Saturday, August 23, 2014

The First VCs of The Great War: Lieutenant Maurice Dease and Private Frank Godley, 23rd August 1914


One hundred years ago today, on August 23rd 1914, the 4th battalion, Royal Fusiliers were ordered to defend the Nimy bridges, which were only a few kilometers from the main British force at Mons.

By 10:00 that morning the British positions around the bridges came under heavy German artillery fire which was then followed by direct assault by the 84th Infantry Regiment. 

In answer, the Royal Fusiliers caused heavy casualties amongst the Germans, who initially advanced in tightly-packed formations. Being shocked by the rapid fire of the Fusiliers, the Germans soon abandoned this costly tactic and began to advance in open order. As more German troops were thrown into the attack, the situation for the Royal Fusiliers became perilous in the extreme. Yet to withdraw while still in contact with the enemy would expose them to close-range enemy fire. Therefore it was vital that the battalion's machineguns, now under the command of Lieutenant Maurice Dease, hold back the Germans long enough for the rest of the men to withdraw.

Lieutenant Maurice Dease, the first posthumous recipient of the Victoria Cross of the Great War.
By this time, however, virtually all the men of Dease's two sections had either been killed or wounded. So the young Lieutenant, along with Private Sidney Godley, took over a gun and kept the Germans at bay. Having been wounded several times, Lieutenant Dease was taken back to the dressing station where he later died of his wounds.

Dease and Godley depicted at the railway bridge near Nimy. Painting by David Rowlands
Meanwhile, Private Godley, himself wounded by numerous shell fragments and a bullet wound to the head, maintained fire from his machinegun. 

Sidney Godley, first Private soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in World War One.
Godley continued to hold his position for two hours, allowing the rest of the British force to fall back safely. Once out of ammunition, Godley, dismantled his gun, threw it into the canal and attempted to crawl away. Weak from his wounds he was eventually captured by the advancing Germans.

A contemporary rendition of the defence of the bridge at Nimy.
For their actions that day, both Dease and Goldley were awarded the Victoria Cross, the first of the war. Godley was informed of his award by his German captors while being held at a prisoner of war camp near Berlin. He was formally awarded the decoration by King George V on February 15th, 1919.


Drawing inspiration from this event I painted up a 28mm early war British Vickers crew sculpted by the talented Paul Hicks, sold by  Musketeer Miniatures. I've gone with my usual greyscale treatment with this trio. A great set, with very clean castings and exhibiting excellent animation in all the sculpts. 


The Vickers Crew along with some infantry support.
Next up is a new indulgence from across the pond and something else for the Spanish Civil War...

44 comments:

  1. What a beautiful post, just on the birthday of this event! Fantastic vignette and excellent background!

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  2. Great read, and incredibly nice painting on the vignette. Very inspirational to see it done in gray-scale!

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    1. Cheers BP. The greyscale always takes a bit of getting used to but I like the effect.

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  3. That is a great story and captured magnificently by your vignette. Wonderful job!

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  4. Superb and a very nice tribute to the men involved

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    1. Where is my comment?!!!
      This is a fantastic vignette; wonderful use of the grey side of life!

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    2. I'm not sure what happened there but thanks for the thumbs up Juan!

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  6. Another triumph Curt, splendid work and a wonderful tribute. So the big question is, are you going to do all 627 Great War recipients? ;)

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    1. Gosh, that is an incredibly sobering number, isn't it. No, I thought it fitting to mark the first of the many gallant individuals of those terrible four years.

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  7. Wonderful work Curt. You have really captured the look. Having been to bridge in question it's great to see your creation.

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    1. Ah, you're lucky - I always love walking the battlefields as it provides such an intimate feel (the 'mojo', if you will) of the event.

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  8. Fantastic work on this stand Curt! I was just reading about this very event earlier today in The Western Front Companion book!

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    1. Thanks Roger! Yes, there is a plethora of books and magazines out right now. It's really quite bewildering to the extent of the commemoration.

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  9. Great looking figures and wonderful story.

    John

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  10. Very nice rendition. An event replayed once again in the BBC's recent series 'Our World War'. well worth watching if you haven't already.

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    1. Oh, I'll have to see if I can stream that here! Thanks for the heads up Mark.

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  11. A great tribute and superb work on the miniatures.

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  12. Just wonderful looking vignette! I'm really taken by the dense atmosphere you managed to create. All in all a great tribute to two very brave men.

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    1. Thanks Nick! The greyscale can be tricky to photograph well and I'm happy that they turned out alright.

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  13. Great post! Wish I could do the greyscale. These sculpts are the work of Paul Hicks rather than Bill Thornton.

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    1. Ah, thanks very much for the correction Mark - I'll amend my post.

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  14. Really nice vignette!

    I saw an interview with Godley's grandson on the news this morning. He said that his grandfather was a reserved character and saw the action as a question of looking out for his mates. The WWI VC's are all being honoured with paving stones - Godley's was unveiled today, the first - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sussex-28910744

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    1. Very poignant - thanks for passing that along Edwin. The theme of 'looking out for your mates' seems a very common one amongst these men. It gives me a pleasant pause in my typically cynical view of humanity.

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  15. Lovely painting and a great little potted history as well. Nice one mate!

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  16. Outstanding painting Curt and a fantastic way to remember & honour such heroic deeds

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  17. Thanks very much for the kind words everyone - it's greatly appreciated.

    Mark, thanks for the correction on the sculptor, I'll correct the post. Frankly, this is bit of a pet peeve of mine as I wish companies would clearly state the provenance of the figures they carry - it may seem inconsequential but each figure is a little piece of art and the creativity should be credited.

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  18. Lovely post! I guess there will be a lot of work if you do this for every VC of the war! ;-)

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    1. That would be a full time job, I'm afraid (though a very worthwhile one).

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  19. Great story. I think I caught something about it a little while ago on the History Channel. You've done them a wonderful justice with that vignette.

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  20. An excellent post, Curt !
    As usual your paintjob is excellent but above all the story behind it is unique. Many thanks for this history lessen about two soldiers who deserve remembrance.

    Cheers
    Stefan

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    1. Thank you Stefan, I'm glad you liked the retelling.

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  21. Very impressive work, Curt, and a great tribute to an immortal piece of soldiering. One of the interesting things about the BEF was that the machine gun was a fairly new weapons technology, and tended to attract younger and innovative officers and soldiers who liked playing with new toys and getting their hands dirty. Dease and Goodley were undoubtedly of that sort. Having seen how British squaddies like a laugh and don't take much too seriously, I have no doubt that Goodley's mates teased him a lot in the stalag after they heard about his VC.
    Again, great post.
    Cheers,
    Michael

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    1. Yes, one gets the sense of them being of that emerging middle-class professional soldier segment of the BEF - the slow (but accelerating) shift from the amateur soldier who just muddles through to seasoned professionals who have learned through the school of hard knocks.

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