Sidney Godley : First World War

Sidney Godley : First World War

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Sidney Godley, the son of a painter and decorator, was born in North End (Imberhorne Lane), East Grinstead in 1889. At fourteen he began work in an ironmonger's shop but with a desire for a more exciting life and six years later joined the British Army.

When the First World War was declared in August, 1914, Godley, a Royal Fusilier, was immediately sent to France to help stop the advancing German army. The Royal Fusiliers arrived in France on 14th August, 1914. They were moved forward to Mons in Belgium where the French Army was trying to halt the German advance.

By the time the Royal Fusiliers reached Nimy on 22nd August, the French were having great difficulty in holding the Germans. It was decided to try and retreat to the River Marne, where they hoped they would be able to stop the German advance towards Paris.

The Royal Fusiliers were ordered to hold two bridges over the Mons-Conde Canal while the rest of the British army retreated to the River Marne. The Royal Fusiliers only had two machine-guns against six divisions of the German army. The Germans directed their fire at the two machine-gunners as they knew these men had to be killed before they could advance over the bridges. As soon as a machine-gunner was killed, another soldier moved forward to carry out the task.

Eventually, the commanding officer, Lt. Steele, decided that his men would have to retreat. Before they left, Steele asked for two volunteers to man the machine-guns. Godley and Maurice Dease offered to do what appeared to be a suicidal task. Godley had to remove three bodies before he could get to his machine-gun. Within a few minutes of taking over the gun, Dease was killed. A shell exploded by the side of Godley and a piece of shrapnel entered his back. Although in terrible pain he continued firing at the Germans trying to cross the bridge. A bullet hit him in the head and lodged in his skull. Godley's single-handed defence of the bridge for two hours gave the men enough time to retreat.

Godley was eventually captured by Germans soldiers and taken to a German field hospital where surgeons removed bullets from his head and back. News of Godley's bravery soon reached Britain. When King George V heard about what had happened he decided to award him the highest military medal available to a British soldier, the Victoria Cross. At the time it was thought that Godley was dead. However, it was eventually discovered that Godley was alive and recovering in a German prisoner of war camp.

Godley remained in the camp until the Armistice. He was presented with his Victoria Cross in Buckingham Palace on 15th February 1919. After the war Godley became a school caretaker. Godley was also active on behalf of service charities and on occasions dressed up as Old Bill, the character created by the artist, Bruce Bairsfather.

In April 1939 Godley attended the opening of a new bridge at Nimy. During the service a plaque commemorating the heroism of Godley and Maurice Dease was unveiled. Godley was also presented with a special medal by the people of Mons.

Sidney Godley died on 29th June 1957 and is buried at Loughton Cemetery. In 1976 a new housing estate in Bexley was named after Godley. So also was a housing block in Tower Hamlets in 1992.

On 23 August, 1914 at Mons, Belgium, Private Godley took over a machine-gun on Nimy Bridge when the lieutenant in charge of the section had been mortally wounded. Private Godley held the enemy from the bridge single-handed for two hours under very heavy fire and was wounded twice. His gallant action covered the retreat of his comrades, but he was eventually taken prisoner. His final act was to destroy the gun and throw the pieces into the canal.

The Germans came over in mass formation and we opened fire... We carried on until towards evening when the order was given for the line to retire. I was then asked by Lieut. Steele to remain and hold the position while the retirement took place, which I did do, although I was very badly wounded several times, but I managed to carry on. I remained on the bridge and held the position, but when it was time for me to get away I smashed the machine gun up, and threw it in the Canal.

Aces to Zimmerman: A-Z of the Great War

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Who's Who - Sir Alexander Godley

Sir Alexander John Godley (1867-1957) was responsible for the pre-war training of New Zealand forces and subsequently led many of them during the First World War.

Godley was born in Kent, England on 4 February 1867 the son of a British Army captain. Of an Irish background (which he made much of in later years) Godley was nevertheless entirely educated in England.

He entered Sandhurst in 1885, receiving a commission as a Lieutenant to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers the following year. Promoted to Captain in 1896 and made Adjutant of the mounted infantry at Aldershot, Godley next volunteered to serve with a mounted infantry battalion in suppressing a rebellion in Mashonaland.

