Lorna Arnold

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Lorna Arnold
Born 7 December 1915
Died 25 March 2014 (aged 98)
Citizenship British
Nationality British
Fields History of sciences
Institutions United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority
Known for History of UK's nuclear weapons
Notable awards


Honorary Doctor of Letters, University of Reading

Lorna Arnold OBE (7 December 1915 – 25 March 2014) was a British historian who wrote a number of books connected with the British nuclear weapons programmes.[1]

As the second official historian of the British nuclear weapons programmes, she had access to previously secret documents and personally knew many of the people involved the work of the UKAEA. In her old age she was still an active participant in intelligence/historical community debate, as evinced by her contributions to meetings such the Oxford Intelligence Group on 17 June 2008.

Early years[edit]

Lorna Arnold was born Lorna Rainbow in London on 7 December 1915. Her parents were Kenneth and Lorna Rainbow (née Dawson). Arnold was the eldest of five children. Her father served in World War I, and after the war, the family turned to farming in Surrey. She attended Waumborough Primary School and became the first girl in her village to win a scholarship to secondary school, and the first in that school to win a scholarship to university.[2] She graduated from Bedford College, London in 1937.[3]

After graduation, she trained as a teacher at Cambridge University, and spent one year teaching in secondary school. She was called to serve in the government during World War II, and did not return to teaching.

World War II, Berlin and Bizonia[edit]

In 1940, Arnold was recruited to work in the government war effort. She first served in the War Office, working as part of Army Council Secretariat. There she took on increasing responsibilities, many related to supply and logistics for the war effort. During this time, she lived in London, and like many Londoners, experienced the hazards of the German air raids on London.[3]

In 1944, she transferred to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as their first woman diplomat and worked on the European Advisory Commission (EAC), making arrangements for the postwar administration of Germany. In August 1945, Arnold was posted to Berlin as part of the Allied Control Council, a hazardous undertaking just after the fall of Germany. She reports that for a time, she slept with a pistol under her pillow during the turbulent times just after the fall of Berlin.[3]

After World War II, Germany was divided into four zones, managed by the British, American, French and Russians. (See Allied-occupied Germany for more details.) Berlin was also divided into four zones, and Arnold worked with her counterparts from France, the US and Russia to co-ordinate administering the districts and supplying foods to the population. Britain had very limited resources at the end of World War II, and in 1946, Britain and the US agreed to administer their districts jointly, under a scheme called Bizonia.

In 1946, Arnold transferred to British Embassy in Washington, D.C., and worked with Americans to administer Bizonia. During her time in Washington, she had a desk at the Pentagon. She served in Washington at the same time as noted spy Donald Maclean. In 1949, she returned to England.[3]

Marriage and family[edit]

In 1949, she married Robert Arnold, an American musician and recording engineer, whom she had met in Washington, DC. She had two sons, Geoffrey and Stephen Arnold. In 1955, her husband returned to the United States, and she became a single parent.[3] She returned to work, and after a variety of jobs, including a brief stint at a biscuit factory, she joined the UKAEA in 1959.

United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA)[edit]

Arnold joined the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority in 1959,[4] and worked on the Windscale Accident Commission. Later, she would write a book about the Windscale accident, Windscale 1957: Anatomy of a Nuclear Accident (Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1992). In the AHSB her first job was as a joint secretary of a committee on training in radiological protection, set up as a result of the Windscale accident. At the AHSB she worked for the first UKAEA Director of Health and Safety, Dr Andrew MacLean,[4] who had been the Chief Medical Officer at Risley during the Windscale Fire and was to become the first Director of the National Radiological Protection Board on its formation in 1971.

In 1967 Arnold joined the UKAEA Historian's Office, initially working with the official historian, Margaret Gowing, who was then at the University of Kent at Canterbury. Lorna jointly authored the second part of the UKAEA official history with Professor Gowing,[3] who became Regius Professor of the History of Science at Oxford. The monumental two volume treatise, "Independence and Deterrence: Britain and Atomic Energy, 1945–1952”, which examined in detail the policy and execution of the UK atomic bomb project during 1945–1952 – the official history of the development and production of the first atomic bombs in this country was published in 1974. “Independence and Deterrence” is still in print today.

Eventually Arnold took over the role of official historian of the UKAEA, and wrote various books and articles on British nuclear programs, both civil and military. She worked at the UKAEA sites in London, Harwell, and Aldermaston, but her collaborations with American, European, and – eventually – Russian scientists and historians took her all over the world, from Vienna to Los Alamos.


In 1976, Arnold was honoured as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). She was a Fellow of the Institute of Physics and a Fellow of the Institute of Contemporary British History. She was a recipient of an Honorary Fellowship of the Society for Radiological Protection.

In 2009, she received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Reading, for her work in nuclear history.[5]

Though she retired from UKAEA, Arnold remained an active contributor to journals. She revised her book on the Windscale accident and contributed to others' work.

Other activities[edit]

Arnold was first introduced to Scilla Elworthy, one of the leaders of the Oxford Research Group, one of the UK's leading of advocates for alternatives to global conflict, in the 1980s by her friend, physicist Rudolf Peierls. She was active in the movement for the nuclear freeze. She participated in a series of video presentations on issues of nuclear weapons and energy for Talkworks, an organisation focused on dangers associated with nuclear weapons.

She also worked with television productions, including a BBC show on Windscale in 2007.

In 2012, Arnold, at age 96, published her memoirs, entitled My Short Century, in which she describes her remarkable life from living on a rural farm, to friendships with noted figures in the world of nuclear research and development such as William Penney, Christopher Hinton and Rudolf Peierls.

Published works[edit]

  • (1974). Independence and Deterrence: Britain and Atomic Energy, 1945–52: Volume 1: Policy Making. (With Margaret Gowing). London: Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-15781-8.
  • (1974). Independence and Deterrence: Britain and Atomic Energy, 1945–52: Volume 2: Policy Execution. (With Margaret Gowing). London: Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-16695-7.
  • (1987). A Very Special Relationship: British Atomic Weapon Trials in Australia. London: HMSO Books. ISBN 0-11-772412-2.
  • (2001) Britain and the H-Bomb London: Palgrave Macmillan ISBN 0-312-23518-6 (with Katherine Pyne)
  • (2006) Britain, Australia and the Bomb: The Nuclear Tests and Their Aftermath (International Papers in Political Economy) (with Mark Smith) London: Palgrave Macmillan ISBN 1-4039-2101-6
  • (2007) Windscale 1957: Anatomy of a Nuclear Accident London: Palgrave Macmillan ISBN 0-230-57317-7
  • (2012) My Short Century Palo Alto, California: Cumnor Hill Books ISBN 978-0-9837029-0-0

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Cathcart, Brian (7 December 1915). "Lorna Arnold obituary | Environment". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
  2. ^ "Lorna Arnold – obituary". Daily Telegraph. 4 May 2014. Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Arnold, Lorna (2012). My Short Century. Cumnor Hill Books. ISBN 978-0-9837029-0-0. 
  4. ^ a b Lorna Arnold (2000). "The Windscale accident – some memories and reflections". IOP:Journal of Radiological Protection:volume 20 Number3. Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  5. ^ University of Reading Press Release, Dec 2009 Pres