One of Thousands- by Mark Smith (Nephew)

Sgt. Arthur David Harding (1357558) 215 Squadron South East Asia Command

  8th November 1920 to 1st January 1945

Early Life

Arthur was born to Walter and Daisy Harding on 8th November 1920 in Silvertown, the heart of the East End Docks. He was the third son and youngest  of five children; Ivy, Les, Cyril and Lilian (my mother) being the others. When Arthur was only 4 years old he lost his father after a lengthy illness, Walter was just 42 years old and was a casualty of the famous Silvertown munitions explosion of 1917, he was buried for three days in the rubble of the dye works where he was employed, Daisy was a widow at 39. Arthur and my mother sat frightened and clinging to each other under the dining table on the day of funeral, bewildered 4 and 7 year olds. Daisy was “encouraged” by a relative  to have the children adopted by family elders, Daisy refused standing her ground and chose to work more than one job a day  to keep the family together.

A  four  year old Arthur , was known to take himself off home from school to be with his mother when the mood took him, my mother being sent by the headmaster to bring him back.

Family life in East London – Arthur smiling( front middle) with Daisy behind, older sister’s Ivy (left),  Lilian ( “posing” Right), Brothers Cyril (left) and  eldest  brother Les  with family friends

To bring money into the household and help their mother all five children were out to work from at least the age of 14.

Tragedy hit the family again when Arthurs brother Cyril died aged 16 after a long illness.

Arthur followed his brother Les and my mother to the Tate and Lyle sugar refinery in Silvertown, he stayed there until he and many others were laid off as WWII was declared.  19 years old and unemployed he searched for other work, fruitlessly walking long distances day after day for a job.  Rather than receive enlistment papers Arthur applied for the Fleet Air Arm, who were not forthcoming with a reply, as a result he volunteered for the RAF and was immediately accepted. One week later a letter arrived came from the Fleet Air Arm accepting him as well.

Les would receive his calling papers from the RAF and find himself serving as a wireless Operator in the jungles of the Far East.


Recruit training commenced in Blackpool, where Arthur was billeted with a family at a guest house in  Moore Street.  Arriving on 30th July 1940 he was officially sworn in on 1st August 1940. Life at Blackpool seemed pretty relaxed in the early days and letters home tell of sightseeing, swimming in the sea (with the guest house owners 17 year old daughter) drinking with the lads in his FTS squad and rifle range training, apparently in that order.

Probably like most men enlisting in the RAF Arthur had a passion for being a member of a flight crew, “I want to train as a pilot and live a little”, something he told my mum in 1940.

First Posting ; RAF No 9 FTS- E-Squadron, Hullavington near Chippenham Wiltshire

After Blackpool he was posted to Hullavington with a welcoming 1 hour march to the airdrome from the station.

Camp routine is quoted as being “easy”- loading coal and wood- stand down period etc. although under canvas was cold. First bit of action on 16th August 1940 when the airdrome was attacked by a dive bomber who raked the place with machine gun fire, 80 yards from Arthur! It was the last time he wrote of “close shaves” in such detail, realising that his family were already worried for him.

Arthur was an avid writer and the collection of letters to his “Ma” and Ivy bear testimony to that. He would always seek to reassure them about how he is and how he is keeping plus making arrangements to send an allowance home plus always asking after family, friends and neighbours.

After numerous postings Arthur was sent overseas to India on 11th June 1944 and posted to 215 Squadron on 20th August 1944, just over 6 months later Arthur was to be killed in action on 1st January 1945.

My mum recalls the day she took receipt of the dreaded telegram and to this day she vividly remembers the reaction and shock of her mother to the news. It is sad to know that letters and parcels sent from Arthur would arrive after his death and that family letters were sent to Arthur un-be knowing of his fate.

My Uncles memory lives on and he will never be forgotten, a statement being repeated today as our service men and women pay the ultimate sacrifice.

Below what I have written is the story of my uncles last flight written by Linda Ibrom and already on the 215 Squadron website;

After the story I have added the following;

1.      Commissioned artwork of Liberator KH274 ‘H’ (research assistance by Ken Kemp and Robert Quirk)

2.      Air Ministry Air Gunners Pamphlet (courtesy of Mrs Lilian M Smith)

3.      Arthurs Air Gunner Training Squad (courtesy of Mrs Lilian M Smith)

4.      Christmas 1944 letter home from Arthur (courtesy of Mrs Lilian M Smith)

5.      Spitfires made from pennies by Arthur ((courtesy of Mrs Lilian M Smith)

6.      Autographs on back of Sergeants Mess Christmas Menu (courtesy of Mrs Lilian M Smith)

7.      Arthurs last diary entry 31 December 1944 –diary a gift from sister Lilian (courtesy of Mrs Lilian M Smith)

8.      Squadron leader Beadon’s citation (courtesy of Len Russell (215 SQ)

9.      Scroll of Honour  (courtesy of Mrs Lilian M Smith)

10.   Letter concerning Arthurs Grave (courtesy of Mrs Lilian M Smith)

11.   Arthurs service record taken from National Archives.

I must also remember my late Aunt Ivy Harding (Arthurs eldest sister), she is fondly remembered, loved and missed; If it was not for her preserving the family history my research would have been a lot harder.

