06 December 2013

James Henry Godfrey - Ramsey Home Guard Hero

James Henry Godfrey (Harry to his friends and family) was a lucky man. He was born in 1903 in the village of Ramsey in Huntingdonshire. His parents, Harry & Sarah, timed his birth just right, for Harry ended up being too young to fight in World War I. By the time World War II rolled around Harry's job as a farm labourer was a reserved occupation that exempted him from overseas service in His Majesty's Armed Forces. But Harry was also a brave man and wanted to serve his country so when the call went out in May 1940 for Home Guard volunteers, Harry stepped up and was the fourth recruit to join the Ramsey Home Guard where he soon received the rank of Lance Corporal.

Ramsey Home Guard
Ramsey Home Guard ca 1940 - Cambridgeshire Community Archives Network

Harry Godfrey was also a family man. In 1921 he married his wife Doris and together they had four children, Ronald, Sylvia, Barbara and Jean.

Life was good for Harry Godfrey, if perhaps a bit boring on the Home Guard front. But all of that changed on the morning of February 1, 1941 when Harry was working at Wistow Fen Farm getting a chaff-cutter started up. His morning routine was disturbed when, at 8:45 am, Harry Coulson, a labourer from a nearby farm rushed into the yard with the news that a German parachutist had landed in a field at Dovehouse Farm.

Harry immediately phoned his superior Captain Newton and reported the news. Harry accompanied Coulson back to the field where another farm labourer, Charles Baldock guarded the parachutist. Harry asked the man what he was doing and the man replied "Me solo flying - me bale out 100 meters". A practical man, Harry replied "Well, where the blazes is your plane?" Harry asked the man if he was hurt and was told that his right ankle was injured. Lifting up the parachute, Harry straightened the man's legs and tied them together with a scarf in a makeshift splint. Harry asked the man where he was from and the parachutist said "Me not in this war, from Luxembourg, made to come."

After Captain Newton and Lieutenant Curedale of the Home Guard arrived, Harry joined in searching the parachutist and found a variety of items, black bread sandwiches, brandy, identity cards and money. Harry also noticed that the parachutist was a heavy smoker and was surrounded by 30 cigarette butts. He would have smoked more but his lighter had run out of petrol. As the group of men loaded the parachutist into a hastily procured horse-drawn cart, Harry kicked a case that was buried in the soil. It turned out to be a wireless transmitting set and convinced Harry that they had indeed caught themselves a German spy.

Ramsey Police Station, Huntingdonshire
Ramsey Police Station - The Badgers Lair

Although the man was quite well-dressed, with overcoat and suit, Harry noticed that his shoes were down at the heel and badly worn. The man was also in poor physical condition weighing only about 9 stone (126 lbs). On the way to the police station in the horse-drawn cart, the parachutist apparently offered Harry his silver wrist watch which Harry accepted and promptly turned over to the military authorities.

Harry hung around the police station while the man was questioned and learned that his name was Josef Jakobs and that he had a wife and three children back in Germany. He had landed the previous evening and was unable to move from the spot due to a severely broken ankle. Jakobs was eventually taken off to London by the Secret Service and Harry's life continued its normal course with a few aftershocks. On February 2, Harry gave a statement to Sergeant Pottle of the Huntingdonshire Constabulary regarding his role in the capture of Jakobs. In early August, Harry was called down to London where he testified in the court-martial of Jakobs who was on trial under the Treachery Act. It was impressed upon Harry that he should share nothing about the court-martial case.

Harry Godfrey, the Home Guard Volunteer who captured German spy, Josef Jakobs
Harry Godfrey - Daily Express - August 16, 1941
On August 16, 1941, however, things heated up again after Jakobs was executed by firing squad at the Tower of London. The media descended upon the sleepy village of Ramsey seeking the Home Guard hero who had captured the nasty Nazi spy. All fingers pointed towards Harry Godfrey and for a few short days, Harry was the media's darling. He was living proof that the Home Guard force did make a difference in the defense of the realm. He had caught a German spy and prevented that spy from endangering English lives. Harry was a hero. Lest you think that Harry divulged secret information from the court martial, Harry only confirmed information that the media people already had in their possession.

Harry Godfrey was also a humble man and according to his daughter Sylvia, Harry never boasted about the capture. He was a brave man and brave men don't need to strut their stuff. The rest of Harry's life seems to have been relatively serene. He and his wife Doris celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary in 1991 and even received a congratulatory telegram from Queen Elizabeth. Doris passed away in 1995 and Harry followed her in 1997 in the village of Ramsey. Harry and Doris had numerous grandchildren and even a few great grandchildren. Of Harry's children, only Jean is still alive with Sylvia passing away in 2013, Ron in 2009 and Barbara at an earlier date.

Sources:
Daily Express Newspaper, August 16, 1941.
Peterborough Telegraph Newspaper, August 18, 2006.
Daily Mail, Adelaide, August 16, 1941
National Archives - MI5 files - 1941

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