Upon his return to England in 1897 Godley received a promotion to Brevet Major the following year he gained acceptance into the staff college at Camberley. He quickly determined however to travel to South Africa to serve in the brewing Anglo-Boer conflict, leaving Camberley early to do so.

1900 brought Godley an appointment as Chief Staff Officer to Herbert Plumer (of subsequent Messines fame). Following the South African War Godley served for a short time as a Major in the Irish Guards and then at Aldershot. He was promoted Colonel in 1906.

Following the visit of Lord Kitchener to New Zealand in 1910 to provide advice on military training, during which he recommended the establishment of a new staff corps, Godley was despatched to New Zealand for a five-year appointment to command the New Zealand Defence Forces. His rank was temporary Major General.

Tasked therefore with the creation of a territorial army designed to integrate neatly into wider British forces, Godley was assisted in his work by the 1909 Defence Act brought in by Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward which mandated compulsory military training.

Godley's period in charge of New Zealand training arrangements was characterised by great energy and a natural flair for organisation. His appointment proved a tremendous success with the consequence that New Zealand's state of military preparedness was high in August 1914.

Within just six weeks of the declaration of war a New Zealand force of 8,500 troops set sail for Egypt accompanied by Godley. Between December 1914 and April 1915 Godley continued to train the force in the desert. In spite of his undoubted talents for organisation Godley's aloof manner rendered him (and his wife Laura, who opened a convalescent hospital at Alexandria) much disliked by the New Zealand troops under his command.

The ensuing Gallipoli campaign launched in late April 1915 and led by Sir Ian Hamilton proved a disastrous failure. Nor was it a success for Godley whose particular talents did not extend to leadership in the field.

Following the Gallipoli debacle the ANZACs (Australian and New Zealand Corps) were posted to the Western Front and service in France, led by William Birdwood. Godley went with them as recently as November 1915, and in spite of his evident lack of field success, he had been promoted Lieutenant General. He was placed at the head of II ANZAC Corps and found himself reporting once again to Plumer.

Continued weakness of leadership during the Third Battle of Ypres at Passchendaele from late July 1917 led to a particular failure on 12 October 1917. Some 2,735 New Zealand troops were suffered casualties or missing that day.

Godley nevertheless served out the remainder of the war as commander of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, eventually relinquishing command in November 1919. Service in the post-war occupation of the Rhine was followed in 1920 with an appointment as Military Secretary to the Secretary of State for War.

Returning once more to the Rhine in 1922 as its commanding officer, Godley was promoted to full General the following year. He was appointed Governor of Gibraltar and its commander in chief in 1928, remaining there until his tenure ended four years later.

Sidney Godley : First World War - History

On 23 August 1914 the Germans attacked General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien’s II Corps, which was deployed along the Mons-Condé canal. This ran east from Condé across the Franco-Belgian border to Mons and then curved north around Mons to Nimy and Obourg, a distance of about twenty-three miles. The 4th Battalion Royal Fusiliers were defending the Nimy bridges, just north of Mons, and it was here that the Germans concentrated their offensive, sending four battalions against the bridges which were being defended by Y Company. Lieutenant M J Dease, 4th Royal Fusiliers, the Battalion Machine-Gun Officer, crossed open ground a number of times to see why a gun had stopped firing. When nearly all his men had become casualties and though badly injured himself, Dease took over a gun and managed to hold a bridge against the Germans until hit a fifth time. He was carried to safety by Lieutenant F W A Steele, the only man left uninjured in the section, but died of his wounds. When Steele called for someone to take over a gun and cover the retreat of the company, Private S F Godley, who had been assisting Dease, volunteered and held the enemy from the bridge single-handedly for two hours under very heavy fire though wounded twice. His final act was to destroy the gun and throw the pieces into the canal. He was found by two Belgian civilians who took him to hospital at Mons. He was eventually taken prisoner.


For coolness and gallantry in fighting his machine gun under a hot fire for two hours after he had been wounded at Mons on 23rd August.

