a School Boy at Eastbourne College and his father was then an employer in the motor manufacturing business. Victor’s elder sister, Gladys Mary was a music teacher and he also had three brothers. Stanley Charles was a traveller in the paper industry, Howard worked for Connaught Motor & Carriage Co. in Covent Garden and younger brother, Jack, was also a school boy at Eastbourne College. The family also employed a cook and housemaid as domestic servants.
Eastbourne College records show Victor was educated at the School between May 1910 and December 1913. He was a member of Wargrave House. After leaving school, Victor was employed in an accountancy firm, Thomson, Hill & Company. This practice was based at 43 Cannon Street, London in 1904.
Victor and his eldest brother enlisted in the 1/28th (County of London) Battalion London Regiment – The Artist’s Rifles. Victor was a Private and held the Regimental Number 1341, indicating he may have enlisted in June 1914. The Artist’s Rifles was a pre-War Territorial Army Battalion that attracted numerous middle class men from the London area and beyond.
Many men officers who served in the Manchester Regiment had also joined the Artist’s Rifles prior to their commissions, notably War poet Wilfred Owen. The 1/28th Battalion trained near St Albans; leaving for France in October 1914, where it was established as an Officers Training Corps based at Bailleul.
Victor’s Medal Index Card shows he arrived in France on 28th October 1914 and entitled to a Clasp for his 1914 Star. This indicated he had served under fire in the first months of the War. Victor and Stanley Godfrey were both commissioned as 2nd Lieutenants on 15th March 1915 and posted to the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers (2nd RSF). The Battalion War Diary shows the brothers arrived from Base on 26th March. They held the trench line near Neuve-Chapelle, as the venue where 2nd RSF had played a major part.
The 2nd RSF was a Regular Army Battalion that had been at the front since October 1914. There seems to be no explanation for Victor and Stanley’s choice of Regiment. Their parents and grandparents had both been born in London.
Victor and Stanley were promptly involved with action on the Western Front and Stanley was awarded a Military Cross for gallantry near Loos on 30th September 1915 and particularly 1.15am on 1st October. He stopped a German bombing party advancing down a captured British trench and counter-attacked, gaining some ground. He was continuously fighting from 6.30pm until 5am on the next morning. Three officers were killed in the action; two died from wounds, including the Commanding Officer; two were wounded and three were admitted to hospital. There were 257 casualties in the ranks, from a Battalion strength of approximately one thousand. Major R K Walsh took over Command on 9th October 1915 and remained Commanding Officer at Montauban, promoted as Lieutenant Colonel.
It is thought Stanley may have been wounded at Mons, as he had returned home to Surbiton on 6th November and married Elsie Hatchard. It is also possible he received leave, as an acknowledgement of his Award. Stanley was subsequently promoted to the rank of Captain a
nd attached to the Royal Flying Corps. He was also Mentioned in Despatches and received the OBE Military Division in 1919. Stanley lived in Kent after hostilities.
It appears the second eldest brother, Howard Godfrey may also have joined the Artist’s Rifles, but he did not travel to France with his brothers. Howard was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant on 21st June 1915. He was posted to the Army Service Corps, which will have benefited his knowledge of motor vehicles. He arrived in France on 10th September 1915 and later promoted to Captain. Howard was awarded the Military Cross in the New Year Honours List for 1918 and twice Mentioned in Despatches.
The boys’ father Sidney Godfrey joined the ranks and was commissioned as a Staff Sergeant to Lieutenant on the General List on 21st April 1915. He was later promoted to the rank of Captain and served at Home in the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry.
Jack Godfrey received his commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the Reserve Regiment of Hussars. He was too young for overseas military service and served at Home in the 1st or 2nd Dragoons.
