b. 28/06/1918 Ballincor, Ireland. d. 12/05/1940 Lanaken, Belgium.
Donald Edward Garland (1918-1940) was born on 28th June 1918 in Ballincor, County Wicklow, Ireland, the fourth son of Doctor P. J. Garland CMG and his wife, Renee. They also had a daughter, and tragically would lose all four of their sons during the war.
Donald was educated at the Cardinal Vaughan School, Kensington, and then became a clerk in the office of an insurance company briefly, while awaiting the result of his application to join the RAF. Accepted for a short service commission on 12th July 1937, he undertook elementary flying training at Hamble and was confirmed in rank as a Pilot Officer on 5th September before starting his Service training at No 2 Flying Training School. On graduation on 7th May 1938, he was posted to his first unit, No 12 Squadron, based then at Andover, and still in the process of complete conversion from biplane Hawker Hind bombers to the new monoplane Fairey Battle light bomber aircraft. Promoted to Flying Officerr in 1939, Garland was serving in B Flight when 12 Squadron was alerted for an imminent move to France at the end of August 1939.
When the Germans invaded Poland on 1st September 1939, Operation Panther was begun – to transfer all Battle Squadrons to the Continent. No 12 Squadron’s 17 Fairey Battles flew into Barry-au-Bac, and settled in quickly, and on 17th September flew the first operational sorties. During the icy winter, few missions were completed, and it was not until March 1940, sorties over German held territory began. Finally, on 12th May, the 12 Squadron was selected for a vital mission, to destroy two bridges at Vroenhoven and Velwezelt. Garland was selected to lead the three Battles to attack the Velwezelt bridge, while Flying Officer Norman Thomas led the three Battles against Vroenhoven bridge. Garland was accompanied by his observer, Thomas Gray, and rear gunner, L.R. Reynolds.
He stayed below the cloud base at 1,000 feet and on reaching the Veldwezelt area started a shallow bombing run through an inferno of anti-aircraft fire – from an estimated 300 guns – only to be blasted to the ground. Behind him, Pilot Officer McIntosh began his run, but his petrol tank was hit and he scraped a forced landing and survived, as a POW. The third Battle, piloted by Sergeant Fred Marland, released its bombs but was then hit and crashed. When the smoke cleared, parts of the bridge had been destroyed mostly by Garland’s bombs.
On 11th June 1940, Garland and Thomas Gray were awarded posthumous VCs. Almost exactly a year later, Garland’s mother, accompanied by his brother, Patrick, attended the investiture at Buckingham Palace. Garland’s body was recovered and he was buried in Heverlee War Cemetery, Leuven, Belgium. His VC is held by the RAF Museum, Hendon.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL AIR FORCE MUSEUM, HENDON, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: HEVERLEE WAR CEMETERY, LEUVEN, BELGIUM.
PLOT VI, ROW F, GRAVE 14-16
Kevin Brazier – Images of Garland VC’s grave and the Heverlee War Cemetery Plan.
Thomas Stewart – Image of Garland VC medal at the RAF Museum, Hendon.
Brian Drummond – Image of the Bomber Command International Centre Memorial, Lincoln.