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Meet The Godfreys: ‘Oh, this war!’ – Carlton zeppelin bombing blitz chronicled in John’s wartime diaries


For the final part of this fascinating series, Angie Keyworth dips into the archive of her influential Carlton family The Godfreys to see how the First World War affected those living in the town

The years between 1914 – 1918 were very different times for Carlton as they were for the entire country. These years described in John Godfrey’s diary are the most fascinating of all his entries. I’ve chosen a few.

August 2, 1914:  “While in service at the chapel Sunday evening, boys calling out special paper, war declared Germany and Russia.”

August 7, 1914:  “I saw the Carlton Territorials leave for Newark.” 

On November 7, 1914:  “I was sworn in as a Special Constable to act if called upon in case of riots or German invasion. I never thought to have just an experience” 

December 1914:  “Defence meetings at Park House.  Duties. To make use of carts, horses, cattle, shovels, picks, ladders, barrows, barbed wire, petrol etc with the aid of Special Constables. We are under the military authorities of York.”

February 1915:  “Agriculture and Labour Committee.  After much consideration we have agreed to liberate children over 12 if it is proved the farmer cannot get adult labour and he is unable to grow his crops and so find food for the people.  Duration of the war only.  The moment the boy can be spared he must go back to school.”

October 7th, 1915:  “Amusement park at Goose Fair not held this year on account of the war.  I suppose the first time it has been omitted for over 200 years.  Not the same.  I had a walk round part of the market place.  Instead of the shows there were about 25 motor ambulance wagons.  Red Cross. gifts for helping the wounded soldiers etc.  The Mayor and others at the inspection.”

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December 24, 1915:  “Christmas Eve. Harold, Cecil and Emma called for ‘stocking’ presents. We decorated the hall with lanterns, but the war hangs upon us like a pall and makes us quiet.”

February 13, 1916:   “Churches and chapels commence evening services 5.30 pm to 6.30 pm so as to have all lights out early.  Zeppelin.  The zeppelins and aircraft are terrible and cruel, attacking men, women and children.  The Germans appear to have gone mad, no regard for non-combatant life or property.”

PICTURED: Frank Clay

John and Emma’s son Cecil joined the army in 1915.  John wrote a very touching entry on August 24, 1916…

“Thursday 11.10 p.m.  Bade Cecil goodbye at station, gone to France.  Oh, this war!  As the train steamed away into the night throwing showers of sparks, it seemed to mock me as I stood with full eyes, but I believe God will take care of him and bring him home safely.”

August 25, 1916:   “Yesterday I said goodbye to Cecil, gone to war.  Today I said goodbye to Donald, he has gone to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ at Matlock, his first circuit.  What a contrast August 24th and 25th.”

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September 24, 1916:  “Sunday, about 12.30 midnight, I had been on duty as Special Constable and gone to bed when we were awakened by exploding bombs.  Several in cricket field at bottom end of Carlton and on the other side of the LNR line. 

A small window at daughter Emma’s at Blackhill house was broken. In Nottingham much damage was done and several lives lost. Canaan Primitive Methodist Church badly damaged.  Terrible experience.”

“On two nights recently, we have had a house full of friends and family.  In case of bombs we go into the cellar, this we think is the deepest place.  Do all we can and put trust in God to help us.” 

Emma Godfrey and her youngest children, twins Sandford and Kathleen aged 12. The photo is taken at Sutton on Sea in September 1914.  There were already soldiers in Sutton protecting the station, coast guard station and post office et

During the bombing of Carlton, mentioned above, a single bomb was dropped on the corner of Cross Street and Dunstan Street obliterating six houses.  The houses were never rebuilt and the site was used as a children’s play park. In 2018 6 new properties were built on the site and this is now known as Dunstan Court. 

There are more entries relating to the war in my booklet ‘John and Emma Godfrey of Park House, Carlton’, a copy of which can be found in Carlton Library,  Gedling Library, the Notts Archives and Nottingham Central Library. 

John Godfrey’s cousin CSM Frank Clay had been a regular soldier as his father was before him.
Frank’s father Philip Isaac Clay was born in Carlton in 1842 and baptised in All Hallows, Gedling. 

In 1897 Philip was in the regular army and Frank was born in Winchester.

Frank served in the Boer War where he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal serving with The Kings Royal Rifle Corps, now known as the Green Jackets. 

In 1909, Frank was married, working as a postman and living at 47, Gedling Road in Carlton with his wife Emily,  son Philip and sister Minnie who worked from home as a music teacher.

On August 27th 1914 Frank enlisted into the regular army once again, but sadly died at the Battle of Hill 60, just south of Ypres on July 8, 1915. 

Frank Henry Clay’s name is on the war memorial in All Hallows Church, Gedling and also on gravestone of his father Philip Isaac Clay, which is in Carlton Cemetery.

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Frank’s son Philip Ernest Isaac Clay had a successful elastic yarn business in Radcliffe-on-Trent and gave the money for the Robin Hood statue to be built at Nottingham Castle.

Although their son Cecil survived the war, it was bittersweet for John and Emma as their son Harold died in the flu epidemic of 1918 at the age of 37.

Cecil arrived home from France a few days after Harold died. Emma was so distraught she did not attend Harold’s funeral. 

Harold is laid to rest in Carlton Cemetery with John and Emma and next to his grandparents John and Ann Maria Godfrey.

Ann Maria died in January 1918. John and Emma’s nephew 2nd Lieutenant John Wesley Lewin of the 5th Leicester Regiment died in France on September 24, 1918.  John Wesley was married but hadn’t any children and lived on Blackhill Drive in a house built by his father John Lewin.

John Wesley Lewin’s name is also on the All Hallows Memorial.

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