2nd RSF were part of 21st Brigade of 7th Division in the original British Expeditionary Force. In December 1915, the New Army Units had arrived in France and these needed to be bolstered with the experienced units of the Regular Army. 21st Brigade left 7th Division and was moved to 30th Division. 2nd RSF was also moved to 90th Brigade, to join the 16th, 17th and 18th Battalions of the Manchester Regiment. These were the 1st, 2nd & 3rd City Battalion of the Manchesters, known as the Manchester Pals.
90th Brigade arrived at the southern end of the British positions on the Western Front in Picardy. During the first six months of 1916, they held the line, near the villages of Maricourt and Vaux, overlooking the river Somme. The War Diary of the 2nd RSF for 19th February 1916 shows 2nd Lieutenant V Godfrey rejoined from Base for duty. The Battalion were located in the Maricourt trenches and it’s not clear if Victor returned from Leave, training, or most likely after recovering from earlier wounds or sickness.
The New Army of 30th Division made plans for the opening of the Battle of the Somme. They were charged with capturing the fortress village of Montauban, lying on the crest of the ridge north of Maricourt and familiar with the men who had held the British trenches for six months.
90th Brigade formed the second phase of the planned advance with 16th & 17th Manchester in the vanguard of the final assault, 2nd RSF in support and 18th Manchesters providing carrying parties. Detailed Orders were issued for each stage of the assault and subsequent defence of Montauban. This included the 17th Manchesters occupation of an advanced strong point known as Triangle Point, 100 yards north of the main village defences.
90th Brigade War Diary ordered a wiring party to consolidate Triangle Point. Victor Godfrey was the Brigade Wiring Officer. He had 26 Other Ranks in the Party, with additional support of 6 men from the 17th Manchesters. They carried 15 coils of wire, 150 pickets and various gloves, cutters and tools.
2nd Lieutenant Kenneth Callan-Macardle of 17th Manchesters described the scene as 90th
Brigade made its way to their assembly positions near Maricourt – noting a conversation with his friend.
“On the night of 30th June the 90th Bgd marched out of Etineham and arrived without a casualty at the assembly trenches in Cambridge Copse, almost seven miles away. As the 17th marched out young Victor Godfrey of the R.S.F. joined me and we went up together. I had only seen him once since those pleasant days at Picquigny in the spring and we had a lot to talk about. He was as beautiful as ever and as young. He talked all the time about a girl who is about six years older than himself whom he wanted to marry. I never knew anyone of his age so young.”
The assault on Montauban was a resounding success, on an otherwise disastrous day. 21st and 89th Brigade had gone over the top and taken the German front line positions. 90th Brigade advanced one hour later, pressing forward past their comrades in 30th Division. They waited for the programmed bombardment to lift from the village and made their final assault on Montauban in the late morning. The two lead Manchester Regiment Battalions advanced through the village, with close support from the men of 2nd RSF. The lead Battalions lost many men liberating the German strong point and then started consolidating the north and eastern perimeters of the village.
The party of infantry and bombers from the 17th Manchesters found Triangle Point had been obliterated in the week long British bombardment of the former German rear positions, so they consolidated a section of the adjoining Montauban Alley. This was an extensive German communication trench, leading from the village to Bernafay Wood, to the east. The 16th Manchesters held the trench in front of the village and the new ‘Triangle Point’ became a British strong Point on the extreme north east apex of the British line, overlooking Caterpillar Valley, with Longueval to the north east and Bernafay Wood ½ a mile to the east. This was the further advance made by the British Army on that fateful day.
Records show Victor Godfrey successfully constructed the lines of wire around the perimeter of new defences, confirming the initial objective for the Brigade Wiring Party had been met. The Brigade had little knowledge of the number and position of the German infantry that had retreated down the slope of Caterpillar Valley a few hours earlier. Taking the initiative of his previous experience of more than 12 months on the front, Victor decided to carry out some reconnaissance in advance of Triangle Point, presumably hoping to gain a close view of the German positions sheltered in the valley to the north. Victor went forward with his batman (servant) Private Thomas Pew. They had progressed 100 yards when Victor was shot by a sniper. Victor had been hit under the armpit, with the bullet passing through his body and exiting his upper back.
