Military Wiki
Lorna Arnold
Born (1915-12-06)December 6, 1915
Nationality British
Citizenship British
Known for History of UK's nuclear weapons

Lorna Arnold is a historian who has written a number of books connected with the British nuclear weapons programmes.

As the second official historian of the British nuclear weapons programmes, she has had access to previously secret documents and personally knew many of the people involved. Though in her 90s, she is still an active participant in intelligence/historical community debate, as evinced by her contributions to recent meetings such the Oxford Intelligence Group in 17 June 2008.

Early years

Lorna Arnold was born Lorna Rainbow in London on December 7, 1915. Her parents were Kenneth and Lorna Rainbow (née Dawson). Lorna was the eldest of five children. Her father served in WWI, and after the war, the family turned to farming in Surrey. She attended Waumborough Primary School and Guildford High School, and in 1934, she received a scholarship to study English Literature at Bedford College, University of London. She graduated from Bedford College, London in 1937.

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

In 1940, Lorna 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.

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, Lorna 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.

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 Lorna worked with her counterparts from France, the US and Russia to coordinate 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, Lorna 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.

Marriage and Family

In 1949, Lorna 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. 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)

Lorna joined the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority in 1959, 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, 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 1960 she transferred to the UKAEA Health & Safety branch.

In 1967 Lorna 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, 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 Lorna 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, Lorna was honored as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire(OBE). She is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics and a Fellow of the [[Institute of Contemporary British History]]. She is 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.

Though she has been retired from UKAEA, Lorna remains an active contributor to journals, recently revised her book on the Windscale accident, and has contributed to others' work.

Other Activities

Lorna 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 Rudolph Peierls. She was active in the movement for the nuclear freeze. She has more recently participated in a series of video presentations on issues of nuclear weapons and energy for Talkworks [1], an organization focused on dangers associated with nuclear weapons.

She has also been involved with television productions, including a BBC show on Windcale in 2007.

In 2012, Lorna, 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 Rudi Peierls.

Published works

  • (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 Macmillian 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 Macmillian ISBN 1-4039-2101-6
  • (2007) Windscale 1957: Anatomy of a Nuclear Accident London: Palgrave Macmillian ISBN 0-230-57317-7
  • (2012) My Short Century Palo Alto, California: Cumnor Hill Books ISBN 978-0-9837029-0-0

External links

  • Article in New Statesman on Lorna Arnold and her work [2]
  • Article by Lorna Arnold reflecting on the Windscale fire [3]
  • Short Biography of Lorna Arnold, when she received an Honorary Fellowship at the Society for Radiological Protection [4].


Based primarily on Lorna Arnold's memoirs, My Short Century.

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).