The obituaries in The Telegraph are often very well written, especially when they cover Britons who served in the Second World War.

In the United States, this age cohort is referred to as the Greatest Generation, coined by television journalist and author Tom Brokaw. His book of 15 years ago of the same name details lives of heroes from that era.

It is not uncommon for Telegraph readers commenting on British obituaries to say these people are ‘a vanishing breed’. Someone wrote the same of Major Denis Arnold, who died on January 14, 2015 at the age of 96.

Arnold was born and raised in west London. At that time, this area was semi-rural. It later became informally known as Metroland — freshly linked by the Tube and promoted as a newly desirable suburban community in the 1920s and 1930s. Today, it is fully built up and rather congested. Heathrow is the hub of employment for many residents.

Young Denis grew up in a wooden house in Hounslow. His parents had chickens and a goat. They also grew fruit and vegetables, allowing them to be self-sustaining where food was concerned. The family had no electricity. Nor did they have running water. They collected rainwater in old tubs and other receptacles.

Arnold left school at the age of 14 to work in the research laboratories of the renowned Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers, which, today, is part of the Blue Circle Group of companies. An adolescent who left school at that age back then was significantly better educated than 14-year olds today.

In 1939, he joined the RA Militia Regiment. At the time, war was imminent and the British government had reason to believe that Germany might invade the United Kingdom via Ireland. (There is much there which no longer makes the history books or school lessons. The evidence that some Irish were conspiring against Britain is now considered either politically incorrect or false.) Arnold was stationed in Northern Ireland to help fight off a German attack.

In 1942, Arnold was commissioned into the 13th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers and volunteered to serve in Nigeria’s Royal West Africa Frontier Force. He was later transferred to India and then Burma to be trained in long-range penetration operations.

On June 1, 1944, he made a courageous — and what could have been a disciplinary — decision. However, he had to act quickly and without permission:

He was leading a reconnaissance patrol along a narrow ridge path just north of the Kyusanlai Pass, overlooking Nammun, north Burma, and following the line of a Japanese telephone cable, when he saw the tops of the enemy bivouacs ahead on a steep knoll on the ridge.

He walked quietly up the path until he was within a few paces of a slit trench. Inside, there were four Japanese with a light machine gun who were not keeping a good lookout. Having decided to change his mission into a fighting patrol, Arnold retraced his steps. Dividing his platoon into two parties, he ordered them to stalk the enemy position and attack from the right and left flanks.

Arnold himself went back up the track and disposed of the gun crew with a grenade and his semi-automatic American carbine. His two sections closed with the enemy using small arms and grenades. The Japanese took heavy losses, but the attack could not be pressed home because of the steep slope and thick undergrowth.

Arnold and his men then made a fighting withdrawal. Grenades and automatic fire from four machine guns followed them down the hill, and they beat off an attack by a Japanese section which was pursuing them. Enemy casualties were estimated at 14 killed and as many wounded. Arnold’s force suffered one killed and one wounded.

Journalism such as that makes The Telegraph‘s obituaries worth reading.

The end result was that the enemy retreated. Arnold was given an Immediate MC (Military Cross).

Meanwhile, back in England, Arnold’s mother wrote him a letter and enclosed a temperance pledge card which she asked him to sign. Oh, my! A drink would have been most welcome under the circumstances, but there was none to be had.

Arnold was demobbed in 1946 and returned to work with the Blue Circle Group. His wanderlust did not leave him, and he became their overseas operations director.

Even after retirement in Kent, he continued to travel around the world.

In his leisure time he played golf until the age of 90. His wife predeceased him. Three of his four children survive him.

Reading about lives such as Major Arnold’s is most inspiring. He probably grew up reading Boys’ Own adventures and was taught to live for God, King and Country.

I cannot imagine that happening now, can you?

Americans interested in similar Second World War stories and profiles of brave servicemen would do well to check out Pacific Paratrooper, written by one of my readers. I have learned much about the war by reading it and highly recommend the site.

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