WW1 Alumni

Godsave, GE

George Elliott Godsave

Flying Officer (Observer), Royal Flying Corps

George Elliot Godsave

George Elliot Godsave was born at 20 Woodland Road, Upper Norwood, London, in September 1894, the son of Mrs and Mrs G H Godsave. He was educated at Alleyn’s School, Dulwich, and attested as a Private in the 14th Battalion, London Regiment (London Scottish), Territorial Force, in August 1914. He survived the war and married Mildred Poole of Athelstan, Honour Oak Park 18th June 1918. Godsave’s war record was detailed and he contributed to the development of air navigation. After WW1 he remained in the armed forces and he is credited with mapping previously uncharted desert areas by combining his work on navigation with his new role with armoured cars.

Having advanced to Acting Sergeant, Godsave was commissioned Second Lieutenant in the 14th Battalion, in February 1915. He served during the Great War with the Battalion in the French theatre of war from 13th June 1915.

Godsave transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, and was appointed Flying Officer (Observer) in September 1916. He served operationally with 7 Squadron (B.E.2c’s) in France, June - July 1916, before being posted for service with 5 Squadron (B.E.2c’s), Droglandt, 9 August 1916. Godsave advanced to Temporary Lieutenant in November 1916, and returned to the Home Establishment at the end of the following month.

Possibly due to the effects of being gassed in France, Godsave was transferred from flying to be Equipment Officer Second Class in February 1917. He was upgraded to First Class, and the rank of Temporary Captain in June 1917. In January 1917 the Admiralty Compass Department formed an air section to promote the new technique of air navigation (as opposed to map reading by known landmarks) and Godsave was chosen to represent the Royal Flying Corps on a two-month training course before being sent out to ‘spread the gospel’ to the squadrons. In July 1917 he returned to help set up an air department at Slough specifically concerned with navigation matters. He remained there until the end of December 1917 when he was posted to Stonehenge as Chief Navigator Instructor to the newly formed No. 1 School of Navigation and Bomb Dropping.

After the war Godsave completed a specialist long Air Navigation Course, and his subsequent postings included as Technical Officer on the staff of the Air Pilotage School, Andover, and for special duty at the Admiralty Compass Observatory. In 1924 he was posted as a Squadron Leader for Armoured Car duties in Iraq. He took over command of No. 4 Armoured Car Company at Hinaidi from September 1925. The armoured car companies were disbanded and brought under the strength of the Armoured Car Wing in April 1927.

Godsave was appointed Second in Command of the Wing, and a number of his reports and his manuscript The Tales of the Tin Trams (a copy of which is included with the lot) cover the range of patrols against bandits, desert surveys, escort duties and co-operation with aircraft undertaken by the Armoured Cars in Iraq:

‘It was my privilege to command the columns of armoured cars and the many survey expeditions which, while keeping the King’s peace among the then lawless tribes, explored the vast emptiness to drive the roads and make the maps which covered some 250,000 square miles. I will enlarge on the opinion of my friend Al Aurans to say that during the six years spent exploring every corner of that unbelievably cruel and difficult desert the cars whose value he assessed was above rubies were valued as even more priceless by the Car Commanders and the crews. There was no other motor car in the world which we could have driven through the terrible stony desert of al Harrat; the shifting sands of al Nefud; the soft gravel wastes of ad Dibdiba; the clinging mud of the winter in the flooded Waddian of al Hauran; the rock strewn uplands of al Jezireh; the mountain roads of Kurdistan; the treacherous gravel of Wadi al Tharthar and the riverside tracks by the Euphrates and Tigris, ribbed as the tide swept sand, and cut by irrigation ditches.

The motto of the armoured cars in Arabic was “fi kull makan” - in every place. Twenty thousand miles of desert were covered by each car every year; no workshops; the stars above and the desert sand for garage; in every expedition into the unknown the “Silver Ghosts” full of the spirit of the crews who braved it all for England went into every place. Not once in six years of desert operation did cars or crew fail. Through the grim gates of stress and strain came forth vast events, the armoured cars were driven through the land and for while brought peace to the nomad tribes. The roads were made, driven straight, as by our Roman ancestors and the inscription ‘unsurveyed’ was deleted from the maps for ever.’

Godsave’s use of the 02 Magnetic Compass (which he had designed as a member of staff at the Admiralty Compass Department) fitted to the armoured cars to survey the deserts was very successful and he is credited with mapping previously uncharted desert areas. He was greatly respected by the tribesmen, who called him ‘Abu Tamilyat’ - the ‘Father of the Motor Cars’. After nearly five years in Iraq he returned to the UK, and was posted to No. 1 Flying Training School, Netheravon, in May 1929. Subsequent postings included as a staff officer with the Chief of Air Staff’s Department; navigation duties at R.A.F. Calshot; and to serve on Navigation Instructor duties in the Joint Directorate of Scientific Research and Technical Development, from January 1934. Godsave was forced to retire due to ill health, 5 February 1935.

Godsave's medals

Following his discharge, Godsave returned to Iraq where he was employed as the manager of the Nairn Transport Company. He was later employed as Chief Instructor of the Imperial Airways Navigation School. Godsave died at the Luton and Dunstable Hospital in June 1965.

Godsave produced the Armoured Car Tactics Handbook, which was used extensively by the 8th Army in North Africa during the Second World War.

Godsave's medals, accompanied by a file of his papers, was sold at Auction by Dix Noonan Webb of Mayfair, London, 6 December 2017. The medals comprised: 1914-15 Star (2. Lieut. G. E. Godsave. 14/Lond. R.); Victory Medal 1914-19 (2. Lieut. G. E. Godsave. R.F.C.); General Service 1918-62, 1 clasp, Southern Desert, Iraq (S/L. G. E. Godsave. R.A.F.); Iraq, Active Service Medal, no clasp. The photograph of Godsave comes from the papers that were sold with the medals.

With grateful thanks to auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb of Mayfair, London for allowing the use of their biography of Godsave along with the two photographs published here.