Thursday, September 26, 2013

Jack and Len Godsiff - Portage Pass Memorial

On the memorial at Portage Pass are the names of two brothers, John Carrol Heathrington Godsiff (known as Jack) and George Leonard Godsiff (known as Len), who were both local men and the sons of David Henry and Fanny Louise Godsiff.

Jack was first to enlist embarking with the Canterbury Infantry Regiment on 14 August 1915.  

Jack served at Gallipoli and I found a copy of a letter dated 11 December 1915 reproduced by the Marlborough Express, which gave the reader a vivid account of the winter conditions soldiers suffered at Gallipoli:

"It was our week in the firing line, which means all night up and a snooze when possible in the daytime. The week commenced with a 'snorter' of a thunderstorm. Forked lightning played round our bayonets, and thunder was enough to deaden all other sounds.  I am satisfied that it can't thunder in New Zealand. The flashes fairly blinded us at times. The rain poured down, drenching us to the skin. It was cloudy next day and we were compelled to begin the coming night with wet clothes and no shelter. To make matters as uncomfortable as possible, early in the night it began snowing. This kept up for a day and a night. About 10 o'clock on Sunday night it ceased, and the weather began to freeze. So did we; by morning our outer clothing was like a board. It took us close on a week to thaw and my feet are still feeling the effects." 

After surviving Gallipoli Jack was killed in action during New Zealand's initial period on the Somme on 11 July 1916.  He was buried at Cite Bonjean Military Cemetery, Armentieres, France.

Heartbreaking news for his family back in New Zealand having weeks earlier farewelled another son Len with the Canterbury Infantry Battalion. They must have hoped that his fate would not be the same as Jack's.

Len saw much action and won himself a Military Medal at operations near Polderhoek for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty:

Operations opposite Polderhoek 26th November to 1st December 1917. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. On 26th November 1917 this N.C.O was in command of a Lewis Gun Section in a forward sap, when the enemy attempted to raid. Although heavily bombed by the enemy he stuck to his post, kept his gun in action, and gave the greatest assistance in repelling the attack. L.G. 13 March 1918, p3254, Rec No 1795.

However in August 1918 with the war only months from the Armistice, Len found himself at the Battle of Baupaume where he too was tragically killed in action on 24 August.  He is buried at Achiet-Le-Grand Communal Cemetery Extension, Pas de Calais, France.  The Battle of Baupaume is a little known battle for New Zealanders  However according to Glynn Harper in his book 'Dark Journey'  it is a battle which deserves more of our attention.

"It is the only battle in New Zealand's history in which three of its soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross for their heroic action.  The Battle of Baupaume was the first time in history that New Zealand soldiers received supplies dropped from the air and it was also the first time that they faced a counterattack by German tanks.  More importantly, though, the Battle of Baupaume saw some of the toughest fighting of the war." Dark Journey, Glynn Harper, page 324

The Godsiff family back in Marlborough were reportedly surprised at their son Len's death as he had they thought he had only just returned from leave.  During 1918 two more of Henry and Fanny Godsiff's six sons were called up but as far as I can ascertain neither of them served. One at least making an appeal to the Military Board to be excused.

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