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William Godfrey

Heritage Lottery Fund

To coincide with the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War the Royal Armouries has launched a project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund to mark the contributions of the men and women who worked at the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield during the two world wars. Here we explore the life of one of the few workers at the RSAF during the Great War we have identified by name.

Middle-aged man in a factory wearing glasses inspecting the trigger assembly of a rifle

William Godfrey assembling a rifle

by Tom Betteridge

Trawling through the surviving collection of photographs of the RSAF during the First World War one photo stood out in particular. It was a photo of a lone worker and written on the back was the name William Godfrey and the date 1918. With just a name and a photo, the task of piecing together William’s life began, using census and other records.

Alfred William Godfrey was born in London on 27 August 1871 to John and Emily Godfrey. In 1881 the family was living at 57 Government Row, Enfield, and his father was employed as a gun stocker at the Royal Small Arms Factory. His father left home sometime after 1881, it is not known why, but his mother listed herself as widow in the 1891 Census to avoid any social stigma attached to having been deserted (when his brother Arthur married some years later he listed his father as a deceased gun maker on his marriage banns although he was in fact still alive). By this time William aged nineteen was the oldest of six siblings, and working at the RSAF as a filer. His mother was a self-employed laundress, and his younger sister Elizabeth born about 1873 was a cartridge maker. The presence of a lodger in the household may be an indication that the family were suffering from financial hardship at this time.

In 1893 William married Bertha Adams, and in 1901 he and his wife were living at 8 King’s Road, Cheshunt, with two young children. He was still working as a gunmaker, and his younger brother Arthur John Godfrey was also working at the RSAF. Both brothers appear in one of the few surviving staff registers, with William’s staff number recorded as ‘1639’, and a note stating that he was transferred to the Assembly Shop on the 11 May 1912. Arthur’s name appears twice on the register; once in 1903 and again in 1906 when he is listed under the Sighting Department. His staff number is ‘1776’.

Rifle held in a bench vice surrounded by tools and parts

An rifle assembler’s workbench

In 1911 William was living at 66 Catisfield Road, Enfield Wash, with his wife, 3 sons and 2 daughters, and was still working as a gunmaker at the RSAF. In 1918, when the photo was taken, he was an Assistant Foreman on the night shift at the factory. His wife, Bertha, appears to have died in 1932, and when the 1939 Health Survey was taken William was living at 18 Catherine Road, Enfield, with his unmarried youngest daughter Gladys. He was still working as a rifle assembler, and presumably served at the factory throughout the Second World War.

William died on 23 September 1954.

William’s story is just one of many stories that can be told, and with further research there is still more to be uncovered about his life and job at the R.S.A.F.

Please contact us if you have information on the men or women who worked at the Royal Small Arms Factory and you would like to share this with us as part of the project.

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