Charles Godden


3 July 1919

Charles Godden's Grave

Charles Godden was the son of Charles Edward Godden, a dairyman and formerly of Queensland Dairy, South Malling near Lewes, who died at the age of 49 on 19th July 1911. After his death his widow Sarah Ann and the three children, Mabel, Charles and William, moved to ‘Ye Old Oak’ [now Lilac Cottage], Norlington Lane, Ringmer. This was purchased from Thomas Divall in 1906 but not occupied by the Godden’s until after Charles Edward had died. Both father and son are buried together in South Malling (St. Michael) Churchyard. Mrs Sarah Godden, who was sent her son's medals, lived until 24th February 1933.


South Malling Church with Charles Godden's grave to the left of the picture

Charles was born in 1894 at Duddon, Broughton, Cumberland where his parents worked as butler and ladies’ maid at Duddon Hall, Thwaites near Millom. The family moved to Sussex to a rather different life-style. Young Charles first went to an elementary school in Lewes before furthering his education at Castle Gate Private School, Lewes. It seems he lived for a while with his aunt, Kate Fendick, at the Gas Works, Hemel Hempstead and, whilst there, he joined the Hertfordshire Territorial Force.

He emigrated to Murwillumbah, New South Wales, Australia in 1914 and took up farming at Terranora. His younger brother William went out to take over the farm when Charles volunteered to fight for his King. It was in Lismore, New South Wales, that, on 4th November 1916, Charles enlisted into the 7th reinforcement of 42nd Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F.). His number was 3039. The 42nd Battalion was a Queensland unit but its military recruiting district included many men from the Northern Rivers of New South Wales. Charles returned to England for his basic training on Salisbury Plain before proceeding to France on 20th July 1917 and, as a reinforcement, was soon to be taken on the fighting strength of his Battalion.

The 42nd Battalion, as part of the 3rd Australian Division, had initially gone to France to man the trenches in the Armentières sector in November 1916. It took part in the Battles of Messines and 3rd Ypres [Passchendaele] in 1917. It stayed in that general area for over a year until rushed into action to hold the line north of Albert to help stem the German offensive of March 1918. Just prior to the onslaught Charles had been granted leave in the UK. He returned to face the full fury of the enemy. As part of the 11th Brigade, the 42nd Battalion A.I.F. saw considerable action during its time in France and it gained unstinting praise and respect for its fighting abilities.

The Australians have many battle honours of which to be justifiably proud. And one of these is in respect of fighting around Villers-Bretonneux where, moved yet again, the 3rd Australian Division played a decisive role in April 1918. A brief period of ‘rest’ was ordered for the exhausted troops but they were soon back in the line. On 25th May 1918 the Germans launched a fierce artillery bombardment. In addition to high explosives, great quantities of mustard gas shells fell on Australian positions. Men had to keep their gasmasks on continuously which made eating and sleeping almost impossible. Initially there were not too many casualties but the persistent mustard gas gradually permeated clothing and burnt the skin. And the lingering fumes were eventually inhaled when the respirators were removed, causing considerable lung damage. Although the shelling was over by the 29th May, that is the date Charles Godden is recorded as being gassed. Perhaps the date is slightly wrong, or he may have inhaled the toxic fumes from saturated clothing or other sources of the poisonous liquid gas that remained near him.


Australian Imperial Force Burial Report

Within two months he was discharged from hospital and promoted to Lance Corporal when he rejoined his unit on 22nd July. Although deemed fit by the authorities, Charles never really recovered from his injuries and the resulting mental trauma. A sick man, he chose to revert to the ranks on 13th September. On 23rd October, as a result of manpower shortages, Charles, along with the remaining men of 42 A.I.F., was transferred into the 41st Battalion. He remained with them for the remainder of his service. Despite the war being over Charles was still in uniform in April 1919. Somehow he broke the little finger of his right hand. He was admitted to hospital for treatment when it was realised he was much more seriously ill that a mere fractured finger. He was suffering from neurasthenia. Further medical treatment in France was followed by a transfer to the 3rd Australian Auxiliary Hospital at Dartford. Finally he was sent to the County of Middlesex War Hospital, Napsbury not far from St. Albans. He was confined to this mental hospital suffering from shell-shock and died there on 3rd July 1919 at the age of 25. His cause of death is shown on the certificate as, ‘acute delirious mania’ - what torment the poor man must have suffered.
Charles’ body was brought back to Lewes Railway Station and met there by a party of Australian soldiers. They escorted the hearse to South Malling Church where Charles Godden was laid to rest on 8th July 1919. The Royal Field Artillery provided a firing party for this military funeral and the Last Post was sounded at the graveside.


Charles Godden's Funeral Party


Charles Godden's medals and Memorial Plaque

His medals, plus the Memorial Plaque and Scroll were ultimately sent to his mother. From a British perspective the medals are a little unusual although much more common when seen from through the eyes of our Commonwealth friends. The silver British War Medal is inscribed to L-Cpl [Lance Corporal] C Godden 42 Bn whereas the bronze Victory Medal is inscribed Pte [Private] C Godden 41 Bn. Both were issued at the same time and yet show the two separate units this man served.

Adapted from Valiant Hearts of Ringmer by Geoff Bridger: Ammonite Press, 1993