Pilot Officer (Observer) Edward Rolfe Arnold RAFVR
35 Squadron Royal Air Force

Town Memorial World War II

Pilot Officer (Observer)

Service Number 77908
Died 10/03/1941
Aged 25
35 Sqdn.
Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
Son of Edward and Nellie Martha Arnold, of Leatherhead.
Location: Surrey, United Kingdom
Number of casualties: 12
Cemetery/memorial reference: Near South Boundary.

This is the headstone on his and his parents' grave in the churchyard of St Mary & St Nicholas, the Parish Church of Leatherhead, Surrey where he was a chorister and sidesman and where his family took an active part in church life:


Teddy (as he was known) was buried next to a German airman*. It was noted that flowers were placed on both graves. Long after WW2 most German burials were relocated to Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, but what of this Luftwaffe man? - see Leatherhead's German Airman
People had been curious about who laid the flowers. Teddy's mother came forward to explain that she would have hoped a German mother would have laid flowers on Teddy's grave had he fallen over Germany, so she had given the same kindness in return.
On the kerbs of the grave:
At the foot of the grave is a plaque (to the memory of):
On the headstone is a representation of the RAF aircrew Observer brevet. The Observer role originated in WW1. It was particularly demanding in that it was really two roles, that of Navigator and Bomb Aimer. Later in WW2 with the introduction of more sophisticated aircraft and equipment the Observer role was split into and replaced by those individual roles, with new brevets - N(avigator) and B(omb Aimer).
Many Observers nevertheless continued to wear their O brevets - sometimes of larger than normal size! 

The Bomber Command War Diaries, Middlebrook & Everitt
10/11 March 1941
Operations on Cologne, Le Havre and St Nazaire
8 Blenheims and 6 Halifaxes. This was the first Halifax operation of the war. No aircraft were lost but the Halifax of Squadron Leader Gilchrist, 35 Squadron, was mistakenly shot down over Surrey by an RAF Fighter while returning from the raid. Only the pilot and one other man survived.

Operational details were as follows:

10-11 Mar 1941 35 Sqn Halifax I  L9489 TL-F Op: Le Havre
Took off: 1908 Linton-on-Ouse. Intercepted on the return flight by an Allied fighter and shot down 2240 at Normandy, a small village on the Hampshire/Surrey border between Aldershot and Guildford. 

Sqn Ldr PA Gilchrist DFC (Pilot)
Sgt R Lucas (2nd Pilot) +
Sgt RG Aedy (Flight Engineer) inj
P/O ER Arnold (Observer) +
Sgt S Broadhurst (WOp/Air Gunner) +
F/O AE Cooper (Air Gunner) +

source: RAF Bomber Command Losses 1941 (WR Chorley)

Further detailed information on this loss can be seen on the excellent 35 Sqn History website. 

Daily Telegraph 14 March 1941
ARNOLD - In March, 1941, while on active service, PILOT OFFICER EDWARD ROLFE ARNOLD, dearly loved and only son of Mr and Mrs Edward Arnold and brother of Mary, of Highlands-ave, Leatherhead, Surrey. "Was called to Higher Service."

Surrey Advertiser
Saturday 15 March 1941

Keen regret has been occasioned at Leatherhead by the news that Pilot Officer Edward Rolfe Arnold, R.A.F., only son of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Arnold, of Highlands-avenue, Leatherhead, has been killed on active service. He was 25, and single. He began his education at Leatherhead Central School, and afterwards proceeded by scholarships to Sutton County School and King's College, London. He joined the R.A.F. Volunteer Reserve in February, 1939, and was called up on the outbreak of war. He was closely connected with Leatherhead Parish Church, where he was a choirboy, and later a sidesman. At one time he was also hon. secretary of the Leatherhead Toc H. For some years his father has been hon. secretary of the parochial church council. The funeral will be at Leatherhead Parish Churchyard to-day (Saturday) at 11 a.m.

Surrey Advertiser 
Saturday 22 March 1941

At the request of the family, the funeral of Pilot Officer Edward Rolfe Arnold, R.A.F., only son of Mr. and Mrs. E. Arnold, of Highlands-avenue, Leatherhead, whose death on active service was reported in last week's "Surrey Advertiser," took place quietly at Leatherhead Parish Churchyard on Saturday. The coffin was covered with a Union Jack, but there were no other military honours, and the flowers were confined to those of the family.
[*] Another request of the family was that Pilot Officer Arnold should be buried near the grave of a German airman who was killed at Leatherhead some months ago. The service was conducted by the Rev. G. H. B. Coleridge (vicar), and the Rev. A. E. Chapman (curate) was also present. The family mourners were Mr. and Mrs. E. Arnold (father and mother), Miss Mary Arnold (sister), and Miss Rolfe (aunt). Others attending included representatives of the British Red Cross Society and Toc H. [His great friend George Dench sang with Teddy in the church choir and was much involved with Toc H . George probably held the record - 87 years - for active membership of a church choir in the UK.]

