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 was killed when he fell on a German grenade into an underground chamber with twenty Dutch civilians, and two British soldiers.

Bertje Voskuil was on her way to meet the explosive, as was Henri, Bertje’s nine-year old son. The soldier at 29, stopped the explosion, and the blast killed him immediately.

Willingham, Parachute Regiment’s 10th Battalion, was originally interred in Oosterbeek, September 1944.

After the war, his remains were exhumed. However, artifacts such as his cap badge, red beret and gas mask were not moved.

The remains were dug up almost eight decades later, while new owners worked in their garden.

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

Albert Willingham, Private, was killed when he fell on a German grenade into an underground chamber with twenty Dutch civilians as well as two British soldiers wounded.

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

After the war, his remains were exhumed. However, artifacts such as his cap badge, red beret and gas mask were kept at Arnhem Oosterbeek.

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

These poignant items include a hip flask and bullet casings as well as a magazine to hold a handgun, British and Dutch coins, and a magazine.

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

Bertje Voskuil (pictured), and her nine year-old son Henri were heading towards the explosive. The soldier, 29 at the time, stopped it from hitting them, killing Henri instantly.

Other poignant items are a hip flask with bullet casings and a magazine to hold a handgun as well.

These will be on display in Oosterbeek at the Airborne Museum next year.

Dilik Sarkar, MBE historian, who wrote ‘Arnhem 44: The Human Tragedy of the Bridge Too Far,’ said that it was an ‘exceptional discovery.

He stated that Private Albert Willingham had given his life for humanitarian purposes – it was an act of kindness made in less than a second.

“His story is undoubtedly one of the most inspirational that has emerged from the many brave acts of Oosterbeek soldiers during the Battles of Arnhem.

“Albert deserves to be remembered. This remarkable discovery is a link to both him and the fateful day in which he freely sacrificed his life to save others.

The site of Albert’s field grave contained the following: ‘The gas mask, cap badge and beret were all found there. He could have only made them.

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

Dilik Sarkar MBE historian, who wrote ‘Arnhem 44: The Human Tragedy of the Bridge Too Far’, described it as a “remarkable discovery”. Pictured is his cap badge

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

Pictured: Ivar Goings inspects Pte. Willingham’s gas mask, which was discovered 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

Sarkar called upon Willingham for a posthumous George Cross. Willingham was not officially recognized for his gallantry. Photographed: His coins

Sarkar said that Willingham should be awarded a George Cross posthumously, since he was not officially recognized for his gallantry.

He claimed that Albert didn’t receive any recognition for the work he had done, so he ought to be awarded posthumously the George Cross.

I floated this idea to the Parachute Regiment. They were supportive, but the Honours Committee ruled that Arnhem had so many unsung acts of bravery it wouldn’t be fair to highlight one.

“But this was humanitarian and there is a big difference. He leapt on the grenade not knowing what was about to happen, and saved many lives inside the cellar.

I don’t see any reason why it should be.

Alec Wilson was the chairman of The Friends of the Tenth. He said, “Albert’s final act consisted to protect others in this terrible place and shield them from the full force of the German grenade.”

“The cellar, the garden, in which Albert was buried and these artifacts that were recently found remind us all about the incredible self-sacrificed and bravery displayed by Pte Albert Willingham (and his comrades) in the 10th Battalion.

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

Pictured are Willingham’s effects (including bullet casings, badges, and a section of German pottery).

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

Pictured: Along with the personal effects of the paratrooper, a pistol magazine was also discovered

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

Pictured is a photo of a shell case and snuffer bag that were used to collect the debris.

Willingham was born to George Willingham and Rose Willingham of Drayton in Hampshire.

He enlisted with the Dorset Regiment, and volunteered to serve in the airborne force. After completing parachute training at RAF Kabrit (Egypt), he was released.

Willingham was an officer in the prewar army, and was stationed in Malta during the Second World War.

His combat experiences in Africa, Sicily, and Italy were followed by his 10th Battalion being dropped behind enemy lines in Holland with the 4th Parachute Brigade September 18 1944.

To reinforce the small garrison of Colonel John Frost, they were to continue onward to Arnhem 8 miles distant.

However, the Germans prevented their passage. In the end, the brigade came under siege in Oosterbeek (three miles west of Arnhem).

4th Parachute Brigade was led by Brigadier John Hackett out of the woods near point of bayonet through the stunned Germans and to British lines at Oosterbeek.

After a few days of heavy casualties, the 10th Battalion was put to work strengthening the defenses.

Willingham, his friends, and two seriously wounded officers Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Smyth, and Major Peter Warr were able to carry them into 2 Annastraat.

There were 20 civilians from the Netherlands already in there, who were hiding during the fight for the garden.

Mrs Voskuil recounted this terrifying story later, when one of the German soldiers opened a trapdoor and dropped a bomb.

She stated that the door was opened, and then the Germans entered. With his back towards the Germans, a British soldier leapt in front Peter Warr and me.

“Then, there were two fantastic explosions – German bombs. I was able to see the British soldier being hit on his back. He died.

“Many people were hurt in that cellar.” The explosions destroyed the candle.

“I felt like I was falling for my 9-year-old son.

