other junior officers of the time he seems not to have received training
relevant to the battlefield apart from annual manoeuvres.
Hunting was a passion shared with his
wife, Louisa Marion Fowler, whom he married at Ashby St Ledgers,
Northampton, on 17 September 1898. On the evidence of surviving
correspondence the marriage, although childless, was affectionate and
happy; indeed, it is hard to envisage Godley's career without the
constant support of his wife.
In 1896, soon after being promoted
captain and adjutant of the mounted infantry at Aldershot, Godley
volunteered to become a member of a mounted infantry battalion sent to
suppress a rebellion in Mashonaland. Here he was given his first command
and had his first experience of action in one or two skirmishes. On his
return to England in 1897 he was promoted to brevet major. In 1898 he
was accepted for the Staff College, Camberley, but after a few months
gave it up to volunteer for the anticipated war in South Africa, where
he served with Colonel Robert Baden-Powell at Mafeking.
Early in 1900 he became chief staff
officer to Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Plumer. It was also in South
Africa that he first met New Zealand troops - highly regarded mounted
rifles. The war over, a brief period as a major in the newly formed
Irish Guards followed and then some years at Aldershot Command in
mounted infantry and staff duties. He was promoted colonel in 1906.
In 1910 Field Marshal Lord Kitchener
visited New Zealand to advise on its military requirements. He
recommended the creation of a staff corps and, in response to a request
by the New Zealand government for a suitable commandant of the New
Zealand Defence Forces, Godley was appointed for five years; he held the
temporary rank of major general. Godley may have accepted the position
because of his lack of private means. He travelled to New Zealand via
Canada, the United States, and Australia, seeing something of the armies
in each country.
It was Godley's job to set up a modern
territorial force suitable for integrating with other British forces,
based on compulsory military training introduced in 1909. He spent 1911
travelling the country to promote the scheme to the public and to
inspect existing military facilities. He was happy to speak with anybody
concerned, including pacifists.
Godley soon showed his considerable
organisational ability. In 1911 he organised an infantry and a mounted
brigade for each of the four military districts plus a large school
cadet corps. He approved the steps already taken for 10 officer cadets a
year to be sent to the Royal Military College of Australia, Duntroon. In
1912 he initiated defence talks with Australia, and battalion camps were
held despite a shortage of uniforms and equipment; in 1913 they were
held at brigade level and in 1914 at divisional level. In three years
Godley had done a remarkable job in laying the basis for a well-trained
Territorial Force and in supplying it with up-to-date equipment.
The force had modern artillery, a
higher ratio of machine-guns to men than in most other armies at the
time, and used air reconnaissance in divisional manoeuvres. Noting the
need for a trained nucleus, Godley emphasised officer and staff
training. Unfortunately, time did not permit him to carry this training
as far as was to be needed for active service.
Planning for an expeditionary force
had begun in 1912. In July 1913 Godley travelled to Canada, India,
Australia and Britain for talks with senior military figures.
Discussions were held on preparing the expeditionary force for service
in Egypt, Europe and the German colonies. On the outbreak of the First
World War in August 1914, as a consequence of the measures Godley had
taken, a suitable force was available to occupy German Samoa and, within
six weeks of the declaration of war, some 8,500 men sailed for
From early December 1914 to early
April 1915 intensive training was carried out in the desert under
Godley's direct supervision. Louisa Godley was there, too, and a
widespread myth was circulated that she had advised her husband to 'make
them run again, Alec' as they footslogged through the sand. She
established and ran a convalescent hospital at Alexandria which served
the men well for the rest of the war and quickly became known as no
place for malingerers.
- She was later Mentioned in Despatches
for her war work.
On 25 April 1915 the New Zealand and
Australian Division was landed on the Gallipoli peninsula. Godley and
his troops were harshly tested in this campaign. If the men came out
with a better reputation than Godley, one of the reasons was that their
courage was supplemented by his training. Godley himself, however,
appears not to have allowed for the steep, rugged ground and the need to
reconnoitre it closely, the very poor communications, the losses of some
of his most competent officers, and the debility of the troops after
time spent on the peninsula. Neither should Godley later have claimed
the troops were adequately fed; the food was appalling.
The New Zealand minister of defence,
James Allen, writing to Major General Andrew Russell said it would have
been better if somebody else had been placed in command once Godley had
completed his training programme. But in 1914--15 the alternative, for a
then unknown division, probably would have been a retired British
general less competent administratively and even less in touch
operationally. Early in the war neither Andrew Russell nor Edward
Chaytor would have been regarded as qualified for divisional command.
Moreover, when questions were raised in Parliament and elsewhere about
Godley and he offered to resign, Allen publicly supported him.
After the failure of the Gallipoli
campaign, the New Zealand Division was sent to France in 1916 as part of
Lieutenant General Birdwood's I ANZAC Corps. Godley, who had been
promoted to lieutenant general in November 1915, was in command of II
ANZAC Corps, to which the New Zealand Division was transferred on
October 1916, after serving in the battle of the Somme. Godley's
superior was Plumer, the most competent British general on the western
front. Plumer was responsible for the impeccable design and planning of
the successful attack on Messines (Mesen) in June 1917. Greater success
would have been achieved, however, if Godley had better co-ordinated
Godley bears much of the
responsibility for the heavy loss of life at Passchendaele (Passendale).
The first attack, on 4 October 1917, had been successful. The second was
not, although Godley initially informed Field Marshal Douglas Haig
otherwise. Godley then ordered a third attack on the 12th. He told Haig
that the New Zealand Australian divisions were determined to take
Passchendaele. They probably were, but not necessarily on that day.
Despite warnings that the battle should not be fought, the attack was
delivered as planned. It had been raining heavily for days, and the mud,
deep enough to drown in, prevented accurate artillery fire and the
bringing up of reinforcements. On 12 October 1917 2,735 New Zealanders
were killed, wounded or missing; a network of barbed wire, well covered
by machine-guns, was almost as intact at dusk as it had been at dawn.
Although Godley remained responsible
for the overall command of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force until
November 1919, in 1918 he commanded XXII Corps, now shorn of the New
Zealand Division. The war over, he commanded in the occupation of the
Rhine until 1920 when he became military secretary to the secretary of
state for war. In 1922 he returned to the Rhine as general officer
commanding, being promoted to general in 1923. He was governor and
commander in chief of Gibraltar from 1928 to 1932 and revisited New
Zealand in 1934--35.
Alexander Godley was a man with
considerable talent for organisation. His cultivation of personal and
professional relationships with senior British generals enabled him to
present the New Zealand point of view - an advantage this country might
not otherwise have had. He was not well fitted to lead in the field,
more than once being out of touch with the front. He admired the men he
led but unfortunately did not communicate this; to them he was aloof and
unfeeling. Those who worked with him closely, however, saw him as a
decent, fair, courageous and supportive man who let them perform their
duties without undue interference. Godley received numerous honours
including appointment as KCB and KCMG, and was Mentioned
in Despatches at least 10 times.
He died at Oxford, England, on 6 March 1957, Louisa Godley having died