William 'Bill' F Arnold was born in Norwich in 1909. By the outbreak of Second World War in 1939, he had joined the Suffolk Yeomanry and gained a commission.
In November 1942, Bill Arnold became a Major and was appointed as the second Commander of the 1st Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery RA, after his predecessor Major Ian Toler was accepted into the Glider Pilot Regiment. Bill Arnold was always keen on physical fitness and one of his first actions was to introduce a daily session of PT usually at 0700hrs.
The Battery’s first real taste of action came in 1943 when they sailed to North Africa. In July the Battery was attached to 1st Parachute Brigade for the operation to take and hold the Primosole Bridge on Sicily. This was to be the first time that 6 pounder anti-tank guns were to be flown into action. They were allocated 11 Horsas and 8 Waco gliders to take 6 officers and 69 men. The Battery Commander Major Bill Arnold would parachute in as a 'Recce party' to select gun positions with 2 NCO troop commanders and 3 NCOs from each troop. As it turned out Bill did not arrive till 0930hrs, some hours after the actual drop as he landed in a valley some miles away and had to walk to the Primosole bridge.
After a the campaign, Bill and the rest of the Battery went back to North Africa to prepare for the seaborne invasion of Italy. In late December 1943 the Battery returned to England ready to take part in the invasion of Europe which was planned for 1944. After several cancellations the Battery joined 1st Airborne Division on Op Market Garden, bound for Arnhem in September 1944.
By now the Battery consisted of A, B and C Troops who were to support the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Parachute Battalions respectively, each armed with four 6 pounder guns. D Troop (four 17 pounders) was to be deployed to protect the Divisional area. P and Z Troops (with four 17 pounders and two 6 pounders respectively) were to support the 1st Parachute Brigade and Divisional troops respectively.
Bill felt his place was go to the road bridge at Arnhem which was the ultimate objective of two of the two Parachute Battalions. Following on at the rear of the 2nd Battalion snake, Bill and his small HQ group made it to the Bridge. Five of his unit’s guns also made it and over the coming days were a key component in the defensive force at the Arnhem Road Bridge. However, as time went on more and more of the original gun crews became killed or wounded, whilst others were eventually captured.
Bill Arnold was taken prisoner at the bridge and spent the rest of the war in captivity.
He died in February 1997.
John C Howe, Point Blank Open Sights, (1999) Hough Publishing.
Peter Wilkinson MC, The Gunners at Arnhem, (1999) Spurwing.
With assistance from Niall CherryRead More