The man behind the myth

Terry Kinloch
Dunedin, NZ: Exisle Publishing, 2018
Hardback   328pp   RRP $59.99

Reviewer: Mike O’Brien, April 2021

General Godley has not featured greatly in the pantheon of First World War generals, particularly in Australia – but he should. As a British Army officer, he had the responsibility to shape New Zealand’s pre-war army. He commanded the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) and led it to Gallipoli where he successively led the New Zealand and Australian Division and latterly the Anzac Corps. On the Western Front he commanded II Anzac Corps

Tall, austere, and aloof, Godley, it is fair to say, was an unloved commander. In the First World War he always had the dual responsibility of commanding the NZEF and his formation – and that extended to up to twelve divisions in his corps. His formations performed unevenly. His division in Gallipoli suffered badly in the August 1915 offensive including the actions at Chunuk Bair and the Nek and some at least of the blame rested on their commander. As a corps commander at the Western Front he led his soldiers at Messines and Passchendaele and in the actions at war’s end.

Godley was an unpopular leader who found it either difficult or unnecessary to relate to the ordinary soldiers under his command. He can be held responsible for battle failures on Gallipoli or in the Western Front in 1917 but he was much more successful in 1918. 

Kinloch’s biography is balanced and clear. He follows Godley’s career step-by-step delving into personality and achievements. It is a great contrast to Godley’s more content-free autobiography (Life of an Irish Soldier: Reminiscences of General Sir Alexander Godley). Australian and New Zealand readers of military history will welcome this well-thought-out biography.

The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.