Rugby-born WWI soldier's story revealed - The Rugby Observer

Rugby-born WWI soldier's story revealed

Rugby Editorial 11th Nov, 2023   0

With Remembrance Day taking place today (Saturday November 11), Tim Coghlan tells the story of Rugby-born Cephas Goddard, who died at the Battle of Jutland on June 1, 1916.

World War I affected Great Britain in a way that no war had done since the Norman Conquest of 1066. By the time it had ended in 1918, hardly any community – town, village or rural – had not been involved in it, and suffered the loss of some of its people, including the victims of aerial bombing raids.

In the case of the canal and farming village of Braunston, the huge loss of life amounted to 32 dead, which was disproportionate to that of other local villages of a similar size, where names on the war memorials are about a third of that number. And we now don’t know how many returned to Braunston, severely wounded or mentally scarred by having seen the horrors of it.




Let us now look at one their stories: the short life of Cephas Goddard RN, so far as we now know it.

Cephas Goddard’s photograph as it appeared in the Northampton Mercury following his death.

Cephas was born in Rugby in 1896, the son of Cephas and Ellen Goddard, one of seven children. His father is recorded in the 1891 Census as a school gymnastics teacher, but by the 1901 Census he was a cycle machinist working at Dunchurch Road, Rugby. Cephas’ Braunston connection is not known, but following his death, the Northampton Mercury described him as ‘a native of Braunston,’ and he appears on that village’s war memorial.


Cephas’s service record, kept in the Public Record Office, has now become available, and gives a fascinating insight into his near-eight years of naval service. This began on November 13, 1908, when he was 12 years old. He is recorded as having a height of 5ft 8in – tall then for a boy of that age – with a 35.5 inch chest, dark brown hair, blue eyes and a ‘fresh complexion.’

He was a cadet at HMS Victory, a collective name for the various training establishments in Portsmouth. On March 6, 1909, he was moved to HMS Terpishore, a now elderly ship moored in Portsmouth Harbour, and used for training boy-seamen. He was there for nearly four months, before his posting on July 27,1909 to HMS Philomel, a third class cruiser on the East Indies Station, where he served until September 30, 1911.

For a 15-year-old boy sailor, he had already seen something of the world. And he was to see more in his next posting to HMS Sappho, an ageing Appollo class cruiser on service in various colonial posting, and around Great Britain. His naval character references following each posting, always referred to his character as ‘VG’.

In late 1912, Cephas married Jesie Ford in Rugby. At the time of his death, she was living at 82 Lawrence Road, Southsea, Portsmouth. The children – if any – to that marriage are not now readily ascertainable.

His next and final posting was to HMS Hecla – renamed HMS Fortune – which commenced on January 1, 1914. This was a small 935 ton destroyer. We next encounter him on June 1, 1916, on that ship under the command Lt Crd F G Terry at the Battle of Jutland. This was the great naval battle fought between the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet and the Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet. It was the largest naval battle and the only full clash of battleships in WWI. It took place over two days, on May 31 and June 1, 1916 in the North Sea, near Jutland, Denmark, and involved 250 ships in all.

Cephas was killed in action on the second day of the battle. By this time, he held the rank of Engine Room Artificer 2nd Class. The ship was one of a destroyer-flotilla of four, screening the rear of the British Grand Fleet. In the fog of war, at 11.20am on June 1, the flotilla encountered unknown ships and went to investigate. At 11.30am they came under heavy fire from what transpired to be a fleet of German battleships, including SMS Westfalen – one of the flagships of the German Navy, weighing 18,500 tons and having a ships company of over 1,000, versus a ship’s company of 68 on HMS Fortune.

The restored Braunston War Memorial in November 2022. Cephas Goddard is include with honour amongst the 32 fallen.

Despite the huge disadvantage, the four destroyers went into the attack, hoping to rely on their new torpedoes, which were fired off by some of them, causing confusion and collisions amongst the German fleet.

But the destroyer flotilla paid a terrible price. HMS Fortune in particular soon took hits from the secondary armament of the Westfalen, which with 28 massive guns to HMS Fortune’s three small four inch guns, caused overwhelming damage. HMS Fortune soon went down on fire. Working in the engine room, Cephas never stood a chance. He was then aged 20. Only one man from HMS Fortune survived, and he was rescued by the German Navy.

A total of 14 British and 11 German ships were sunk in the Battle of Jutland, with 6,094 Allied and 2,551 German servicemen killed. Both sides claimed victory, but whilst the Allied losses were almost twice as high in terms of tonnage sank and men lost, the result put an end to the German plan of destroying a substantial portion of the British fleet and unlocking its blockade on German ports. That continuing blockade, depriving Germany of essential war supplies – including foodstuffs, which it could not produce at home – played an important part in the final implosion of Germany in 1918.

Cephas Goddard’s name is remembered with honour on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, and also the Braunston War Memorial, which has recently been restored again, sponsored by Braunston Marina.

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