Staff-Sergeant Alfred Herbert Sheath
Unit : "D" Squadron, No.1 Wing, The Glider Pilot Regiment
In 1967, Alf Sheath was contacted by researchers who were compiling material for Cornelius Ryan's book, A Bridge Too Far. What follows is a transcript of the questionnaire which he returned to them, and their summary of his experiences at Arnhem.
A. Sheath Esq.,
19 Manor Park Road,
31st May, 1967.
Dear Mr. Sheath,
Your name appears in the records of those who may have taken part in the airborne assault on Holland in September, 1944. I am therefore writing to ask for your help with some research that we are doing on behalf of Mr. Cornelius Ryan, author of The Longest Day and, more recently, The Last Battle.
Would you be kind enough to answer the following questions in the spaces provided. Please return this letter to me as soon as possible so that Mr. Ryan may include your experiences in the account of the airborne invasion of Holland which he is planning to write. The book will include a chapter entitled "Where They Are Today", in which your name and occupation will be listed with full acknowledgement. Your assistance will be very much appreciated.
Editor, British Editions
1) Are your name and address correct on this letter? If not, please amend them. Please also quote your full Christian names and nickname, if any. Alfred Herbert.
2) If you can be reached by telephone, please give your number. 01-462-1028 (B)
3) What is your present occupation? Master Fishmonger
4) What was your rank and unit in September 1944? S/Sgt Glider Pilot Regiment D Sqdn
5) What was your age in September 1944? 32 years (17th was my birthday).
6) Were you engaged or married then? To whom? If married, did you have any children at that time? Wife: Muriel Married with two children (boys) aged 8 & 13.
7) Where were you born? Sydenham. S.E. London.
8) What previous action had you seen? None
9) When did you learn that you were going to take part in the operation in Holland? About six weeks beforehand
10) What was your reaction? Were you, for example, anxious, resigned or relieved to be going into action? Relieved
11) What was your trip like into Holland? Did you see anything unusual? Do you remember any conversations had, or how you passed the time on the journey? It was good flying weather and as a pilot one has all his attention on the towing aircraft
12) How did you feel about a daylight operation? Do you recall any conversations with your friends about it? What was said? I thought a daylight operation was the safest
13) What were the rumours? Had you heard, for example, that if the invasion of Holland was successful, the war would be over by the coming winter? Yes.
14) Did you keep a diary or notebook of what happened to you during any part of September, 1944? Do you still have it? No
15) Were any of your friends killed or wounded on the day of the drop or on subsequent days? Yes many of my friends were killed during operation 'MARKET'. I knew most of the lads in the Regiment because I joined the Regiment when it was first formed.
16) Do you remember any conversations you had with them before they became casualties? The feeling among us was that we would never surrender & we knew we were outnumbered but had decided to fight to the last.
17) Were you wounded or captured during this period? Can you give details? I came through Arnhem unscathed and crossed the river by rowing boat during the early hours of Tuesday Sept 26th 1944.
18) Do you remember any significant dealings you may have had with Dutch civilians or members of the Dutch Underground? Please explain. No
19) What do you recall most vividly about the country of Holland? It was very flat, very clean and had an unusual sweet smell.
20) Do you recall any incidents with Germans - fights, surrenders, truces or conversations you may have had with them afterwards? There were a number of skirmishes with the Germans where one must kill or be killed. There were numerous incidents during our house clearing sessions.
21) Do you know of others who took part in the operation, to whom we might write? Please give their names and last-known addresses. I know of many who took part in the Arnhem operation - the best source of information would be through the Regimental Association - this could be mentioned at the coming Annual Reunion in London.
22) Do you recall seeing or hearing anything that seems humorous now, even though it may not have seemed so at the time? Jerry had got into the house next to us and I was giving my friends covering fire when a grenade knocked me out. It was almost dark when I came to my senses . I then lay in a wooded area beyond the garden of the house. I heard someone coming and got to my feet, he was about to bayonet me when I asked him where he was going. He said he was retreating. I said right then I'll come with you.
