Private Sidney Godley became the first soldier of Private rank to win the VC in WW1.
Private Sidney Godley, was awarded Britain’s highest military honour in 1914, at the Battle of Mons, becoming the first soldier holding the rank of Private, to be awarded the VC in what became known as the First World War.
The Battle of Mons is often seen as the first major piece of action that the British Expeditionary Force took part in during the First World War. Sidney Godley had joined the 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers in 1909, and found himself defending a canal bridge over the Mons-Candé Canal in Belgium, on the 23rd August 1914.
After fierce fighting, and a huge German onslaught, many men who had previously been operating the section machine gun, had been either killed or wounded. Private Godley and an officer, Lieutenant Dease (also awarded the VC), manned the machine gun for as long as possible, holding off the German advance.
Dease was eventually killed, and an order for the rest of the section to retreat was issued, however, Sid Godley insisted on staying on the machine gun, trying to buy some time for the rest of the section to get away.
Under intense fire, Godley managed to hold the bridge, singlehandedly, even after being wounded in the back from a piece of shrapnel and also taking a bullet to the head.
Godley continued to man the machine gun, continually firing until, two hours after the section had retreated, he ran out of ammunition. In a final act of defiance, Godley took the working parts of the machine gun, dismantled them and threw them in the canal, to prevent the Germans being able to use it.
He was eventually captured by the Germans and, despite his severe injuries, made a full recovery.
Private Godley did not receive his Victoria Cross from the King, until after the Armistice, in 1919.
Click here to listen to a recording by the Imperial War Museum, from William Holbrook, also from the 4th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, detailing the account of that day.
In 2014, the BBC also aired a DocuDrama, ‘Our World War’ with the first episode revolving around the 4th Battalion actions and also Private Sidney Godley.