Major William F Arnold

{ Bill }

22 May 1909 - 01 Jan 1997

William Frank Arnold was born at Great Yarmouth on the 22 May 1908. He served for a time as a Cadet Lance-Corporal, Gresham's School Contingent, Junior Division, Officer Training Corps in the late 1920’s.

He was commissioned into the Royal Regiment of Artillery - Territorial Army, on the 13 May 1931. He served with the 412th (Suffolk Yeomanry) Battery, 108th (Suffolk and Norfolk Yeomanry) Army Field Brigade, R.A. from June 1933 until June 1937, and then with the 55th (Suffolk and Norfolk Yeomanry) Anti-Tank Regiment, RA from December 1938 until January 1939.

On the 24 August 1939, by now a Major, he was mobilized.

By June of 1942 Major. Arnold was already serving Airborne Forces and did parachute course No 19 at RAF. Ringway, 20 – 27 July 1942. This was one of the short courses for Airlanding Brigade personnel, and he completed two jumps from a balloon and two jumps from an aircraft.

On the 1 November 1942 he took over command of the 1st Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery, RA from Major TIJ Toler – the first Battery Commander of the Unit. Always keen on fitness he instigated regular fitness training, and there were PT sessions every morning at 7 o’clock.

The Battery’s first real taste of action came in April 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 x Horsas and 8 x 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 two NCO Troop Commanders and three NCO’s 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. He was able to relieve Capt. McLeod, who had arrived before him, but was wounded.

After 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 he was in command of five Troops of guns within his Battery. ‘A’ Troop was to support the 1st Parachute Battalion, ‘B’ Troop was to support the 2nd Parachute Battalion, and ‘C’ Troop was to support the 3rd Parachute Battalion – all these Troops were equipped with the 6-pounder anti-tank gun.

‘D’ Troop had been converted to a 17-pounder Troop and was to be used by the 1st Parachute Brigade Commander, as he saw fit. The fifth Troop was the newest, this was ‘P’ Troop, also of 17-pounders, and was allocated as a Divisional resource.

Upon landing on Landing Zone ‘Z’ at Arnhem, ‘Bill’ Arnold was dismayed to discover that two of the vital 17-pounders had been lost in crashes, one of which was very near to his position, amongst the Gunners of his Unit trying to get at the men rapped underneath was John Winser: “who told how they dug a trench under the glider to try and get at the glider pilots, but alas one was dead, and the other one was so badly injured that he died of his wounds shortly afterwards. Cyril Robson and his gun detachment were close by and they came to assist , in the best way they could. Major Arnold and the Headquarters staff all played their part until finally the rescue operation was taken over by Colonel Myers of the Royal Engineers.” [1]

After Colonel Myers took over the task of trying to recue the trapped men, Major. Arnold, his Headquarters, and the 6-pounder gun and team of Sgt. Cyril Robson, joined on at the rear of the 2nd Parachute Battalion, along with the whole of ‘B’ Troop, and started to make their way into Arnhem.

‘Bill’ Arnold felt his place was go to the road bridge at Arnhem, which was the ultimate objective of two of the three Parachute Battalions, the 2nd and the 3rd. 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.

Major ‘Bill’ Arnold was eventually wounded and taken prisoner at the Road Bridge area on the  20th September 1944. He was sent to an Officers POW Camp (Oflag) at 9A/H at Spangenberg, Hessen in Germany, where he remained until liberated by Allied troops in April1 945.

He was recommended for the Military Cross, but it was not awarded.

After the War he continued to serve in the Territorial Army (reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1951), until August 1966, when he was put onto the Territorial Army Reserve of Officers, because of his age limit.

After suffering several strokes in 1996, Major. William Frank ‘Bill’ Arnold died on the 1st January 1997, at East Dereham, Norfolk. [2]


[1] ‘Point Blank, Open Sights’. By John C Howe. 1999.

[2] Letter from Mrs. Priscilla Arnold to Bob Hilton. December 1996.

With assistance from Niall Cherry

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