The untendered farmer’s field offered limited cover in the long grass and weeds. Thomas Pew’s efforts to save his office are shown in Victor’s Service File and provided by Jonathan Porter. This was passed on to Victor’s father.
“No. 15476 Pte. T. Pew of Battalion (wounded) stated:- Second Lieutenant Godfrey was badly wounded near TRAINGLE PT. I dressed him, but was unable to move him owing to his pain and seriousness of his wounds, Lieutenant Godfrey was unable to move himself.
The ground was retaken by the enemy from that Battalion [17th Manchesters], in whose occupation it was”
Private Carney was also wounded in the attempt to rescue Victor as recorded by Pte. Carson of A Company of 2nd RSF.
“Pte. Carney, A Coy, told me in hospital that Lieut. Godfrey was severly wounded whilst engaged in wiring in front of our trenches at Montauban. He was inable to bring him in and went back for assistance but was wounded myself. This occurred on Sat. July 1st.”
This report was confirmed by Lance Corporal12602 Donaghy of B Coy, who was in the Etaples Relief Camp on 8th August and recounted – “He was the brigade wiring officer and went out with a party of 27 men of whom I was on charge. He went over in the third wave at Montauban (?) and Mr Godfrey was hit at Triangle Point to the right of the incline of C trench [suggesting some of the original trenches may have survived]. It was bullet wound which entered his side under the arm and passed right through him. He lay on the ground and his servant [Pte Pew] and a L/C [Lance Corporal] of the Manchesters attended to him. The shell and M.G. [Machine Gun] fire was so heavy that they could not get him in and returned to C. trench with Mr Godfrey’s revolver. In doing this they were both hit and then went out to try to bring Mr Godfrey and failed owing to heavy fire. Mr Godfrey was badly wounded. We held all the ground [ultimately] which is still in our possession. I never saw Mr Godfrey again.
These reports are consistent with the statement made by the 2nd RSF’s wounded 2nd Lieut Cormack of Dumbarton, who recounted in 3rd London General Hospital in Wandsworth – “Informant states that on morning 1st Juy at north of Montauban V. Godfrey went out with a wiring party to triangle point, was seriously hit. Subsequently was bandaged but could not be got in in day-light. In the evening before Stretcher party could be sent out for him the Germans passed over the ground on which he lay. When the British ultimately held this ground Mr. Godfrey was not to be seen.”
17th Manchesters’ Captain John Madden was next to come forward with Lance Corporal John Donaghy of 2nd RSF. John Madden had been a master at Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh before the war. He was the only 17th Battalion Company Commander to have survived the advance on Montauban, having lost his Merchiston colleague, Captain Stanley Kenworthy; along with fellow teacher Captain Reginald Ford from St Bees School and Captain Norman Vaudrey from Manchester. John Madden administered morphine to Victor. Seeing the vulnerability of the position, he promised to return to recover Victor after dark. John Madden was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his bravery at Montauban.
Press reports indicate a Lieutenant Atkins (unidentified) had also visited Victor before nightfall. He found Victor bandaged and was also unable to evacuate him due to sniper fire.
The Germans made their first counter-attack after dusk on 1st July and they returned at 3.30 am on 2nd July. Lieutenant Nash’s Diary records the 16th Manchester’s perspective of the second counter attack further along Montauban Alley
“At 3a.m. I was standing one the fire step…I saw advancing over the ridge, shoulder to shoulder, long lines of grey uniformed figures in great coats and helmets…On they came, wave after wave…As soon as the Germans topped the ridge every man of my garrison was firing rapidly and with deadly accuracy…Our machine guns and Lewis guns got to work at once…The attack was broken up simply and solely by rifle fire and by the help of the Lewis guns. After four waves of the enemy had been dispersed our artillery [communication had been lost to bring in fire support earlier] came into action and put down a barrage. In a few solitary instances the German infantry reached our lines and were driven back by bayonet”
In this second counter-attack the men in Triangle Point fought off the enemy until their supply of bombs ran out and the surviving men withdrew to a shell hole, where they spent a fearful 24 hours, without food or drink.
