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Sergeant Tom Hollingsworth

Sergeant Hollingsworth flying to Arnhem with the First Lift

Sergeant Thomas Hollingsworth

 

Unit : "G" Squadron, No.1 Wing, The Glider Pilot Regiment

Army No. : 14276776

 

Sergeant Tom Hollingsworth was captured at Arnhem and transported to Stalag XIB at Fallingbostel. Suffering from shell-shock, he was slow to react to an order from the guards for all prisoners to enter their huts during an air raid. He was shot by a sentry and died on the 6th October 1944. He was 21. The following accounts, by his brother, Peter Hollingsworth, and the historian, Roderick de Norman, shed light on the events surrounding the incident.

 

Hero Tom Hollingsworth remembered by brother Peter

 

Margaret Russell provided this tribute by Tom's younger brother, Peter, who lived at Lonsdale in Wood Green:

 

I also see there in the wages book for 1941 that Tom my brother had joined the company after having attended County Commercial College, as it was then known. He was only at the factory for a very short time for he was then eighteen and was called up for National Service in the KSLI [King's Shropshire Light Infantry] at Copthorne Barracks, Shrewsbury. It was always the intention of my father that Tom when the war was over, would return to the factory and eventually become the head of the company when he retired. It was never to be however.

 

When the Glider Pilot Regiment was formed the following year, he volunteered to train as a pilot and went to Cromer in Norfolk to train. Later he was transferred to Fairford in Gloucestershire from where he flew to Arnhem, the disastrous battle known as 'Market Garden'. This gave rise to a most remarkable series of events. He, and his co-pilot 'Dusty' Miller carried in their Horse glider the British Movietone cameraman and the war correspondents, Ed Morrow of NBC, Frank Gillard of the BBC, Stanley Maxted, Alan Moorhead, Guy Byam and Chester Wilmot, all who were, or became famous at the time as broadcasters or newspaper correspondents.

 

The whole series of events was tragic and bizarre. He had fought throughout the battle and in the last days the survivors had all fallen back to Divisional Headquarters round the Hartenstein Hotel. On the night of Sunday, September 24th 1944, a week after the battle had commenced, it was finally decided to withdraw across the River Waal. On the last day of the battle Tom was shell shocked and remained behind with the wounded to be captured the following morning.

 

He was then taken to Germany where he was imprisoned at Stalag X1113. Three days later there was an air raid and all the prisoners were ordered into their huts. Tom was slow to react, as he was still befuddled with shell shock. A prison guard then shot him. He was hit in the leg and bled to death from an injury to the femoral artery. He was twenty-one.

 

We at home knew that he had been captured in September and had been writing to him and sending Red Cross parcels to the camp - it wasn't until the following February that we learnt that he was dead and all the letters were returned. You may imagine the distress that this caused. It was particularly so for my parents as they were by then the Mayor and Mayoress of the town and had to carry on with their Civic duties under such terrible conditions.

 

Shortly after the war ended, Jean, my sister, and I went to the Gaumont cinema in Wednesbury to see a film about Amhem called Theirs was the Glory. We were amazed to see a sequence in the film where the gliders were approaching the drop zone and the tow rope from the towing Dakota was released. The camera turned to the pilot, Tom, who had been killed after the battle four years earlier.

 

The story doesn't however end there. Much later when the film A Bridge Too Far was made, the battle was re-enacted with actors such as Sean Connery, Richard Attenborough, and Robert Redford etc. A sequence early on showed the gliders preparing for take off. As the first glider pulls round onto camera the names are there on the side. Sgt Pilot Dusty Miller, Sgt Pilot Tom Hollingsworth. This was from records held in the Imperial War Museum. Clips of both films have been used countless times on television in war documentaries and so in a funny sort of way he is likely to live on long after the rest of us have gone.

 

Peter Hollingsworth

 

The Shooting of Sergeant Hollingsworth, Glider Pilot Regiment, 6th October 1944

Roderick de Norman

 

On a hillside in northern Germany, overlooking the Luneburg Heath, lies the Becklingen War Cemetery. Therein lies the graves of some 2,402 Allied servicemen, many of whom had died, not as a result of battle but as Prisoners of War. A number of these deaths were from the ranks of those captured at Arnhem, many badly wounded. One death, however, remains unclear. It is that of 14276776, S/Sgt Thomas Hollingsworth, 1st Wing, The Glider Pilot Regiment. He was shot on the 6th October, 1944 by a guard at Stalag XIB, not many miles to the west.

