The exceptional and undoubtedly unique Second World War Royal Naval Patrol Service 1940 Distinguished Service Medal, West Africa Benin 1897 Anti-Slavery Naval Brigade and Great War Trawler Minesweeping long service group awarded to Chief Engineman W.C.G. Godsall, Royal Naval Patrol Service, formerly Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Marine Light Infantry. As part of the Naval Brigade from the cruiser Theseus, he took part in the punitive expedition against Benin in 1897, before going on to twice desert, the latter resulting in his never being found. Having settled in Grimsby and found work on the fishing trawlers, he lied about his age and joined the R.N.R. being mobilised on the outbreak of the Great War. He operated out of Grimsby on various vessels, and in 1919 was aboard the paddle minesweeper Mercury. On 11th November 1920 he was selected to represent the Royal Naval Reserve for the funeral of the Unknown Warrior in London. It was during the Second World War however that he distinguished himself when with the Royal Naval Patrol Service serving aboard the hired drifter “Reverberation” during 1939 to 1940 as part of the Dover Command. Being then aged 64, he is quite possibly the oldest recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal, he award being made for distinguished service - he having displayed ‘outstanding zeal, patience and cheerfulness, and for never failing to set an example of wholehearted devotion to duty’. After served in the Far East, Godsall was at Grimsby when he died in service in January 1946, he being then aged 70.
Group of 10: Distinguished Service Medal, GVI bust, officially impressed naming; (KX.101733 W.C. GODSALL. ENGN. R.N.); East and West Africa Medal 1887-1900, 1 Clasp: Benin 1897; (W.C. GODSALL, PTE. H.M.S. THESEUS.); 1914-1915 Star; (ES.30. W.C. GODSALL. ENGN., R.N.R.); British War Medal and Victory Medal; (30E.S. W.C. GODSALL. ENGN. R.N.R.); 1939-1945 Star; Atlantic Star; Burma Star; War Medal; Royal Naval Reserve Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, GVR Adm. bust; (E.S.30. W.C. GODSALL, ENGN. R.N.R.)
Condition: first with an official correction to first part of service number, light contact wear, overall Good Very Fine.
William Charles Gilbert Godsall was born on 20 June 1876 in Lambeth, London, and having worked as a labourer, then enlisted into the Royal Marine Light Infantry as a Private (No.7775) on 14 April 1894, being sent to the Recruit Depot at Walmer. On completion of his training he was posted to ‘C’ Company of the Chatham Division on 24 October 1894, he was then posted aboard the cruiser Theseus from 14 January 1896, and then saw service in the Mediterranean.
In January 1897 Theseus was ordered from the Mediterranean to join Rear Admiral Sir Harry Rawson’s fleet that had been sent to West Africa for a punitive expedition against Benin. The force was assembled off the coast of Benin by 3rd February, with landings taking place on 9th February, and Benin City was captured on 18th February and the force re-embarked on the ships of the fleet on 27th February. The ship's crew suffered badly from malaria as a result of her service during the Benin expedition, and when Theseus was refitted at Chatham later that year she required a thorough disinfection.
The Benin Expedition officially lasted from 6th February to 7th August 1897, the operations centred round an expedition to Benin City against Chief Overiami who was involved in the slave trade and in practices of human sacrifice. Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Hamilton, East Yorkshire Regiment, commanded a force of Niger Coast Constabulary and Rear Admiral Rawson, Royal Navy, and aboard St George, was in overall command. Commissioner Ralph Moor accompanied the expedition. Godsall is confirmed as having served during the operations and was most probably employed with the Naval Brigade ashore and his service record confirms ‘Feb 1897 Took part in Expedition against Benin City’.
Having returned home to the Chatham Division on 20 July 1897, he is recorded as having deserted on 23 August 1897, but was recovered on 7 November 1897, and tried by District Court Martial and imprisoned between 23 November and 31 December 1897. His medal for the Benin 1897 operations was awarded to him on 14 May 1898. Godsall’s second and final seagoing appointment with the Royal Marines was when he was embarked aboard the cruiser Galatea on 26 June 1899, she being the coast guard ship for the Humber district and based at Hull. Godsall is recorded as having deserted from her on 13 January 1900, and this time he was not found.