Private 8055 Alan Arthur Bell was a bomber in the Triangle Point defences. The Battalion War Diary recorded that only three member of the group returned to the Battalion, of which two were wounded, including Arthur Bell. He recounted his experiences.
“How came I to get a hole in the hat. That was when jumping out of our own trench, sealed behind us at Triangle Point, after throwing all our bombs across the traverse to stop the enemy advancing along the trench. We were making for the main trench behind us. Its parapet had been reversed and wired and the joining point made up in Montauban Alley. The N.C.O. in charge at this point, a young newly promoted Corporal, after bayonetting one of the invaders, had given the order to return to the main trench at our rear. So, I got a slightly scratched head – whether the tin hat saved me I couldn’t be quite sure – but the Jock who landed in the shell-hole with us, on the way to our main body, had got one right through from one cheek to the other. There were eight of us in that hole, but there was plenty of room for more; we stayed there until nightfall – perhaps twelve hours later.”
It was not until 3rd July that it will have been possible for the British to send a party to search for Victor. It is likely he was finally killed by British bombardment of the German advance, or possibly by the German Infantry. Otherwise he had finally succumbed to his wounds in the weeds in front of Triangle Point.
A Memo of 10th November 1916 provided slightly different evidence from Private John Naismith’s report written in Dulman Camp on 1st September.
“No. 16753 Pte. John Naismith 2/R.Scots Fusiliers, a prisoner of war interred in [Dulmen] Germany states:- I left our trench and advanced 2/Lt.Godfrey. Soon after leaving our trench he was hit in the head and killed. I assisted to bury him on 3rd July, 1916. I knew him well, he was my officer.”
The immediate death of Victor is inconsistent with other reports – possibly to alleviate distress to family members. Most pressing is the point that Victor’s received a burial; likely to have been in the vicinity of Triangle Point. Once again, the burial may have been a sensitive embelishment for the family, but this would be less common.
There were many other varied reports received concerning Victor’s death and remains. These have confirmed inconsistencies and are shown in the Notes below (1)
The inconsistent nature of John Naismith’s report was noted by Victor’s father in a letter to the War Office. Sidney Godfrey recounted that Captain Madden had written to him and reported that Victor was wounded in the back.
“Captain Madden was doubtful whether he would live but thought there might be a chance as if he would be a prisoner in German hands.”
Enquiries were made with the Red Cross to no avail and Victor was later assumed dead – after John Naismith’s report was reported more widely in March 1917. John Naismith was captured in the assault on Guillemont on 30th July and it is not known if he provided further information to Victor’s father.
Victor’s personal effects are thought to have been held behind the lines in his valise. These were returned to Cox & Co and presumably to his father:-
1. Pair Field glasses in case.
2. Diaries (1 Diary, 1 Note Book)
1. Pair Eye glasses in case.
1. Writing case with 6 photos)
1. Advance Book (blank)
Numerous grave markers were recorded in the area north of Montauban in 1916, presumably including mass graves in Montauban Alley, that will have been back-filled. These graves were lost when Concentration Parties cleared the battlefield in 1919.
There is a school of thought (with Jonathan Porter) that the Germans used grave markers for fuel when they swept through the area in the Spring Offensive of 1918. The photos of Montauban Alley show that this trench was 8 feet deep and it is likely that two years growth of weeds in very deep burial plots allowed little prospect for identifying Victor’s grave; or any other 90th Brigade casualties north of the village.
In common with numerous 90th Brigade casualties at Montauban, Victor still has no known grave and he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. He is also commemorated on Surbiton and St Mark’s Church War Memorials.
