James Godden was born in the autumn of 1879. The youngest of six children to Charles and Mary Ann Godden, the family lived in Bridgwater, Somerset. Charles was a labourer and, while his older brothers followed in a similar vein, by the time of the 1901 census, aged 21, was listed as a hairdresser.
James married Hester Addicott in 1906, and the couple had three children – Ruby, Leslie and Freda. Hairdressing may not have been that well paid; according the to 1911 census, the young family had four boarders, ranging from 17 to 60 in age.
War was on its way, and James enlisted at the end of 1914. Initially joining the Somerset Light Infantry, he was soon transferred to the Army Cyclist Corps. Sadly, full details of his military service are not readily available, but it seems likely that he was part of the company’s First Line, who saw service overseas.
Private Godden served three years before being medically discharged from the army. His discharge records give a startling insight into his health.
Originated at Chiseldon Camp: April 12th 1917.
He is in a condition of violent excitement, talks without ceasing and suffers from insomnia. Refuses solid food, but will take a little milk. Not result of, but aggravated by, strain of ordinary military service.
Permanent total incapacity. Treatment in an asylum required.
Cause of discharge: Medically Unfit – Acute ManiaJames Godden: WW1 Pension Records
James was admitted to the Somerset & Bath Asylum in the village of Codford, near Taunton. For good or bad, his time there was brief. Within a couple of weeks, he contracted bronchitis. Sadly, James was to succumb to this, and passed away on 29th April 1917. He was 27 years of age.
An additional twist in the tail came from the local newspaper report of his passing:
Somerset Athlete Killed
The death is reported of a former well-known athlete in the person of Mr James Godden, who before joining the Army carried on business as a hairdresser at Bridgwater. The deceased, who was 37 years of age, enlisted in December 1914, and was subsequently transferred to a cycle corps. He death occurred at a Somerset institution after a short illness. The deceased was well known throughout the West of England as a crack cyclist, and competed at big athletic meetings at Exeter, Plymouth, Bath and Bristol, in addition to local sports. He had won altogether over 400 prizes. He leaves a widow and three children.Well Journal: Friday 4th May 1917
James Godden lies at rest in the Wembden Road Cemetery in his home town of Bridgwater, Somerset.