WWII

Watch: The British WW2 hero who sacrificed himself to save Dutch civilians at Arnhem

Private Albert Willingham dived on top of a grenade in a cellar during Operation Market Garden.

The likely personal possessions of a British hero in World War Two's Operation Market Garden have been found where he died.

Private Albert Willingham sacrificed his life to save Dutch civilians in 1944.

In September that year, the 29-year-old found himself in the Dutch town of Oosterbeek, helping two injured British officers try to find safety.

German troops were slowly closing the net around them.

Willingham was one of 10,000 British and Polish paratroopers dropped into the Netherlands to try and capture and hold key bridges over the Rhine.

The mission was a failure and only 2,400 troops made it out alive after a ferocious nine-day battle.

Private Willingham, from Portsmouth, stumbled with his wounded commanders through the debris of battle to a small house in Annastraat.

Having made their way to the cellar, where 20 Dutch civilians were already hiding from the onslaught, they became trapped.

The door opened and a German soldier threw in a hand grenade.

In a split second, Private Willingham made the decision to throw himself on the grenade.

It meant certain death for him, but it saved the lives of the Dutch civilians and his two comrades.

The house in Annastraat where Private Albert Willingham died (Picture: Dilip Sarkar).

Historian Dilip Sarkar, who has written about Operation Market Garden, first told Private Willingham's story.

"He knows exactly what the consequence of his actions for himself is," he said.

"He doesn't hesitate, he's straight on top of the grenade. Boom.

"The grenade goes off and Albert's dead. Simple as that, as quick as that. But the courage involved, to me, is just phenomenal."

Private Willingham was buried in the garden of the house before being moved to his final resting place at Arnhem-Oosterbeek War Cemetery.

Remarkably, eight decades on, what are very likely his personal possessions have been unearthed in the garden in Annastraat.

They include his paratrooper's cap badge and gas mask.

The items are set to take centre stage in an exhibition at the Airborne Museum in Oosterbeek next year.

"It's an incredible, direct, tangible link to Albert Willingham and this extraordinary humanitarian act", Mr Sarkar told Forces News.