Supplement to The London Gazette of 24 November 1914. 25 November 1914, Numb. 28985, p. 9957

Bullet in skull

Pte Godley, who was 25 when he was sent to the Western Front with the 4th Royal Fusiliers, was badly wounded in the attack, on 23 August 1914.

He had shrapnel in his back and a bullet in his skull, but protected British positions in the face of a German onslaught until he was captured.

During his four years as a prisoner in Germany, he was told by his captors that he had been awarded the VC and was invited to dine with the Germans one Christmas Day in recognition of the honour.

Pte Godley escaped in 1918 when prison guards deserted their post. He died in 1957, aged 68, and was buried with full military honours in Loughton Cemetery in Essex.

Since his death blue plaques have been placed at East Grinstead Town Council offices and at the house in Torrington Drive, Loughton, where he lived for some time.

In 1992 Tower Hamlets Council named a block of flats "Sidney Godley VC House" in honour of the former soldier who worked as a school caretaker in the borough.

At the same auction, a group of five medals, including a Victoria Cross, awarded posthumously to Capt A F G Kilby, from Cheltenham, was sold for a total of £240,000.

Capt Kilby was killed in the Battle of Loos in 1915. He was last seen encouraging his men forward towards the German lines despite having had his foot blown off.

Sidney Godley VC

Rank: Private
Service Number: 13814
Date of Birth: 14th August 1889
Battalion: 4th Battalion

Early Life
Sidney Godly was born in East Grinstead, Sussex on the 14th August 1889. He was the son of Frank, a Journeyman Painter, and Avis Godly. After his Mother died in 1896 the family moved first to Willesden where Sidney attended Henry Street School and then to Sidcup, Kent where he attended Sidcup National School.

Sidney first worked in an ironmongery shop and later apprenticed as a plumber, before joining the Royal Fusiliers on the 13th December 1909 where an ‘e’ was incorrectly added to his surname by the Recruiting Sergeant.

Military Life
On the outbreak of the First World War the 4th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, were part of the 9th Brigade, 3rd Division, of the British Expeditionary Force, which arrived in Le Havre on the 13th August 1914. On the 22nd August the Battalion reached the village of Nimy to the north of Mons, Belgium. ‘Y’ company were tasked with defending the Nimy railway crossing over the Mons-Conde canal. Here they were suddenly attacked at 8.00am on the 23rd in overwhelming numbers by the German army. ‘Y’ Company’s strength would have been approximately 120 men. The attacking German Battalion was in the order of 1,000.

Sidney’s job was to provide ammunition to the machine gunners but by about 1.00pm all of the gunners had been killed or wounded and there was nobody left to fire the guns. Asked if anyone knew how to fire the machine guns Sidney volunteered to stay behind and man the surviving gun whilst the rest of the battalion retreated. He stayed in action for a further two hours despite receiving multiple injuries thus enabling the remainder of the Battalion to withdraw before being overwhelmed by superior forces.

For his heroic actions Sidney was recommended for the Victoria Cross by Lt. Steele. The recommendation reads, “In the defence of the railway bridge at Nimy 23rd August 1914. This afternoon Pte. Godley showed particular heroism in his management of the machine guns, Lt. Dease having been severely wounded and each gunner shot in turn. Under extremely heavy fire he had to remove three bodies to get to the gun”.

Sidney was awarded the Victoria Cross which was written up in The London Gazette on the 24th November 1914, the brief citation reads, ‘’For coolness and gallantry in firing his machine-gun under a hot fire for two hours, after he had been wounded at Mons on the 23rd August’’.

Sidney was the first private soldier to win the VC in World War One.

"In the defence of the Railway Bridge near Nimy, 23rd August 1914. This afternoon Pte Godley of B. Coy shewed particular heroism in his management of the machine gun. Lt. Dease having been severely wounded and each machine gunner shot in turn, I called Pte Godley to me in the firing line on the bridge and under extremely heavy fire he had to remove three dead bodies and [get] to a machine gun on the right under a most deadly fire. This he did and not a shot did he fire except as directed and with the utmost coolness until it was irretrievably damaged and he was shot in the head. He then left the firing line under orders to go to the rear".

