As the new Dad’s Army film is about to be released we remember Pte Godfrey, played by Arnold Ridley, who was the only member of the original cast who had served in both world wars – as well as signing up for the Home Guard.
Arnold endured horrific hand to hand combat in the trenches at the Somme in 1916. A bayonet through his left hand rendered him unable to use his fingers. He also suffered blackouts after being hit on the back of the head with a German rifle butt.
Arnold first volunteered for the Army in 1914. But the 18-year-old was rejected as he had broken a toe playing rugby. After reapplying a year later, he was accepted to the Somerset Light Infantry. He was posted to France and within days of arriving was hit by shrapnel and shot through the thigh.
He returned to the front from convalescence only to be sent over the top twice during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The first time, was at Delville Wood, where many of his comrades fell. And during a second attack, at Gueudecourt, now as a Lance Corporal, Arnold’s battalion took even more devastating losses from machine gun fire.
When the survivors reached the German trenches they pushed back the enemy troops with bayonets and bombs, before Arnold was knocked to the ground by a rifle blow to the head. A German soldier lunged with a bayonet, but Arnold survived by deflecting the blade into his groin instead of his stomach. The next blow pierced his left hand and wrist. Arnold came round in a field hospital. It took 15 ops to save his hand and he was invalided back home.
Arnold volunteered for the Intelligence Corps in the Second World War, making films in France. After being discharged on medical grounds, he joined the Home Guard, before touring bases, entertaining the troops. While he described the First World War in detail in his unpublished autobiography, Arnold could not write about the Second World War. He said: “To recount events, I would have to relive them. I am too afraid.” He suffered horrific nightmares and regularly woke drenched in sweat. He was terrified he would black out on stage but was such a brave man and kept acting when he could.