The incredible untold war history of our colleague Ruby’s SAS grandfather

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If you attended or watched a recent Remembrance Day ceremony, you would have been reminded that all the veterans of the first world war have now passed away. And the numbers who took an active role in the second world war dwindle every year.

Preserving the incredible stories of these brave veterans has never been more important. Recently, our colleague Ruby Olseen has been researching the history of her own grandfather, Harry Arnold, to understand more about the role he played in the Allies’ victory.

Read on to find out more about Harry’s amazing story.

Imagine finding out that your grandfather served with the SAS in 1944. That’s exactly what recently happened to our colleague, Ruby Olseen, as she was researching her grandfather’s military history.

We were so intrigued by the story we asked Ruby to share her recent discovery with us. Over to you, Ruby…

My dad lost his father, Harry William George Arnold, around 30 years ago. My dad tells me that my grandfather never spoke about the army or his time in the services, but my dad had always wanted to find out more information about Harry’s tours. So, I promised him that I would help.

Discovering he served in the SAS

Luckily, we had Harry’s service number – 1799641 – from the letter that was sent to my nan when he went missing in action, so we were able to match the number up. My nan always kept the letter that she received even though, two years later, he was found in Norway!

During my research, I came across the SAS Charity, who helped me find out about the missions he was involved in from their archives.

The researcher from the SAS Charity kindly sent over:

  • Information concerning the missions my grandad was involved in
  • What regiment he served with before the SAS (he was in the Royal Artillery)
  • Details of the medals he was entitled to.

Harry was a member of 2 Sqdn 2 SAS and, on the roll compiled in October 1944, he was shown as being on “Operations”.

The main reason why he joined the SAS was because he did not like how American soldiers treated a dead German soldier. He left the army and was told that, if he didn’t join the SAS, then he would be put in “the Glasshouse” – a term for a military prison.

According to the SAS Charity, Harry took part in at least two operations:

Operation Pistol, which took place in France in September 1944

Here, the objective was to parachute four teams from A2 Squadron 2nd Special Air Service behind the German lines around the Alsace–Lorraine region of France.

Once on the ground they would attempt to disrupt the road and rail networks between Metz and Nancy and the approach to the Rhine plain.

Operation Archway, which took place in Germany in April 1945

Operation Archway was planned to support the XVIII Airborne Corps Operation Varsity parachute landings across the Rhine. It was one of the largest and most diverse operations carried out by the Special Air Service during the second world war.

These two operations were important to the Allied victory, so it was exciting to discover that my grandfather had played a part in both.

Obtaining my grandfather’s medals

Once I’d been able to establish my grandfather’s service history, I was able to find out which medals he’d have been entitled to. The SAS Charity told me:

  • The 39/45 Star
  • The France and Germany Star
  • The War Medal.

He may also have been entitled to a Defence Medal depending on how long he spent in the UK during the war. If he had previously served in either North Africa or Italy, he could also be entitled to an Africa Star and an Italy Star.

With the help of the London Medal Company, I was able to purchase these medals, completing my grandfather’s collection.

I am proud of having a real-life hero in my family, because without my grandad and other British soldiers fighting for this country then I and others would not have the life and opportunities that I do today. So, I am extremely grateful.

I really appreciate Remembrance Sunday as it’s a day that my family and I can remember just what my grandad and others did for our country.


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