William John Godwin – known as Willie – was born on 13th March 1897, the oldest of six children. His parents were railway signalman George Godwin, and his wife Emily. George was born in Monmouthshire, Emily was from Bristol; the couple raised their family in South Wales.
When Willie left school, he found work at a local tinplate manufacturer, and was employed as a cold roll greaser – helping maintain the equipment. War was knocking on Europe’s doors, however, and, in September 1916, he was called upon to do his duty.
Willie joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve; his enlistment papers show that he stood 5ft 6ins tall, had dark brown hair, brown eyes and a fair complexion. It was noted, however, that he had an abscess scar on his right cheek.
Ordinary Seaman Godwin’s first posting was at HMS Victory, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth, Hampshire. Here he undertook his initial training, but in May 1917, he was sent to another shore-based establishment, HMS Pembroke – Chatham Dockyard.
The base was particularly busy when Willie arrived. Temporary accommodation at Chatham Drill Hall had to be set up, and this is where he found himself billeted.
On the 3rd September 1917, the German Air Force carried out one of the first night-time air raids on England: an unprepared Chatham was heavily bombed and the Drill Hall received a direct hit. Ordinary Seaman Godwin was amongst those killed instantly. He was just 20 years of age.
William John Godwin was laid to rest, along with the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid, in the Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham.