Hero Para's personal effects dug up in Holland

Hero Para's personal effects dug up in Holland
Hero Para's personal effects dug up in Holland

A hero paratrooper's personal effects have been dug up by builders in Holland 77 years after he sacrificed himself to save 20 civilians during the Battle of Arnhem.

Private Albert Willingham died when he jumped on a grenade thrown by a German into a crammed cellar with 20 Dutch civilians and two wounded British officers.

The explosive was heading for Bertje Voskuil and her nine-year-old son Henri before the soldier, 29, smothered it, with the impact of the blast killing him instantly.

Willingham, of the 10th Battalion, Parachute Regiment, was initially buried in the garden of the small detached house in Oosterbeek in September 1944.

His remains were exhumed and moved to Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery after the war but artefacts including his red beret, cap badge and gas mask were left.

Now the remnants have been dug up nearly eight decades later while the new owners of the property were doing some garden works.

Private Albert Willingham died when he jumped on a grenade thrown by a German into a crammed cellar with 20 Dutch civilians and two wounded British officers

Private Albert Willingham died when he jumped on a grenade thrown by a German into a crammed cellar with 20 Dutch civilians and two wounded British officers

His remains were exhumed and moved to Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery after the war but artefacts including his red beret, cap badge and gas mask (pictured) were left

His remains were exhumed and moved to Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery after the war but artefacts including his red beret, cap badge and gas mask (pictured) were left

The poignant items also include a hip flask, bullet casings, a magazine for a handgun and British and Dutch coins

The poignant items also include a hip flask, bullet casings, a magazine for a handgun and British and Dutch coins

The explosive was heading for Bertje Voskuil (pictured) and her nine-year-old son Henri before the soldier, 29, smothered it, with the impact of the blast killing him instantly

The explosive was heading for Bertje Voskuil (pictured) and her nine-year-old son Henri before the soldier, 29, smothered it, with the impact of the blast killing him instantly

The poignant items also include a hip flask, bullet casings, a magazine for a handgun and British and Dutch coins.

They are set to go on display at the Airborne Museum in Oosterbeek in next year.

Historian Dilik Sarkar MBE, author of 'Arnhem 1944: The Human Tragedy of the Bridge Too Far', said it was a 'remarkable discovery'.

He said: 'Private Albert Willingham gave his life in an humanitarian act - a decision made in a nano-second.

'His is, surely, amongst the most inspirational to arise out of countless brave acts performed during the battles of Arnhem and Oosterbeek.

'It is right that Albert is remembered and this remarkable discovery provides a unique link both to him and that fateful day on which he so freely gave his life to save others.

'The cap badge, beret and gas mask were found at the site of Albert's field grave. They could only be his.'

Historian Dilik Sarkar MBE, author of 'Arnhem 1944: The Human Tragedy of the Bridge Too Far', said it was a 'remarkable discovery'. Pictured: His cap badge

Historian Dilik Sarkar MBE, author of 'Arnhem 1944: The Human Tragedy of the Bridge Too Far', said it was a 'remarkable discovery'. Pictured: His cap badge

Pictured: Ivar Goedings carefully inspects Pte Willingham's gas mask after it was found in the garden

Pictured: Ivar Goedings carefully inspects Pte Willingham's gas mask after it was found in the garden

Mr Sarkar called on Willingham, who has never been officially recognised for his gallantry, to be given a posthumous George Cross. Pictured: His coins

Mr Sarkar called on Willingham, who has never been officially recognised for his gallantry, to be given a posthumous George Cross. Pictured: His coins

Mr Sarkar called on Willingham, who has never been officially recognised for his gallantry, to be given a posthumous George Cross.

He said: 'Albert never received any recognition for what he did, and I believe he should be given the George Cross posthumously.

'I floated the idea to the Parachute Regiment and they were supportive but the Honours Committee decided there were so many unrecognised acts of bravery at Arnhem so it would be unfair to single him out.

'But this was a humanitarian act and there is a difference, he jumped on the grenade knowing what was going to happen and saved many lives in the cellar.

'I don't see why this should not be recognised.'

Alec Wilson, chairman of The Friends of the Tenth, Willingham's unit, said: 'Albert's final act was to protect others in that dreadful place, shielding them from the full force of a German grenade.

'The cellar and the garden in which Albert was buried, together with these artefacts recently unearthed, remind us of the remarkable self-sacrifice and bravery of Pte Albert Willingham and all of his comrades in the 10th Battalion.'

Pictured: Willingham's effects, including bullet casings, badges and section of German pottery

Pictured: Willingham's effects, including bullet casings, badges and section of German pottery

Pictured: A pistol magazine was also found alongside the paratrooper's personal effects

Pictured: A pistol magazine was also found alongside the paratrooper's personal effects

Pictured: A hip flask and shell cases are held by one of those who helped excavate the remnants

Pictured: A hip flask and shell cases are held by one of those who helped excavate the remnants

Willingham was the son of George and Rose Willingham, of Drayton, Hampshire.

He enlisted in the Dorset Regiment and volunteered for the airborne forces, completing his parachute training at RAF Kabrit, Egypt.

Willingham served in the pre-war army and was in Malta at the outbreak of Second World War.

He fought in Africa, Sicily and Italy before his 10th Battalion were dropped behind enemy lines in the Netherlands with the 4th Parachute Brigade on September 18, 1944.

They were supposed to push on to Arnhem eight miles away to reinforce Colonel John Frost's small garrison which had seized the northern end of Arnhem Bridge the previous day.

But the Germans blocked their passage and in the end the brigade found itself under siege in Oosterbeek, three miles west of Arnhem.

Brigadier John Hackett led 4th Parachute Brigade out of the woods at point of bayonet, through the astonished Germans, and into British lines at Oosterbeek.

The 10th Battalion was then put to work bolstering the defences and over the next few days suffered horrendous casualties.

As the situation got desperate, Willingham and his comrades carried two badly wounded officers, Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Smyth and Major Peter Warr, into the cellar

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