23.8.1914 FW. A. Steele Lt. C. Coy Roy. Fus.

RFM.6 - The original citation of Pte Godley

Sidney who was badly wounded, was taken prisoner and remained a prisoner of war for the rest of the War. He carried bullet fragments in his head for the rest of his life. Whilst in a prison camp near Doberitz, Germany in the Spring of 1915 it was announced at a special parade that he had won the VC. As well the congratulations from his fellow prisoners Sidney was held in high esteem by the German officers who arranged a special dinner in his honour.

During Sidney’s time in prison his brother, Sgt. Percival Godly serving in the 32nd Battalion, Royal Fusiliers was killed in action on the 4th October 1916 following the battle of Flers le Courcelette (part of the Battle of the Somme).

Later Life
Sidney remained a prisoner until the German guards deserted near the end of the war. Sidney walked out of the camp and made his way to neutral Denmark a distance of 250 miles (420 kilometre) and then onwards to England.

On the 2nd August 1919 he married Ellen Norman at St. Marks, Harlesden, Middlesex. He was married by the Reverend Noel Mellish, also a Royal Fusilier VC winner. Noel’s medals are displayed in the Museum and Godley’s are held by a private collector.

RFM.2012.76.2 - Godley on his wedding day.

Returning to civilian life he again took up the trade of a plumber before becoming a school janitor for 30 years at Cranbrook School, Tower Hamlets, London. He died on the 29th June 1957 and is buried at Loughton Cemetery, Essex. One of the attendee’s at his funeral was the Rev. Noel Mellish VC.

Sidney Godley V.C.

Sidney Frank Godley VC (14 August 1889 – 29 June 1957) was an English recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He was the first private soldier awarded the VC in World War I.

Early life

Godley was born on 14 August 1889 in East Grinstead, West Sussex, the son of Avis (nພ Newton) and Frank Godley. His mother died in 1896, and he was sent to live with his aunt and uncle in Willesden, London. He was educated at Henry Street School, St John's Wood and, upon moving to Sidcup, at Sidcup National School. From the ages of fourteen to twenty, he worked in an ironmonger's store. On 13 December 1909, he joined The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) of the British Army as a private with the service number 13814.

Victoria Cross

Godley was 25 years old, and a private in the 4th Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers, British Army, during the Battle of Mons in the First World War when he performed an act for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross. On 23 August 1914, at Mons, Belgium on the Mons-Condé Canal, Lieutenant Maurice Dease and Sidney Godley were manning the machine gun after the previous crews were either killed or wounded. When Lieutenant Dease had been mortally wounded and killed, and the order to retreat was issued Private Godley offered to defend the Nimy Railway Bridge while the rest of the section retreated. Godley held the bridge single-handed under very heavy fire and was wounded twice. A shell fragment ("shrapnel") entered his back when an artillery shell went off near him, and he was wounded in the head by a bullet. Despite his injuries he carried on the defense of the bridge while his comrades escaped. His citation read: "For coolness and gallantry in fighting his machine gun under a hot fire for two hours after he had been wounded at Mons on 23 August".

H.C. O'Neill wrote this account of Godley's actions in The Royal Fusiliers in the Great War.

“The machine gun crews were constantly being knocked out. So cramped was their position that when a man was hit he had to be removed before another could take his place. The approach from the trench was across the open, and whenever a gun stopped Lieutenant Maurice Dease. went up to see what was wrong. To do this once called for no ordinary courage. To repeat it several times could only be done with real heroism. Dease was badly wounded on these journeys, but insisted on remaining at duty as long as one of his crew could fire. The third wound proved fatal, and a well deserved VC was awarded him posthumously. By this time both guns had ceased firing, and all the crew had been knocked out. In response to an inquiry whether anyone else knew how to operate the guns Private Godley came forward. He cleared the emplacement under heavy fire and brought the gun into action. But he had not been firing long before the gun was hit and put completely out of action. The water jackets of both guns were riddled with bullets, so that they were no longer of any use. Godley himself was badly wounded and later fell into the hands of the Germans.