 

Why was Sgt Hollingsworth shot? Was it a justifiable shooting and if not, was any brought to book for the killing? I hope to answer some of these questions in this article and put to rest a mystery that has remained for forty-seven years.

 

Stalag XIB was one of the three main POW Camps to be found in Wehrkreis (Military Region) XI and was located adjacent to the German barrack complex at Oerbke / Fallingbostel. These barracks had been built to house transit training formations, using the new training grounds and ranges at Bergen-Belsen. As with all such projects, it was built on a grand scale and reflected the huge expansion that was taking place within the German Army in the mid-thirties. To build such a large barracks, a large work force was required on a twenty-four hour basis and so a workers camp of wooden huts was also constructed. When war broke out these huts were found eminently suitable for POWs and the first prisoners, Poles, arrived on the 12th September, 1939. [1]

 

By September 1941, the meagre German records show that Stalag XIB was responsible for 54,581 prisoners. The majority of these, 51,760, were in Arbeitskommando or Working Parties, and were mainly drawn from those captured in Europe including France, Belgium and Poland. There had been a small British contingent there during mid-1941 but it was not until the middle of 1943 that a full time "staff" of British POWs arrived mainly to administer the ever growing number of British arbeitskommandos that were to be found within the Wehrkreis. The senior British NCO was RSM Wickham of The Buffs, and he soon became the "Man of Confidence", administering an ever increasing number of prisoners as the Germans had to evacuate their camps in the East, in front of the Soviets. These problems were small compared to what happened on the 4th October 1944 when the first train load of badly wounded and battle-weary British and American airborne troops arrived from Holland. Among them was S/Sgt Hollingsworth. Two days later, he was dead.

 

Sgt Tom Hollingsworth was born in 1922 and first joined up at the age of seventeen as a lieutenant in the LDV or Home Guard. On being called up, he did his basic training with the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry before volunteering for the fledgling Glider Pilot Regiment. Initially he was based near Cromer before moving to Fairford.

 

For Operation Market, Sgt Hollingsworth flew as second pilot to SSgt Miller. Their passengers were a number of the War Correspondents assigned to the operation, among them Alan Wood and Stanley Maxted. Soon after landing S/Sgt Hollingsworth and his pilot were detailed to help defend the perimeter at Divisional Headquarters. As the defensive line shrank and casualties mounted, S/Sgt Hollingsworth became badly shell-shocked and was then detailed to help dress the wounded. Staying with the wounded until the end, he was thus captured and transported to Stalag XIB at Fallingbostel.

 

By the time Stalag XIB was liberated, on the 16th April 1945, the shooting of an unarmed prisoner should have been a single incident among many horrific tales for Stalag XIB ended its days as a stinking, disease-ridden cess pit. To the British prisoners, however, the shooting soon symbolised the evil of the Germans. RSM Lord, in a recording quoted in his biography [2], summed the killing up thus:

 

"POWs are reluctant to move quickly and when an air raid sounded - I think three days after we arrived - the men went into their huts, but one glider pilot S/Sergeant was rather slow moving in... A German sentry did no less than shoot him, and he died. This had a profound effect as the news spread around and I am quite sure it steeled the men's determination to withstand such treatment."

 

There were other shootings in the camp right up to liberation and James Sims, in his excellent book "Arnhem Spearhead", recalls: "... if we were too slow at pulling up the blackout boards at night the Germans fired through the walls of the hut." [3]

 

The treatment of all POWs at Stalag XIB had been so horrendous, especially with regards those from Arnhem, that the Judge Advocate Generals office commenced inquiries with regards to war crimes. Many of the camp guard staff were, by this time, prisoners themselves - some in England, others in Germany. The inquiry commenced taking formal evidence during the late autumn of 1945, not finishing until the summer of 1946. Luckily today, the papers from the inquiry can be found in the Public Record Office at Kew. They reveal the difficulties the investigators had in trying to bring to justice the guard that shot S/Sgt Hollingsworth, indeed, the difficulties in trying to find out in what circumstances he was shot.

 

One of the first to give evidence was RSM Lord. His sworn statement was used as an annex to that of RSM Wickham. Interestingly enough, RSM Lord made no mention of the shooting although a copy of a list of complaints was drawn up by him in December 1944, for onward transmission to the Red Cross. Heading that list was the death of S/Sgt Hollingsworth. Not long after this, more direct evidence of the shooting was given by Captain Wells, RAMC, also captured at Arnhem. In a very long and detailed account of the medical conditions in the Stalag [4] the following was stated in paragraph two:

 

"A glider pilot sergeant suffering from an acute anxiety state due to battle exhaustion... was not admitted to hospital. He was later shot and killed by a German sentry because he had not entered a shelter during an air raid owing to his inability to understand the German sentry's order to do so."

