Pilot Officer Arthur Leslie Holden
On 16th May, 1927, luck ran out for one of 32 squadron’s most daring and colourful characters – 21 year old Pilot Officer Arthur Leslie Holden, who was killed in a formation flying accident shortly after taking off from Kenley.
He famously took his friend for a joy ride over London on Christmas day 1926, and flew under the upper span of Tower Bridge, despite appalling weather!
Holden’s fatal accident happened shortly after midday on the 16th May, when three Gloster Gamecocks were practicing formation flying. Holden, flying J8043, who was leading the flight, insisted that they weren’t close enough together, even though one of the other aircraft had already touched his own. Immediately after take-off on the following flight, Holden asked the two pilots either side of him to close up.
Pilot Officer Richard Pace, who was flying J8042, stated at the inquiry that,
“We closed in to about half a span. The weather was very bumpy when Holden’s machine appeared to swing towards me. Then a gust of wind threw my aircraft towards his. I felt no actual impact, but on looking round saw Holden’s machine diving towards the ground.”
Holden had momentarily managed to right his aircraft, but then it suddenly stalled and nose-dived into the ground, narrowly missing a serviceman who had to throw himself off his bicycle to avoid being crushed as the Gamecock fell onto its left wing. Holden was thrown clear, but landed on his head. He was rushed to hospital and diagnosed with a fracture to the base of the skull, but failed to regain consciousness and died later the same day.
Arthur Holden was from Cleethorpes, In Lincolnshire, the son of the former Surveyor-In-Charge of Customs and Excise, Coventry, William P. Holden and his wife Bertha. Arthur had an older brother, Harold, and a younger sister, Gwendoline. Arthur studied at King Henry VIII School, Coventry, where he was noted as a “very promising” all-round cricketer. At the time of his death, Arthur was living at 479 High Rd, Leyton.
At the inquest into his son’s death, in Croydon on 9th June, William testified that Arthur had sustained a severe injury of the scalp as a result of a flying accident in March 1926. He had escaped uninjured from another accident only three weeks before his death.
Group Captain N. W. F. Mason described Pilot Officer Holden thus, following Holden’s arrest for the Tower Bridge caper:
“Holden was a remarkable fellow, and a delightful personality; quite fearless, possessor of a good brain, and an excellent all-round sportsman, giving a good account of himself on the rugger field. While he was under arrest, he would play to you on his violin, read to you in French, or any language in which you might be interested, or paint pictures for you, in fact, make your brief stay with him more enjoyable than that offered by the carefree Mess of the 1926 Kenley. My last remembrances of him were when he received a reprimand from the A.O.C. for flying in tight formation with a civilian airliner from Croydon and his voluntary delayed parachute jump at Biggin Hill where his delayed action was mercifully assisted by a drop in the level of the airfield.”
Pilot Officer Arthur Leslie Holden was laid to rest in the churchyard of St. Luke’s, Whyteleafe, with full military honours. His funeral was attended by Air Vice-Marshal H. R. M. Brooke-Popham and wreaths were sent by Air Marshal Sir John Salmond, the Officers of Air Defence of Great Britain, King Henry VIII School and The Old Coventrian’s Club.
Rest in Peace, Sir, and thank you for your service. We will certainly never forget you or your antics…