23) Do you recall any incident, sad or heroic or simply memorable, which struck you more than anything else? The thing that impressed me most was when I came face to face with a German whom I was forced to kill - this was murder - and it affected me terribly for the rest of that day.
24) In times of crisis, people generally show great ingenuity or self-reliance; others sometimes do stupid things. Do you recall any examples of either? I thought the whole of my flight in D Sqdn acted wonderfully, we stalked the enemy all the time very quietly not giving our position away at all, whereas the Germans were shouting to each other probably trying to create confidence.
If you need extra space for your answers to any questions, please write below. When you have completed this Questionnaire, we would appreciate your returning it in the enclosed reply-paid envelope. We shall, of course, acknowledge it. Thank you very much for your help. Reflecting on the Arnhem operation I must add that the Glider Pilot Regiment played the most important part - we carried all the supplies including Tanks. The Horsa I piloted carried a Jeep and trailer loaded with ammunition together with a crew of four lads from the Border Regt. I was in the first wave of Gliders on that Sunday in Sept 1944 and landed at 13.40 hrs. It was my birthday and luckily for me it was 'many happy returns'
S/Sgt. Alfred Herbert Sheath
Glider Pilot Regiment
tel. 6th Dec. 1967
S/Sgt. Alfred Herbert Sheath celebrated his 32nd birthday on 17th September. He went over to Holland on the Sunday but didn't let on to any of the others that it was his birthday. He was in the first wave of gliders that went over and landed at 13.40 hrs. Sheath says now: "Luckily for me it was 'many happy returns'".
The first night they dug in near the St. Elizabeth Hospital, in the grounds of it. On the Tuesday they dug in in the grounds of Div HQ. Later on they started a house to house clearance (Thurs. or Friday). On the first day of this house to house clearance action Sheath and about 17-18 other members of his flight went up the road - called Nassaulaan - which was opposite Div HQ. They went up through the back gardens. Sheath thought it was silly for them all to go the same way so he went up the front of the houses. Near the 2nd house he came across a Jerry hiding in a bush. Sheath called out to Sgt. Len Pember to help out - Sheath threw grenade into bushes; it exploded killing the German. Sheath remembers uncomfortable feeling it gave him to kill a man, and he felt this even more strongly when, on about the Saturday, he had to kill another Jerry. On this occasion it was almost dark and Sheath was looking out of the top window of a house in same road opposite Div HQ keeping watch when he saw a German with signal equipment/apparatus sitting on a tree trunk. Sheath just took direct shot and hit him. Said it was an awful feeling to kill a man in cold blood - just felt like murder.
By the last Monday Sheath and some of his flight (about 18) were in a house on the leftside of the Nassaulaan (opp. Div. HQ). He remembers some names of people with him: Sgt. Wright, Sgt. Bill Bradfield (or Bradbury) his 2nd pilot, Sgt. Len Pember & Sgt. Len Affolter. When it was just about dusk (5.30pm.) Sheath's section leader asked Sheath to give him covering fire. Sheath was then downstairs in the front room of the house (calls it no.5) and there was a Jerry in the upstairs room of the next house (no.7), throwing hand grenades out of the window at the back of house no.5. Sheath went out and into no.3 keeping his eye on the top window of the house no.7. He didn't see the 2 grenades being thrown at him: the first didn't explode (fell at his feet) but the 2nd did, hitting the wall of the house and knocking Sheath out. It was dark when he came round. He went down the garden of the house into the wooded area beyond the garden. Suddenly he heard someone coming so he got up from beside a tree trunk where he had been taking cover. The man fell on him and was about to bayonet him when Sheath called out to him, realising that he was British, a KOSB. Sheath asked him where he was going and the KOSB replied that he was retreating. Sheath then answered: "Right then, I'll come with you." They moved off and returned to Div HQ where they met the section leader who had originally asked for covering fire. He asked Sheath where on earth he'd been. When Sheath told him, the section leader said that Sheath must have diverted the German's attention from the house no.5 thus giving them an opportunity to get away. Sheath remained at Div. HQ or in another house in the road opposite until they pulled out. He crossed over the river at about 3am. in the early hours of Tuesday 26th Sept. in a rowing boat brought over by 2 lads.
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