Godley defended the bridge for two hours, until he ran out of ammunition. His final act was to dismantle the gun and throw the pieces into the canal. He attempted to crawl to safety, but advancing German soldiers caught him and took him to a prisoner of war camp. His wounds were treated, but he remained in camp until the Armistice. Originally it was thought that he had been killed, but some time later it was found that he was a prisoner of war in a camp called Delotz at Dallgow-Dritz. It was in the camp that he was informed that he had been awarded the Victoria Cross. Godley left the camp in 1918 after the guards fled their posts. He received the actual medal from King George V, at Buckingham Palace, on 15 February 1919.

On 19 July 2012 his medals were sold at auction for 򣉶,000.

Post-war life

On 2 August 1919, Godley married Ellen Eliza Norman. He worked as a school caretaker in Tower Hamlets, London. He died on 29 June 1957. He was buried with full military honours in the town cemetery at Loughton, Essex, where he latterly resided.


East Grinstead Town Council mounted a Blue Plaque on their offices. Loughton Town Council placed a Blue Plaque at 164 Torrington Drive to commemorate its famous former resident. On 23 August 2014, exactly 100 years to the hour from when he defended the bridge at Mons, a commemorative service was held at his graveside. in 1976 a new housing estate in Bexley, Greater London, was named after him. In 1992 Tower Hamlets Council named a block of flats "Godley VC House" (Digby Street, E2). A plaque attached to the flats also commemorates him.

In 2014 the Department of Communities and Local Government gave each birthtown of a World War I VC a paving stone to commemorate their deed. The paving stone in East Grinstead was unveiled by the Town Mayor with Communities Secretary Eric Pickles MP in attendance, at 11.00 am on 23 August 2014. This was the first day of unveilings. The paving stone is set at the base of the war memorial in East Grinstead High Street, as the original wish that they be incorporated in the pavement in front of the former home was not possible as the exact address of his home is not known.

A small residential area in rue des Victoria Cross ("Victoria Crosses street") in Saint-Symphorien near Mons, Belgium is named Clos Sidney Godley ("Sidney Godley Enclosed Field".

Godley History, Family Crest & Coats of Arms

The surname Godley was first found in Cheshire at Godley, a township, in the parish of Mottramin-Longdendale, union of Ashton-under-Lyne, hundred of Macclesfield. "Godley is a variant of Godelegh, the name of the possessors of the place in the reign of John: the manor was afterwards held by the Baguleys, who purchased of the Godleys in 1319. [1]

"There is also a Hundred of Godley in Surrey." [2]

One of the first record may have been of the "the family of De Godlee were resident temp. Edward I." [3]

East Cheshire rolls include: Robert de Godelegh, 1294 Henry de Godelegh, 1299 William de Godeleeh, 1349 and Gilbert de Godelegh, 1349. [4]

Later the Yorkshire Poll Tax Rolls of 1379 list Willelmus de Godlay, 1379 and Cecilia de Godelay, 1379 as holding lands there at that time. [4]

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Early History of the Godley family

This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Godley research. Another 108 words (8 lines of text) covering the years 1294, 1775, 1639, 1579, 1611, 1847, 1932, 1909, 1849, 1925, 1172 and 1800 are included under the topic Early Godley History in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Unisex Coat of Arms Hooded Sweatshirt

Godley Spelling Variations

Spelling variations of this family name include: Godley, Godlee, Godlie, Godly, Godleigh, Godlay, Godelay, Godelegh, Goodleigh, Goodley, Goodlay, Goodlie, Goodlee, Godby, Godbey and many more.

Early Notables of the Godley family (pre 1700)

Distinguished members of the family include the two baronetcies. John Arthur Godley, 1st Baron Kilbracken GCB (1847-1932), was an Anglo-Irish aristocrat and British civil servant. Barons Kilbracken (1909).
Another 27 words (2 lines of text) are included under the topic Early Godley Notables in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Migration of the Godley family to Ireland

Some of the Godley family moved to Ireland, but this topic is not covered in this excerpt.
Another 76 words (5 lines of text) about their life in Ireland is included in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Godley migration +

Some of the first settlers of this family name were:

Godley Settlers in United States in the 19th Century
  • John Godley, aged 28, who landed in New York in 1812 [5]
  • M Godley, who arrived in San Francisco California in 1851 [5]
  • F Godley, who arrived in San Francisco, California in 1851 [5]
Godley Settlers in United States in the 20th Century
  • Frederick Godley, aged 18, who landed in America from Hurst Green, in 1904
  • Kate Godley, aged 31, who immigrated to the United States, in 1905
  • Reginald Godfrey Godley, aged 14, who landed in America from Leeds, England, in 1908
  • Wilhelmina Godley, aged 40, who settled in America from Scarboro, England, in 1908
  • Ethel Ginevra Godley, aged 42, who immigrated to the United States from Scarboro, England, in 1908
  • . (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

Contemporary Notables of the name Godley (post 1700) +

  • Sidney Frank Godley VC (1889-1957), English recipient of the Victoria Cross, the first Private to be awarded the VC in World War I
  • Kevin Michael Godley (b. 1945), English musician and music video director
  • George Albert Godley (1857-1941), English police officer who was involved in the hunt for Jack the Ripper in 1888
  • John Raymond Godley DSC (b. 1920), 3rd BaronKilbracken, English-born, Irish peer, wartime naval pilot, journalist, author and farmer
  • William "Bill" Godley (b. 1879), English footballer
  • Alfred Denis "A.D." Godley (1856-1925), English classical scholar and author, Public Orator at the University of Oxford (1910-1920)
  • George McMurtrie Godley II (1917-1999), American politician, U.S. Ambassador to Congo (Leopoldville), (1964-1666), Laos, (1969-1973) and Lebanon, (1974-1976)
  • Leonidas Mahlon Godley (1836-1904), Union Army soldier during the American Civil War who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Siege of Vicksburg on May 22, 1863
  • Eric John Godley OBE (1919-2010), New Zealand botanist and academic biographer, awarded the Hutton Medal of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 1986
  • Christopher John Godley (b. 1945), 4th BaronKilbracken Irish peer
  • . (Another 10 notables are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

Historic Events for the Godley family +

HMS Royal Oak
  • Sidney George Godley (d. 1939), British Stoker 1st Class with the Royal Navy aboard the HMS Royal Oak when she was torpedoed by U-47 and sunk he died in the sinking [6]
RMS Lusitania
  • Mr. Thomas G. Godley, English First Waiter from England, who worked aboard the RMS Lusitania and survived the sinking [7]
RMS Titanic
  • Mr. George Auguste Godley, aged 38, English Fireman/Stoker from Southampton, Hampshire who worked aboard the RMS Titanic and survived the sinking [8]

Related Stories +

The Godley Motto +

The motto was originally a war cry or slogan. Mottoes first began to be shown with arms in the 14th and 15th centuries, but were not in general use until the 17th century. Thus the oldest coats of arms generally do not include a motto. Mottoes seldom form part of the grant of arms: Under most heraldic authorities, a motto is an optional component of the coat of arms, and can be added to or changed at will many families have chosen not to display a motto.

Motto: Sans Dieu rien
Motto Translation: Without God, nothing.

The CIA's Secret Quest For Mind Control: Torture, LSD And A 'Poisoner In Chief'

CIA chemist Sidney Gottlieb headed up the agency's secret MK-ULTRA program, which was charged with developing a mind control drug that could be weaponized against enemies. Courtesy of the CIA hide caption

CIA chemist Sidney Gottlieb headed up the agency's secret MK-ULTRA program, which was charged with developing a mind control drug that could be weaponized against enemies.

During the early period of the Cold War, the CIA became convinced that communists had discovered a drug or technique that would allow them to control human minds. In response, the CIA began its own secret program, called MK-ULTRA, to search for a mind control drug that could be weaponized against enemies.

MK-ULTRA, which operated from the 1950s until the early '60s, was created and run by a chemist named Sidney Gottlieb. Journalist Stephen Kinzer, who spent several years investigating the program, calls the operation the "most sustained search in history for techniques of mind control."

Some of Gottlieb's experiments were covertly funded at universities and research centers, Kinzer says, while others were conducted in American prisons and in detention centers in Japan, Germany and the Philippines. Many of his unwitting subjects endured psychological torture ranging from electroshock to high doses of LSD, according to Kinzer's research.