 

It would appear from later reports, that the above evidence was sufficient to class the shooting of S/Sgt Hollingsworth as murder. This in turn meant that a separate investigation had to be undertaken.

 

From all the evidence of the ex-POWs interviewed, a detailed list was produced of the camps' German staff. Once names were known, detailed searches were made of the numerous POW and Internment camps both in Germany and Britain. Investigators faced a formidable task. One of those first interviewed was ex-Hauptmann Langhans, the camp 1C or Officer in charge of Guards and General Quartering. Langhans had been working at XIB since the 27th January, 1940. One of the first comments he made was as follows:

 

"... during my five years activity at Fallingbostel I am able to say that 15-20 POWs of various nationalities were shot by the guard personnel... In addition, 20 prisoners were shot at but not killed and some 15 or 20 POWs were injured by members of the Stalag personnel... with punches, kicks, blows with sticks and with bayonets." [5]

 

Langhans went on to say that it was he who drew up the guard orders and that he had always insisted that, during an air raid, all prisoners should remain in their huts and if they refused, the guards would open fire with live ammunition. He also added:

 

"Further, the guards were made aware of an order issued by the OKW (Army HQ) to the effect that warning shots were forbidden."

 

Langhans was the man who wrote the orders but he was not the man who pulled the trigger. Indeed, the authorities were still not clear why Sgt Hollingsworth had been shot. They continued their questioning, now amongst some of the German NCOs. One of the first was a man named Wordel [6]. He had been a corporal and present at the shooting. He stated in his affidavit, taken on the 6th May, 1946, that there had been an air raid warning and all prisoners had been ordered into their huts as there were no shelters. Three POWs appeared not to do so. "I called to the sentry", Wordel said, "see to it that they all go into the huts. Don't stand there like a crowd of bloody fools." Wordel went on to describe how he turned his head and just after, a shot rang out. "I called at once for medical orderlies and a stretcher in order to take the wounded man to the Russian doctor nearby" he continued. As for the sentry, Wordel described how he just slung his rifle and "continued on his rounds." The Germans, apparently, did hold a brief enquiry, led by the camps legal officer, Wordel again:

 

"I reported everything that had happened... and was questioned as a witness by the prosecuting officer, a Hauptmann. The Hauptmann dismissed me and said the guard had acted correctly."

 

By this stage of the investigation, the British were treating the shooting as a murder. Information as to the identification of the guard responsible was still not forthcoming. Further leads were obtained however, thanks to a chance remark made by a German prisoner in POW Camp 2226. The prisoner stated that a former company commander of 426 Guard Battalion, formerly stationed at Stalag XIB, mentioned that one of his men had shot a British sergeant. An investigating team eventually tracked down the former Hauptmann concerned but he denied all knowledge of the matter. He was dually arrested but contemporary records go no further. [7]

 

What, then, was the outcome of the investigation? The records of the subsequent military trials concerning Stalag XIB show that the case mainly concerned the inhumane treatment of the Arnhem prisoners, especially those wounded. Only one of the eight defendants, Langhans, was also charged with the murder of S/Sgt Hollingsworth. He was acquitted. What is evident, however, is that Hollingsworth was probably very badly shell-shocked. Being shouted at in German would probably not have registered. There were probably many like him, suffering the mental exhaustion of the Arnhem battle as well as what is termed today as the Shock of Capture. To the Germans, he was not wounded and therefore had no need to be in the camp hospital. That decision cost S/Sgt Hollingsworth his life.

 

Since writing this article, the author has been in contact with Peter Hollingsworth, Tom's brother, and would like to record his gratitude for the subsequent help given to him. Thanks must also go to Major John Cross for his assistance.

 

1. See "Orts-Chronik von Falling-bostel" Vols I & II. Reprinted 1987. p.230.

2. See "To Revel in God's Sunshine." Richard Alford. 1981. p.46.

3. "Arnhem Spearhead" by James Sims. Sphere Books Ltd. 1981. p.140.

4. See Judge Advocate Generals (JAG) papers - PRO - WO 235/231

5. See above.

6. See PRO papers WO 208/4675.

7. See PRO papers WO 208/4616.

 

 

My thanks to Ian Cranwell, whose mother was Tom Hollingsworth's cousin, for this account. The article by Roderick de Norman was published in The Eagle, the magazine of the Glider Pilot Regiment.

 

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