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Godfrey, Arthur Harry Langham (1896–1942)

by James Wood

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Arthur Harry Langham Godfrey (1896-1942), by unknown photographer

Arthur Harry Langham Godfrey (1896-1942), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 020726

Arthur Harry Langham Godfrey (1896-1942), army officer and auctioneer, was born on 26 January 1896 at Camberwell, Melbourne, second child of Charles Edward Rowlandson Godfrey, a bank clerk from India, and his Victorian-born wife Isabel Frances, née Langham. Educated at Central College, Geelong, Arthur was employed as a clerk and served in the Militia with the 70th Infantry (Ballarat Regiment). On 11 January 1915 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force; he was posted as a reinforcement for the 5th Battalion and promoted sergeant in March.

Next month Godfrey sailed for Egypt where he was attached to A.I.F. Headquarters. Commissioned in March 1916, he was sent to the 58th Battalion; the unit was transferred to the Western Front in June and he was promoted lieutenant in August. Near Petillon, France, on the night of 17/18 September, he led a raiding party against a section of the German trenches. Although he encountered 'strong opposition', he 'secured identifications and laid two charges of gun cotton. He was the last to leave, and then carried back a wounded Sergeant'. Godfrey was awarded the Military Cross. From December 1916 to May 1917 he served as adjutant of the battalion.

In 1917-18 Captain Godfrey performed staff duties, first at the headquarters of the British 48th Division, and then at those of the 15th and 14th Australian Infantry brigades. He was gassed in May 1918 and evacuated to England. On 15 June that year at St John's Episcopal Church, Edinburgh, he married Mabel Sophia Barrett-Lennard. Returning to the 14th Brigade in France in July, he was detached that month to the 30th American Division with which he remained until the Armistice. His A.I.F. appointment terminated in Australia on 27 July 1919.

Between the wars Godfrey lived at Newtown, Geelong, worked as an auctioneer for Strachan & Co. Ltd, stock and station agents, and was an active Freemason. He resumed his involvement with the Citizen Military Forces as captain (1920) and major (1925) in the 23rd Battalion. In 1927 he was promoted lieutenant colonel and commanded the unit (1927-29) and the composite 23rd-21st Battalion (1929-32 and 1935-39). Seconded to the A.I.F. on 13 October 1939, he was given command of the 2nd/6th Battalion which embarked for the Middle East in April 1940 and trained in Palestine from May.

The 2nd/6th relieved a British battalion outside Bardia, Libya, on 28 December. For his part in the next eight days of operations, culminating in the successful attack (3-5 January 1941) on the fortified town, Godfrey was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and mentioned in dispatches. His brigade commander (Sir) Stanley Savige praised his example 'as a soldier and a man'. The battalion took part in the assault on Tobruk on 21-22 January. Promoted colonel and temporary brigadier (20 January), Godfrey relinquished his command of the 2nd/6th on the 28th and became commander, in turn, of the Tobruk Lines of Communication Sub-Area and the A.I.F. Reinforcements Depot.

On 13 March 1941 he was appointed to command the 24th Brigade. Between April and September he led the formation with 'ability and purposefulness' in the defence of Tobruk; he was awarded a Bar to the D.S.O. and again mentioned in dispatches. The brigade held defensive positions in Syria in January-June 1942 before being moved to Egypt to help block Axis forces advancing towards Cairo. From July the 24th Brigade fought at Tel el Makh Khad, and attacked Ruin Ridge where the 2nd/28th Battalion was captured. The battle of El Alamein, a turning point in the war, began on 23/24 October. Godfrey directed the brigade's operations until the evening of 1 November when his tactical headquarters received a direct hit during an enemy artillery barrage. Seriously wounded in the abdomen, he died on 4 November 1942 and was buried in El Alamein war cemetery. He was mentioned in dispatches a third time. His wife, daughter and three sons survived him.

Godfrey was remembered as 'happy go lucky, always smiling', a 'good mixer and a very sincere man'. Resourceful, courageous and compassionate, he administered discipline firmly and fairly. A former adjutant said of him, 'he had the priceless gift of being able to move about, and be equally [at] home with all ranks . . . He was a fine commander too, clear and incisive'. Godfrey was the most senior A.I.F. officer killed in action at El Alamein.

Select Bibliography

  • A. D. Ellis, The Story of the Fifth Australian Division (Lond, 1920)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, vol 4 (Syd, 1933)
  • J. D. Yeates and W. G. Loh (eds), Red Platypus (Perth, 1946)
  • G. Long, To Benghazi (Canb, 1952)
  • H. Gullett, Not as a Duty Only (Melb, 1976)
  • B. Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein (Canb, 1966)
  • D. Hay, Nothing Over Us (Canb, 1984)
  • private information.

Citation details

James Wood, 'Godfrey, Arthur Harry Langham (1896–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/godfrey-arthur-harry-langham-10315/text18255, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 14 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018

Arthur Harry Langham Godfrey (1896-1942), by unknown photographer

Arthur Harry Langham Godfrey (1896-1942), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 020726