GODLEY: The man behind the myth.

AuthorMcGibbon, Ian
PositionBook review


The man behind the myth

Author: Terry Kinloch

Published by: Exisle Publishing, Auckland, 2018,320pp, $59.99.

Of all New Zealand's major military figures, Sir Alexander Godley is perhaps the most under-recognised. A distinguished British soldier who almost became a field marshal, he played a major role in the establishment of a military system in New Zealand that would persist for half a century and which underpinned New Zealand's effort in both world wars. He not only oversaw the creation of the Territorial Force from 1910 but also commanded the New Zealand Expeditionary Force for five years.

Godley became a controversial figure. Notoriously unpopular with the troops, he played a role in several disastrous battles in which New Zealand lost heavily, especially Passchendaele. For some writers of 'heroes and villains' populist history, he is the archetypical villain who callously sacrificed his men's lives to bolster his career. Serious students of New Zealand's military history have always recognised, however, that there is more to Godley than these often-biased presentations suggest.

Despite the controversy surrounding him, he became some thing of a forgotten figure, overshadowed in the public mind by his Second World War counterpart and governor-general immediately after the war Bernard Freyberg. In this era of Great War centenaries it is timely, therefore, that his role should be reconsidered. Terry Kinloch, in preparing this biography, aimed to provide 'a more rounded and balanced understanding of Godley. In this he succeeds.

The author of two excellent histories of the New Zealand mounted rifles in the First World War, Kinloch turns his attention here to a champion of the mounted rifles approach. He traces Godley's origins and his career which began with his entry to the Royal Military College in 1885--one year ahead of future New Zealand divisional commander Andrew Russell, who would serve under him in the Great War. Kinloch ably traces the formative influences on Godley, and outlines his initial active service in southern Africa, both during the suppression of rebellion in Mashonaland and in the South African War. During the latter he came to the fore in his role as Baden-Powell's deputy during the siege of Mafeking.

In the Great War Godley commanded the New Zealand and Australian Division at Gallipoli. At the end of the campaign he became a corps commander, in which capacity he would go on to command II Anzac Corps (later XXII...

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