Kenneth Callan-Macardle noted his reflections on the loss of his friend Victor.
“On Peronne Rd we met McGregor Whitton of the R.S.F. He had been wounded in the hand early in the push but had carried on. He was looking for a lost Company and very fed up. I asked after Godfrey. Young Victor was killed – his problem of marriage to a woman six years senior to him finally settled.”
Kenneth was killed one week later in Trones Wood. He is also commemorated at Thiepval.
Private 15476 Thomas Pew was twenty six years old when he was wounded at Montauban. He had been in France since March 1915 and returned to serve in the RSF after recovery. He was posted to 6/7th Battalion and later 1st Battalion, with which he was killed in action at Passchendaele on 26th September 1917. Thomas had been born in Airdrie and enlisted in Glasgow. He is commemorated on Tyne Cot Memorial.
Lance Corporal 12602 John Donaghy had been a pre-War member of the 1st Battalion RSF. He was recalled from Reserve at the outbreak of hostilities and departed for overseas service with 1st RSF on 10th October 1914. John was transferred to 2nd RSF and later promoted to Sergeant. He had been born in Ayrshire in 1886.
Pte 18161 P Corr of B Coy wrote from No.11 Stationary Hospital, Rouen. about 2nd Lieut. B [V] Godfrey Missing 1.7.16. “On the 7th [1st] July near Montauban between 11 and 12 am [Wounded later] Witness saw this officer wounded in the head [Insonsitent] He also witnessed him being taken down on a stretcher [Inconsistent]…Witness heard he died of wounds on the same night.”
A report was taken from Pte 24016 J Cook in 4 General Hospital in Etaples on 2nd August. “He was shot by a sniper through the temple [inconsistent] early in the morning [inconsistent] during the attack on Trones Wood [9th July]…
Pte 6226 George Sweetin was a member of 2nd RSF’s D Coy. He was in St John’s Hospital, Etaples on 23rd july 1916, when he reported- “On the left of Maricourt our half platoon (XIV) started with bombs about 7am [08.30]. Lt Godfrey of C Coy was in command of a wiring party on our right. About an hour later [4 hours], when we reached the 2nd line of German trenches [Montauban Alley] word was passed down the line that Lt. Godfrey was killed, A burial [carrying] party of the 18th Manchesters were following us up.”
Also from D Coy, Pte 11743 Peter McKenna of 10 Grace Street, Glasgow was in Mill Road Hospital, Liverpool when he provided his report, confirming the two Godfrey brothers had served in 2nd RSF; and may have been present at Montauban. “Informant states that the Gunners with the Machine gun that Lieut Godfrey was in charge of told us that he was killed “on 1st July in the 2nd attack upon Montauban Farm. It was not long after the 1st attack.” Informant said he thought this would be the younger brother [Victor] as there was a brother who was just going to be married and this who was killed was quite a young chap. “It was his own men told me.”
Pte 19727 of Leith was wounded and reported from Devon Nock Hospital, Chiswick. He stated that he had seen Victor dead in the German 3rd line trench and thought he was shot through the head.
2nd Lieut A G Henderson of Aberdeen was in 8, Lennox Gardens Hospital when he reported that Victor was in charge of the wiring party and wounded when he was sent out in front of the Battalion. This was recounted to 2/Lt Henderson by 2/Lt D Cormack who was in A Coy and had been present in the same hospital.
Lieut H T Lowdon provided a report from the Royal Free Hospital. He confirmed Victor’s wiring duties and that he was left out when the enemy counter-attacked. The same rport was provided by Lt J S Craig from 30 Hill Street Hospital, Mayfair.
CSM 9723 Ruth reported from 4 General Hospital, Etaples that Victor had been shot when he left the wiring party behind. “His body was found 24 hours afterwards. His servant, Pte Pew [Pugh, who was wounded, told me this.”
References and Further Reading
Jonathan Porter’s Book http://zerohourzday.com/zero-hour-30th-division.php