Leatherhead Parish Magazine April 1941
With the young, the sorrow is harder to bear, and grief blends with pride when we consider the death of Teddy Arnold, who was a Pilot Officer in the R.A.F. and was killed on active service. He was completely one of our boys. He was born here [sic]; from a child he served the Church, first as a choirboy, afterwards as a sidesman, who never failed in his duty. He was no mean scholar and might have been expected to have a brilliant career. We must suppose that he had done his work here and God had chosen him for higher work elsewhere. He was indeed without guile, and there can be no regrets as we think of his sacrifice. “He was a good man"; those are few words, but the best epitaph any man can deserve. To his father and mother, who are our trusted friends, our hearts have been going out; their loss cannot be measured, but how proud they must be!

KSH South East History Boards has shown interest in Teddy Arnold and records two letters from his father to King’s College in October 1945 giving the following information:-

4 Highlands Avenue, Leatherhead.
My son Edward Rolfe Arnold was a Pilot Officer in the R.A.F.V.R. and was killed in action on the night of March 10th 1943. He was the Observer on a Halifax on a raid on Le Havre. His body was brought home and he is buried in our Churchyard here. He joined the R.A.F.V.R. in Feb. 1939 and was called up in Sept. 1939. Rec’d his Commission in March 1940. He took part in in 22 raids or night operations over Germany, France and Italy and was Navigator in the first flight of Catalinas from Bermuda to Scotland 25.11.1942.

In November 1940, the squadron was re-formed for the express purpose of introducing the new Handley Page Halifax into operational service. It flew its first sorties on Halifaxes on the night of 10/11th March 1941, when the target was Le Havre. Six aircraft were despatched, four of which successfully attacked the primary target whilst another, unable to see either the primary or the alternative target (Boulogne), bombed Dieppe instead. The sixth aircraft, failing to see the target even after repeated circuits and having insufficient fuel to allow it to proceed to the alternative, jettisoned its bombs in the Channel. Unfortunately, one of the aircraft which had bombed Le Havre was mistaken for an enemy aircraft on the return journey and was shot down in flames at Normandy, Surrey, by one of our own night fighters. The Pilot and the Flight Engineer managed to parachute to safety, but the rest of the crew were killed.

Article from the Surrey Advertiser
The night a crew’s home thoughts were shot out of the sky

"They were home safe. The enemy coast and the bitterly cold English Channel were behind them. Halifax L9489 F-Freddie was on course for its base at Linton-on-Ouse near York.

The crew was more relaxed now, though still alert. As they approached the skies over Surrey, the thoughts of flight engineer Ron Aedy were probably on Kingston upon Thames, where he was born. Teddy Arnold, the Observer, may have glanced down and wondered about his family in Leatherhead, where he was brought up. Wireless Operator/Air Gunner Stan Broadhurst was another member of the crew with links with Surrey. He had been at school at Witley .

Peter Gilchrist, having handed over control of the aircraft to 2nd Pilot Reg Lucas, was enjoying a flask of coffee. The mission to Le Havre was accomplished. Soon they would be landing at their home base.

Suddenly, a devastating burst of gun fire set the starboard outer engine of the Halifax on fire. Soon the fire spread to the inner engine, engulfing the wing. The aircraft was doomed. Gilchrist ordered the aircraft to be abandoned. It crashed in Minty’s Field in the grounds of Merrist Wood Agricultural College. Only two of the crew of six survived.

The tragedy of it all was that F-Freddie, on its first operational sortie, was not shot down by an enemy aircraft but by one of our own, possibly an RAF night fighter which had mistaken the Halifax for a He111 or a Ju88.

The incident, blandly recorded in S/Ldr Gilchrist’s log as “Shot down by night fighter (RAF) Aldershot – Guilford area. Sgt Aedy wounded, crew killed”.

A rather sad beginning has inspired retired headmaster Dennis Hoppe, who lives near Farnham, to write a book about the incident, about those who survived and those who were killed. It is a superbly researched story of a tragic accident, one of many during WWII, in which airmen died as the result of what became known as friendly fire.

