OBITUARY: Margaret Godfrey

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The Independent Online
Margaret Godfrey will always be remembered by her friends as "a golden person". This was not only because of her striking red hair. She had a glowing faith in women's place in the modern world, combining intelligence and experience with energy and common sense, firmness with warmth. But there was no hot temper to match the hair; she remained extraordinarily calm, even when performing prodigies of organisation during the Second World War.

Though a strong believer in women's education, she relinquished Newnham, Cambridge, and an Economics degree to marry Captain John Godfrey RN at 20. By 1939 she was not only a widely travelled naval wife but married to the now Director of Naval Intelligence (DNI). It was Godfrey's key task to provide all the "topographical" information and "contacts" necessary to a modern force, in strictest secrecy, through the Inter-Service Topographical Department (ISTD).

And here Margaret came in. Working first in Bletchley at the famous centre for ciphers and codes, then in Oxford liaising with the University Press, her responsibilities became staggering. All the printing of maps, photographs and illustrations came under her; when she left in 1943 for India, where Godfrey was in command of the Royal Indian Navy, a new department had to be created to cope with this one woman's former work.

Admittedly at one point Margaret Godfrey had seemed too good to be true. Sam Bassett, her boss, wondered whether she had been sent there to "spy". But no; she was "a treasure". Nor was there a security problem. The University Press found that printing four or five million exam papers every year had taught them all they needed to know about secrecy.

Margaret Godfrey did for the ISTD much of what Ian Fleming did for the DNI, though no one could have been less like Margaret than the creator of James Bond. In 1942 it was Admiral Cunningham himself who wrote that Mrs Godfrey's work gave Operation Torch (the invasion of North Africa) "a flying start". Six months earlier Combined Operations HQ were advising calls on Oxford to be temporarily suspended as some of the overworked staff "may collapse". Margaret would not be one of them.

As Secretary of the Women's Voluntary Services (India), Margaret Godfrey was responsible for the welfare work in all three services all over the sub-continent, for which in 1945 she was awarded the Kaiser I Hind medal. She loved the people, treating as her "adopted daughter" Baiji, sister of an Indian Flag Lieutenant, who later served as assistant secretary to Krishna Menon and Mrs Pandit.

In 1948 the Godfreys converted the old school house in Wilmington, Sussex, into enchanted "White Stacks", where Margaret became a brilliant gardener, delighting in showing round the Friends of Eastbourne Hospital and her many other charities. I always heard that she hoped to grow azaleas by planting them in specially prepared lime-free beds; but, the first time it poured, the Long Man of Wilmington sent down a chalky torrent that defeated even Margaret.

Admiral Godfrey died in 1971, having founded the Chelsea Centre for Children with Cerebral Palsy, for which Margaret and "Friends" raised funds to build a hydrotherapy pool. "A tower of strength" to all her colleagues, to me, a younger cousin, she was a model for women who became public servants while remaining devoted matriarchs.

Elizabeth Longford

Margaret Hope: born Birmingham 30 July 1901; married 1921 John Godfrey (died 1971; three daughters); died 2 September 1995.