For his part, Godsall, having evaded the authorities, had then gone to live in Grimsby, where he worked as as fisherman on the trawlers. He was working in this role when he enrolled into the Royal Naval Reserve on 13 June 1911 as a 2nd Engineman (No.E.S.30) with the Grimsby Division. At this time he gave his date of birth as 21st June 1882.
With the outbreak of the Great War Godsall was mobilised on 8 August 1914 for service aboard Admiralty requisitioned trawlers operating out of Grimsby in the North Sea. Godsall saw service aboard the trawler Vesper from 8th August to 30th September 1914, and was then aboard the Solon from 1st October to 15th December 1914. Godsall was aboard the Britannia from 16th December 1914 through to 5th November 1915. He was aboard the Greyhound from 13th March to 31st December 1916, and after a period of service ashore, was back aboard her from 29th July 1917 to 5th May 1918, before joining the paddle minesweeper Mercury for employment on mine clearance work in 1919, he being demobilised on 22nd December 1919.
Godsall’s service record indicates that he represented the Royal Naval Reserve for the funeral of the Unknown Warrior in London on 11th November 1920, and was then awarded the Royal Naval Reserve Long Service and Good Conduct Medal on 25th April 1921. He had in the meantime joined the Grimsby Defence Force in April 1921, being discharged from this in July 1921.
It appears that Godsall found it hard to initially get a job back at sea, and during 1921 is initially shown as unemployed, being in December of that year found road making work under the Grimsby Corporation. Then from March 1922 he was casually employed as a ‘watcher’ for H.M. Customs and Excise, before finding further casual employment as a dock labourer for the Grimsby Coast Railway Company from December 1922, and in a similar capacity for the London North Eastern Railway Company from March 1923. It was in October 1923 that he returned to his work as a 2nd Engineman aboard fishing trawlers, being made a 1st Engineman from October 1924 whilst aboard the trawler “Coronne”. He later worked aboard the “Simerson” from September 1925. In July 1926 he re-enrolled for a further period of service with the Royal Naval Reserve at Grimsby.
On the outbreak of the Second World War, Godsall enrolled into the Royal Naval Patrol Service. Some 70,000 men and 6,000 ships including trawlers, drifters, MFVs (Motor Fishing Vessels), MLs (Motor Launches), and later MMS (Motor Minesweepers or 'Mickey Mouses'), American produced BYMS and numerous requisitioned vessels served with this organisation, which fought all over the world in all theatres of the war and was mainly involved with minesweeping and anti-submarine work. For this hazardous work, some 850 awards were made to the men of the RNPS one of these being the award of the Distinguished Service Medal to Godsall, who at the time of the war was then aged 64!
Godsall was decorated for his distinguished service aboard the hired drifter “Reverberation” (LT369) which operated as an auxiliary patrol vessel under the Dover Command. the ship was armed with 3 pounder guns. The exact specifics of his actions to earn the award are currently unknown, however his award published in the London Gazette New Years Honours List of 1st January 1941 carries the following general citation: ‘For outstanding zeal, patience and cheerfulness, and for never failing to set an example of wholehearted devotion to duty, without which the high tradition of the Royal Navy could not have been upheld’.
Having gone on to see further service during the war in the Far East, Godsall was still in service whilst stationed with Beaver, the Royal Navy base at Grimsby, when he died of heart failure aged 70 on 21st January 1946. Godsall lies buried under a Commonwealth War Graves headstone in Grimsby (Scartho Road) Cemetery, Lincolnshire. Godsall’s extraordinary medal group, representing service spanning 52 years, is undoubtedly unique and as a 64 year old recipient of the D.S.M. he was quite likely the oldest man to receive that award.