In the attack on F-Freddie, Sgt Aedy was severely wounded by shrapnel. Having given the order to abandon the aircraft, S/Ldr Gilchrist left through the escape hatch above the pilot’s seat. At the same time, the injured Aedy was assisted by his fellow crew members and bundled out of the main fuselage door, ensuring his rip cord was pulled as he left.

In doing so, 2nd Pilot Sgt Lucas, Observer P/O Arnold, WOP/AG Sgt Broadhurst and Rear Gunner Sgt Cooper left it too late to save themselves and sacrificed their lives to save their crew mate.

F-Freddie hit the ground in a corner of Minty’s Field in Normandy at 22.40. Peter Gilchrist landed in a field of cattle, opposite the Duke of Normandy pub , about a quarter of a mile from the crash site. Ron Aedy’s cries for help brought rescuers to him and he was soon in hospital in Guilford. Reg Lucas was critically injured in the crash and died in Guilford Hospital the next day. His three companions perished in the crash.

The port inner engine and much of the forward section of L9489 remained in the ground until unearthed by Croydon Aviation Archaeology Society.

Today, a corner of Minty’s Field remains a shrine to the memory of those who gave their lives in the cause of freedom and peace.

A booklet entitled A rather sad beginning has been written by Dennis Hoppe about this loss."

Another source, reporting on the examination of the crashed aircraft stated that the starboard engines were damaged in the attack and that the front escape hatch had failed to open.

Local Memorial

Minty's Field is now part of Merrist Wood Golf Course and is near the 14th tee. The editor was a member of the Royal Air Forces Association Guildford Branch, now closed and edited their newsletter. On 9th March 1997, the Branch represented the Association at the Dedication of a Memorial Plaque on the actual site near Worplesdon to the crew of a Halifax bomber which crashed there in 1941. At the November meeting, local historian Dennis Hoppe whose painstaking investigations had determined the circumstances of the loss, gave a talk on the incident.

The inscription on the plaque reads:
Halifax L9489 of 35 Squadron was shot down by friendly fire whilst returning from its first operational sortie on the night of 10 March This plaque is dedicated with gratitude to the memory of those who died on this spot: Sgt R Lucas (Pilot) P/O E R Arnold (Observer) Sgt S Broadhurst (Wireless Operator) P/O A E Cooper (Gunner) and to those who survived but have since died: S/L P A Gilchrist DFC (Captain) Sgt R G Aedy (Flight Engineer) Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Merrist Wood Memorial and Clubhouse display (scroll down page to find this)

Teddy Arnold is named on the new WW2 Memorial at Sutton Grammar School, which was dedicated in 2015.
It takes the form of a cairn made up of rocks from different peaks:
4. ER Arnold     Slieve Corragh    640m

His life

Edward Rolfe Arnold was born on 7 August 1915 in Saham Toney, a village in Norfolk. The closest town is Attleborough.

His father was Edward Arnold, born 1 March 1874 in Sandwich, Kent, died Leatherhead, 18 February 1954.
His mother was Nellie Martha Rolfe, born 18 June 1893, died 1963. Her marriage to Edward was on 20 June 1914, Wayland, Norfolk. 

He had a sister, Mary, who was born at Saham Toney on 11 March 1919. She died as noted above in 2008.

So far the first appearance of the Arnolds in the Electoral Registers for Leatherhead appears to be in 1921, at Ardwick Villa (1 Byron Place) where they remained until the early 1930s. They then moved to 4 Highlands Avenue.

In the National Register of 1939 Edward snr was listed as a Builder's Manager, Quantity Surveyor.

As stated in the Surrey Advertiser report above Edward jr began his education at Leatherhead Central School, and afterwards proceeded by scholarships to Sutton County School and King's College, London [1934-1938, Faculty of Arts]. The Vicar wrote in the Parish Magazine that Edward "was completely one of our boys. He was born here [sic]; from a child he served the Church, first as a choirboy, afterwards as a sidesman, who never failed in his duty. He was no mean scholar and might have been expected to have a brilliant career."

Normandy Historians page on the Merrist Wood Memorial
Handley Page Halifax
Merrist Wood Memorial and Clubhouse display (scroll down page to find this)

Leatherhead Town Memorial
Leatherhead RBL Roll of Honour
Kings College London Memorial Listing
Sutton Grammar School

the website editor would like to add further information on this casualty
e.g. a photo of him, and any recollections of him

last updated 9 June 20