Sergeant Arthur Harding\\\'s Final Flight

In Liberator KH 274 \\\"H\\\"

215 Squadron RAF


Written by Linda Ibrom

Photo of Arthur David Harding

(courtesy of Mrs. Lilian M Smith)

Sergeant Arthur David Harding, RAFVR (1357558) was the youngest son of Walter Henry and Daisy Ellen Ann Harding of Plaistow, Essex .The son of a close-knit family, Arthur was aged 4 when his father died. Aged 24, he was the rear gunner of Wing Commander Beadon’s crew and killed on the 1st of January 1945, on a low level mission to bomb the Japanese supply trains on the Bangkok- Chiengasi Railroad in Thailand.


Photo of Liberator KH 274, \\\"H\\\", 215 Squadron RAF.

(courtesy of Mark Smith)


Crew of Liberator “H” KH 274

Pilot-Squadron Leader Clive Bleadon

2nd Pilot-W/O A.C.Combes

Navigator-Flying Officer H.F.Kerley

Bomb Aimer-Flying Officer J.Johnstone

Flight Engineer—Sergeant R.L.Hindson

Wireless operator-Pilot Officer G.Griffin

2nd Wireless operator-Sergeant T.Bennett

Nose Gunner-Sergeant E.C.Hill

Top Gunner-Sergeant R.M.Cunningham

Ball Gunner-Sergeant D.J.Morgan

Rear Gunner-Sergeant Arthur Harding


After being hit by Japanese anti-aircraft fire and with Liberator KH 274 on fire and extensively damaged, Wing Commander Beadon managed to fly the 1000-mile trip back to base in India. His co pilot W/O A Combes was able to extinguish the fire but sadly. Sergeant Harding was fatally wounded.

Sergeant Ken Kemp flew as Rear Gunner to Squadron Leader Roy Williamson and trained and joined 215 squadron at the same time as Arthur. They were good friends, sharing the Sergeants mess, looking out for each other and even growing identical moustaches. Ken was flying in the Liberator behind Wing Commander Beadon’s on the same mission and saw it being hit by anti-aircraft fire, sadly later, he was to be a pall bearer at Arthur’s funeral


Sergeant Harding is buried in Grave 8 E2 at Ranchi War cemetery, India.

Photo of Arthur Harding\\\'s Grave

(courtesy of Mrs. Lilian M Smith)


Additional Notes:

Wing Commander Beadon was awarded a DFC for this and other missions (London Gazette 17th January 1945)

The aircraft involved, Liberator KH 274 \\\"H\\\" of 215 Squadron RAF was damaged to such an extent by the flak that it was \\\"written off\\\" by the RAF on January 25th, 1945.


Photo credits and info from Mark Smith (nephew) and Mrs Lilian M Smith (sister)


Written by Linda Ibrom


KH274 ‘H’ 215 Squadron with SEAC Markings

By artist Norman Gooderum (Aviation Guild of Artists)- Commissioned by Mark Smith 2012


Letter home Christmas in India  1944 – note Squadron emblem

Spitfires made by Arthur from pennies

Autographs on back of Christmas Menu 1944

Arthurs last diary entry 31 December 1944 – please read


Squadron Leader Clive Beadon’s citation for actions on 1st January 1945

Service record for  Arthur David Harding (1357558)





9 RC Blackpool



AC2 as ACH GD GG- 30.7.1940




AC2 as ACH GD GG- 31.12.1940

AAF Hullavington



Gunner 11.9.1941

2816  (D) Squadron



LAC as Gunner -31.12.1941 to 31.3.1942

Stormy Down Airdrome



U/R Air Gunner 22.11.1943

AAF Hullavington



LAC as U/T AG- 31.12.1943

20 RC Tempsford



AG 5.5.1944

Special Flight Tempsford



Sgt AG - 31.12.1944

AAF Greenham Common



Sgt AG – 1.1.1945

13 OTU (A)




AAF Greenham Common



30.7.1940 AC2

AAF 4195



30.1.1941 AC1

2888 Squadron



30.7.1941 LAC

ACSB @  2888 Squadron



19.3.1944 AC2

2888 Squadron



5.5.1944 SGT

2882 Squadron



Special Qualifications

ACRS Abbey Lodge



19.3.1944 Regraded B

14 ITW



18.3.44 to 5.5.1944 Air Gunner Course




30.7.1943 Good Conduct Badge




Length of RAF Service

Posted overseas to India



4 YEARS 156 Days




Overseas service less than 6 months

215 Squadron




Killed in Action

1st January 1945





List of Common Abbreviations


Recruits Centre


Flying Training School


Air Armament Force


Operational Training Unit


Air Crew Refresher School


Initial Training Wing


Air Gunner School


Personnel Despatch Centre


Aircraftman First and Second Class


Leading Aircraftman




Aircraft Hand


General Duties

Please note some abbreviations I cannot find the exact meaning, but are as recorded on the official service record.


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