“I thought that he was dead but he was still conscious, hit with splinters in the stomach and his face. He was conscious again the following morning, and made a full recovery.

Willingham was the son of George and Rose Willingham, of Drayton, Hampshire. Pictured: Ivar Goedings starts the dig for his possessions

Willingham was born to George Willingham and Rose Willingham of Drayton in Hampshire. Pictured: Ivar Goedings starts the dig for his possessions

Willingham was shot to death on September 21st 1944.

David Willingham, his nephew said that he had nothing but admiration for Willingham and was proud to call him a Willingham cousin.

Operation Market Garden witnessed 10,000 British and Polish paratroopers fly into the Netherlands to ensure key Rhine crossing bridges.

It was planned to push north through Holland, and then on to Germany in order to defeat the Nazis.

Only a few men were able reach Arnhem Bridge, and the enemy overwhelmed them.

It was the beginning of a formidable, high-priced rearguard. This story is featured in Michael Caine’s 1977 classic movie A Bridge Too Far.

After a fierce nine-day battle, of the 10,000 men who arrived at Arnhem in May, only 2,400 made it back.

Rest were either killed or taken by the Germans.

Operation Market Garden: What happened and why did it go so wrong?

British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery created Operation Market Garden as a World War II breakthrough that would allow ground troops to use key roads and bridges in Nazi-occupied Netherlands.

The 101st and the 82nd US Airborne Divisions captured key Dutch bridges to end the war in an attempt to do so in the middle of September 1944. The 1st British Airborne Division also seized the same bridges.

The advance by the airborne units through The Netherlands was delayed so that soldiers in Belgium could follow the Ruhr to end Adolf Hitler’s military machine.

Arnhem bridge (pictured) was 'a bridge too far' during Operation Market Garden. Troops were overrun by German tanks in 1944

Arnhem bridge (pictured above) was “a bridge too far” during Operation Market Garden. In 1944, German tanks overran troops.

As each division of the airborne landed using parachutes, gliders, five bridges were gradually liberated. The British 30 Corps could then advance along the Rhine. The airborne operations were Market and Garden, while the advance of the 30 Corps was Garden. 

Two smaller bridges had to be captured in Eindhoven which is 13 miles away from 30 Corps’ starting point. The other two crossings were in Grave and Veghel. Nijmegen was 53 miles away and Arnhem was 62 miles.

The German army would no longer be able to hold the Netherlands hostage by releasing the bridges. Then an armoured assault into the Ruhr, which could cripple its armament factories, could take place.

By liberating the bridges The Netherlands would be freed from the German army and an armoured drive into the Ruhr to cripple the country's armament factories could begin

The Netherlands could be released from its German military by liberating the bridges. A convoy into the Ruhr in an armoured vehicle to destroy the country’s weapons factories might then take place.

Allied parachute jumper landing almost headfirst during a daylight drop in Holland during Operation Market Garden

Allied parachutist jumps almost headfirst in daylight drop in Holland, during Operation Market Garden

Allied intelligence did not detect German tanks and elements from two SS Panzer divisions. 30 Corps had to be overwhelmed by the Allies before the Germans could cross the bridge at Arnhem.

The plan was originally described by Lieutenant General Frederick Browning (a high-ranking commander in the Allied Airborne forces), which proved to be accurate. 

Seven miles from Arnhem, the 10,000 soldiers of Major-General Roy Urquhart’s 1st British Airborne Division landed.

British Paratroops on their way to land In Holland on 17 September 1944 in a C-47 transport plane

British Paratroops en route to Holland in a C47 transport plane on 17/09/44

Only one battalion made it to the bridge. The rest were pushed into a small pocket by the German forces at Oosetbeeck, West.

Why did this go so wrong? 

The plan was thwarted by a lack of aircraft transport, the forest and the weather.

Three lifts were required to fly airborne troops into The Netherlands. This was in preference to flying all at once. Later thick flog from England meant that reinforcements could not be brought in quickly.

The trees that surrounded the troops made it impossible for wireless radios to work. Despite the fact that phones were still available to Allied troops, they rarely used them in cases of communication being intercepted – thus there was a communication failure. 

Three German soldiers surrender to British forces near the Wessem Canal during the invasion of the Netherlands on September 17, 1944

Three German soldiers gave up to British troops near the Wessem Canal on the 17th of September 1944, during the invasion by the Netherlands

What was the death toll and how did the survivors get evacuated?

Two weeks after their landing on September 24, and 25, 2,100 soldiers from the 1st Airborne Division were transported across the Rhine by ferries. Another 7,500 were either dead or made prisoners of war.

Operation Market Garden, despite its failure, is remembered for the bravery of the troops and liberation of vast parts of The Netherlands.

Canadians of the British second army during the battle of Arnhem. A week after landing, on September 24 and 25, some 2,100 troops from 1st Airborne Division were ferried back across the Rhine. Another 7,500 were either dead or made prisoners of war

Canadians in the British second armies during the battle at Arnhem. Some 2,100 soldiers of the 1st Airborne Division returned to Germany a week after they landed. Additional 7,500 soldiers were also killed in action or captured as prisoners of war.