GODLEY, General Sir Alexander John
, G.C.B., K.C.M.G. (1867–1957).
A new biography of Godley, Alexander John appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Born at Chatham on 4 February 1867, Godley was the eldest of the three sons of Colonel W. A. Godley, 56th Regiment, a younger brother of John Robert Godley. His mother was the daughter of the Rev. Godfrey Bird, Essex, and niece of Admiral James Bird. His grandfather was John Godley, of Killegar, County Leitrim. Godley's first inclination was towards a naval career and his education was begun at the Royal Naval School, but changing his mind in favour of the Army he in turn went to Haileybury, United Services College, and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. His father died when he was 13 years of age, leaving the family very poorly off, and his education was made possible only by his mother's determination and with the help of his large family connection.
In 1886 he took his first commission in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, of which he became adjutant. He then transferred to the Mounted Infantry, Aldershot, as adjutant, in which capacity he served in the Special Service Battalion, Mounted Infantry, in South Africa. With a brevet majority he entered Staff College in 1898, but returned to South Africa the following year with a group of special service officers briefed to raise two irregular mounted regiments. He became adjutant in one of them, the Protectorate Regiment, and was present at the Western Defences and the siege of Mafeking. After serving as staff officer to Generals Baden-Powell and Plumer, Godley commanded the Rhodesian Brigade (brevet lieutenant-colonel). In 1900 he transferred to the Irish Guards, and in 1901 was posted to the staff at Aldershot, where he commanded the Mounted Infantry until 1903. He commanded the Mounted Infantry at Long-moor, 1903–06. Brevet colonel in 1905, he was colonel on the General Staff of the 2nd Division, 1906–10. He then became major-general on the Imperial General Staff and G.O.C. New Zealand Forces.
Godley's transfer to the Mounted Infantry had brought him in touch with the innovations and the reformers of the period. It is significant that many of the most senior officers in the Army were interested in this new arm — French, Wolseley, Hamilton — and in it accelerated promotion on merit was possible. The impression of the New Zealand mounted infantry in the Boer War gained by such officers, and Godley's mounted infantry experience and seniority, may well have been the reason for his selection as G.O.C. in New Zealand.
Here the Defence Act 1909 had created the Territorial Force and had imposed universal training. Modifications suggested by Lord Kitchener, who briefed Godley before his departure, were soon introduced, and Godley, with other British staff officers under his command, was lent by the War Office to implement the scheme. The threat of a major European war gave it impetus, and although the target of 30,000 trained men was never quite reached, it was remarkable what was achieved. The degree of enthusiasm engendered in the new force, and the state of efficiency achieved, was largely due to Godley's energy and good sense. He toured the country and instilled something of his own high sense of duty into the new Territorial units and successfully transformed the inefficient and varied volunteer hotchpotch into an integrated Territorial cadre that was so readily able to provide the nucleus for the First Expeditionary Force. It was due to his foresight that the Army was prepared for the occupation of Samoa.
Appointed to command the New Zealand Expeditionary Force by the New Zealand Government, which granted him special powers, Godley commanded the NZ and A Division in Birdwood's Anzac Corps at Gallipoli, where he became noted for his indefatigable rounds of the position, and for his unfailing equanimity. After the evacuation, and the subsequent rearrangement of divisions, Godley commanded II Anzac Corps, which he took to France in June 1916. Promoted lieutenant-general in September 1916, he held this command until January 1918 when another rearrangement of divisions took him to XXII Corps. In August he commanded III Corps for a month, returning to XXII Corps, and to IV Corps during the occupation of the Rhine. For the length of the war Godley remained Commander NZEF, although for some of it the New Zealanders were not in his corps.
From 1920 to 1922 Godley was Military Secretary to the Secretary of State for War, and then returned for two years to Germany where he was C-in-C British Army of the Rhine. He next served as G.O.C. Southern Command (1924–28), and finally as Governor of Gibraltar until his retirement in 1933. He commanded a platoon of Home Guards with great enjoyment during the Second World War.
During the years of the First World War Godley maintained a personal correspondence with the New Zealand Minister of Defence, Allen , and in it displayed his great interest in the health and training and general welfare of the New Zealand troops, to whom he always referred as “my New Zealanders”, and whom he considered second to none. He kept a close watch on promotion, staff training, and equipment. To the Government he was invaluable as one who was intimate with the most senior British officers, who knew both the mind of the New Zealand Government and the potential of the country, and who could thus immediately and effectively represent the needs of the New Zealanders under his command.
Major-General Sir Andrew Russell(q.v.) said of his decade of service to the New Zealand Army that “… his work during those years of association as organiser, as instructor and as commander have left a permanent impression for good”.
As a man Godley presented a picture of austerity and dedication. Aristocratic in outlook, he remained aloof from all but his intimates, to whom he was known to be generous, sensitive, and loyal. Responsible for so much, it was inevitable that he should make some enemies and, as he was isolated by both rank and temperament, for he never courted popularity, it was certain that he would become the target for considerable criticism. Yet merit was his only yardstick, and having recognised the splendid raw material in the undisciplined New Zealand forces, he firmly, but with wisdom and understanding, prepared them for the test of war, and afterwards made certain that they had the best in administration and leadership. The results speak for themselves. As a divisional commander at Gallipoli, Godley had no opportunity to demonstrate any exceptional skill. As a corps commander in France, Godley by his reputation stood above controversy. He was greatly impressed by the natural capacity of the New Zealander, and in his farewell message to the NZEF recorded his conviction that the country was able, and was destined, to play a part in the world out of all proportion to its size and population. To mark for all time his pride in his association with the country, when created G.C.B. he chose as one supporter for his coat of arms a New Zealand infantry soldier.
Godley was an MFH, and was keen on all equestrian sport. He played cricket, and became a good yachtsman. In 1898 he married Louisa Marion (d. 1939), eldest daughter of Robert Fowler, Rahinston, County Meath. Lady Godley shared his interests, supported his career, and was herself mentioned in dispatches for her welfare work for New Zealand troops in the Middle East. Godley died at Oxford on 6 March 1957.
Besides many articles of a professional character, he published his autobiography, Life of an Irish Soldier, 1939, and British Military History in South America, 1942.
by Ian McLean Wards, M.A., Research Officer, Historical Publications Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
See also Defence (Army); War, First World.
- The New Zealand Division, 1916–1919, Stewart. H. (2 vols. 1921)
- The Times (London), 22 Feb 1927
- Evening Post, 8 Mar 1957 (Obit).