"Gottlieb wanted to create a way to seize control of people's minds, and he realized it was a two-part process," Kinzer says. "First, you had to blast away the existing mind. Second, you had to find a way to insert a new mind into that resulting void. We didn't get too far on number two, but he did a lot of work on number one."

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Kinzer notes that the top-secret nature of Gottlieb's work makes it impossible to measure the human cost of his experiments. "We don't know how many people died, but a number did, and many lives were permanently destroyed," he says.

Ultimately, Gottlieb concluded that mind control was not possible. After MK-ULTRA shut down, he went on to lead a CIA program that created poisons and high-tech gadgets for spies to use.

Kinzer writes about Gottlieb and MK-ULTRA in his new book, Poisoner in Chief.

Interview highlights

Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control

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On how the CIA brought LSD to America

As part of the search for drugs that would allow people to control the human mind, CIA scientists became aware of the existence of LSD, and this became an obsession for the early directors of MK-ULTRA. Actually, the MK-ULTRA director, Sidney Gottlieb, can now be seen as the man who brought LSD to America. He was the unwitting godfather of the entire LSD counterculture.

In the early 1950s, he arranged for the CIA to pay $240,000 to buy the world's entire supply of LSD. He brought this to the United States, and he began spreading it around to hospitals, clinics, prisons and other institutions, asking them, through bogus foundations, to carry out research projects and find out what LSD was, how people reacted to it and how it might be able to be used as a tool for mind control.

Now, the people who volunteered for these experiments and began taking LSD, in many cases, found it very pleasurable. They told their friends about it. Who were those people? Ken Kesey, the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, got his LSD in an experiment sponsored by the CIA by MK-ULTRA, by Sidney Gottlieb. So did Robert Hunter, the lyricist for the Grateful Dead, which went on to become a great purveyor of LSD culture. Allen Ginsberg, the poet who preached the value of the great personal adventure of using LSD, got his first LSD from Sidney Gottlieb. Although, of course, he never knew that name.

So the CIA brought LSD to America unwittingly, and actually it's a tremendous irony that the drug that the CIA hoped would be its key to controlling humanity actually wound up fueling a generational rebellion that was dedicated to destroying everything that the CIA held dear and defended.

On how MK-ULTRA experimented on prisoners, including crime boss Whitey Bulger

Whitey Bulger was one of the prisoners who volunteered for what he was told was an experiment aimed at finding a cure for schizophrenia. As part of this experiment, he was given LSD every day for more than a year. He later realized that this had nothing to do with schizophrenia and he was a guinea pig in a government experiment aimed at seeing what people's long-term reactions to LSD was. Essentially, could we make a person lose his mind by feeding him LSD every day over such a long period?

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Bulger wrote afterward about his experiences, which he described as quite horrific. He thought he was going insane. He wrote, "I was in prison for committing a crime, but they committed a greater crime on me." And towards the end of his life, Bulger came to realize the truth of what had happened to him, and he actually told his friends that he was going to find that doctor in Atlanta who was the head of that experiment program in the penitentiary and go kill him.

On the CIA hiring Nazi doctors and Japanese torturers to learn methods

The CIA mind control project, MK-ULTRA, was essentially a continuation of work that began in Japanese and Nazi concentration camps.

Stephen Kinzer, author of 'Poisoner in Chief'

The CIA mind control project, MK-ULTRA, was essentially a continuation of work that began in Japanese and Nazi concentration camps. Not only was it roughly based on those experiments, but the CIA actually hired the vivisectionists and the torturers who had worked in Japan and in Nazi concentration camps to come and explain what they had found out so that we could build on their research.

For example, Nazi doctors had conducted extensive experiments with mescaline at the Dachau concentration camp, and the CIA was very interested in figuring out whether mescaline could be the key to mind control that was one of their big avenues of investigation. So they hired the Nazi doctors who had been involved in that project to advise them.

Another thing the Nazis provided was information about poison gases like sarin, which is still being used. Nazi doctors came to America to Fort Detrick in Maryland, which was the center of this project, to lecture to CIA officers to tell them how long it took for people to die from sarin.

On the more extreme experiments Gottlieb conducted overseas

Gottlieb and the CIA established secret detention centers throughout Europe and East Asia, particularly in Japan, Germany and the Philippines, which were largely under American control in the period of the early '50s, and therefore Gottlieb didn't have to worry about any legal entanglements in these places. .

CIA officers in Europe and Asia were capturing enemy agents and others who they felt might be suspected persons or were otherwise what they called "expendable." They would grab these people and throw them into cells and then test all kinds of, not just drug potions, but other techniques, like electroshock, extremes of temperature, sensory isolation — all the meantime bombarding them with questions, trying to see if they could break down resistance and find a way to destroy the human ego. So these were projects designed not only to understand the human mind but to figure out how to destroy it. And that made Gottlieb, although in some ways a very compassionate person, certainly the most prolific torturer of his generation.

On how these experiments were unsupervised

This guy [Sidney Gottlieb] had a license to kill. He was allowed to requisition human subjects across the United States and around the world and subject them to any kind of abuse that he wanted, even up to the level of it being fatal — yet nobody looked over his shoulder.

[Gottlieb] operated almost completely without supervision. He had sort of a checkoff from his titular boss and from his real boss, Richard Helms, and from the CIA director, Allen Dulles. But none of them really wanted to know what he was doing. This guy had a license to kill. He was allowed to requisition human subjects across the United States and around the world and subject them to any kind of abuse that he wanted, even up to the level of it being fatal — yet nobody looked over his shoulder. He never had to file serious reports to anybody. I think the mentality must have been [that] this project is so important — mind control, if it can be mastered, is the key to global world power.

On how Gottlieb destroyed evidence about his experiments when he left the CIA

The end of Gottlieb's career came in [1973], when his patron, Richard Helms, who was then director of the CIA, was removed by [President Richard] Nixon. Once Helms was gone, it was just a matter of time until Gottlieb would be gone, and most important was that Helms was really the only person at the CIA who had an idea of what Gottlieb had been doing. So as they were both on their way out of the CIA, they agreed that they should destroy all records of MK-ULTRA. Gottlieb actually drove out to the CIA records center and ordered the archives to destroy boxes full of MK-ULTRA records. . However, it turns out that there were some [records] found in other places there was a depot for expense account reports that had not been destroyed, and various other pieces of paper remain. So there is enough out there to reconstruct some of what he did, but his effort to wipe away his traces by destroying all those documents in the early '70s was quite successful.

Sam Briger and Thea Chaloner produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Meghan Sullivan adapted it for the Web.

Correction Oct. 27, 2019

In the audio of this interview, as in a previous Web version, Stephen Kinzer incorrectly says the end of Sidney Gottlieb's CIA career came in 1972. It actually ended in 1973.

Previously posted Sept. 9: A previous photo caption incorrectly referred to the CIA's MK-ULTRA program as MS-ULTRA.

Bullet in skull

Pte Godley, who was 25 when he was sent to the Western Front with the 4th Royal Fusiliers, was badly wounded in the attack, on 23 August 1914.

He had shrapnel in his back and a bullet in his skull, but protected British positions in the face of a German onslaught until he was captured.

During his four years as a prisoner in Germany, he was told by his captors that he had been awarded the VC and was invited to dine with the Germans one Christmas Day in recognition of the honour.

Pte Godley escaped in 1918 when prison guards deserted their post. He died in 1957, aged 68, and was buried with full military honours in Loughton Cemetery in Essex.

Since his death blue plaques have been placed at East Grinstead Town Council offices and at the house in Torrington Drive, Loughton, where he lived for some time.

In 1992 Tower Hamlets Council named a block of flats "Sidney Godley VC House" in honour of the former soldier who worked as a school caretaker in the borough.

At the same auction, a group of five medals, including a Victoria Cross, awarded posthumously to Capt A F G Kilby, from Cheltenham, was sold for a total of £240,000.

Capt Kilby was killed in the Battle of Loos in 1915. He was last seen encouraging his men forward towards the German lines despite having had his foot blown off.

Watch the video: 1914-13 Battle of Mons August 23rd 1914