Flight Lieutenant Eric Francis Garland MBE, MC

Eric Francis Garland MBEBorn in London on 2 February 1920, Eric Garland’s extraordinary actions during World War 2 can be chronicled through Gazette citations.

After the outbreak of war in September 1939, Garland resigned from his job with Imperial Airways and trained with 163 Officer Cadet Training Unit, after joining the Artists’ Rifles, then an infantry regiment of the Territorial Army.

In November 1939, he was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant into the 6th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment (Gazette supplement 34739). He served with the regiment as part of the 138th Infantry Brigade, 46th Infantry Division, British Expeditionary Force in France.

Military Cross

Second Lieutenant Garland, age 20, was decorated with the Military Cross (MC) for conspicuous bravery, after rescuing three men from a burning ammunition store during a bombing raid at Watou during the retreat to Dunkirk in spring 1940 (Gazette supplement 35020). His recommendation, though not fully cited in The Gazette, was as follows:

‘At Watou on May 28 1940 during a very intense bombing raid showed conspicuous bravery by entering a bombed and burning house while the raid was at its height and carried out 4750206 Private Nicholson to a place of safety. He at once returned and rescued two military policemen who had been wounded, and bound up their wounds. Private Nicholson died shortly afterwards. Heavy bombing was taking place while Second Lieutenant Garland was engaged in this rescue work. The previous day this same officer carried out a reconnaissance under machine gun fire on a motor cycle at Wormhoudt and was able to guide his unit transport on a safe route.’ 

Bar to the Military Cross

Having left France, before which he held out for three days under heavy fire on a bridge at Téteghem, Garland volunteered for service with the No 11 Scottish Commando, which involved rigorous training in the Scottish Highlands. After joining his unit in Palestine, a bar to his MC was awarded in October 1941 for his part in the Litani River Raid (Gazette supplement 35316).

‘Lieutenant Garland displayed throughout the action cool and clear-headed leadership and complete disregard for his own personal safety. He was the first individual to cross the river and personally led the party which cut out the enemy wire on the far side under heavy fire. On one occasion by deliberately exposing himself he personally drew the fire of a sniper who was causing severe casualties and, on locating the enemy position, Lieutenant Garland manned one of his Bren Guns and shot the sniper. Lieutenant Garland also put out of action a 75 Gun, which was covering the river, by accurate fire from a captured anti Tank Gun.’

MBE (Military Division)

In 1942, Garland joined the RAF to train as a fighter-reconnaissance pilot (commissions and promotions: Gazette issue 35408Gazette supplement 35791, Gazette supplement 36271). His Spitfire was shot down in May 1944 over the Cassino area while flying over enemy-controlled Italy. After escaping from the burning aircraft, he was captured by waiting German soldiers. Garland’s parents received a letter from his commanding officer informing them that he was to be declared dead.

However, as a prisoner of war, Garland made many escape attempts, despite his wounds, including climbing through a window and sawing through a door after sliding down a laundry chute, and finally, jumping from a window of a train taking him to a camp in Germany. On escaping, Garland joined Italian partisans, evading recapture until meeting the US army. He was treated for his injuries – burns to his hand, and leg wounds caused by a splinter from a mortar – in Britain.

Garland was awarded an MBE (Military Division) in 1947 for these actions (Gazette supplement 37844):

‘Flight Lieutenant Eric Francis GARLAND, M.C. (47293), Royal Air Force, No. 208 Squadron. Flight Lieutenant Garland's aircraft was shot down over Frosinone in Italy on 4th May, 1944. He was immediately captured and sent to a hospital at Acre. In spite of his wounds, this officer made three attempts to escape from a hospital at Mantova in May, 1944. He collected a store of medical materials and retrieved his battledress. Twice he was caught by sentries while climbing through a window. The third time, after sliding down a laundry chute, he was captured while trying to saw through a door. In June, 1944, Flight Lieutenant Garland jumped from a hospital train near Verona while being transferred to a PoW camp. After two days he made contact with some friendly Italians, with whom he stayed for two months In August, 1944, he set out with the intention of joining some Italian partizans. He walked for three days, but owing to a leg injury he was forced to take refuge with another Italian family. In January, 1945, Flight Lieutenant Garland left these people, his leg having finally healed, and reached the American lines at Solarolo in the Po Valley.’

As a former member of the Territorial Army, he was awarded the Efficiency Medal (Territorial) in 1947, having completed the qualifying period while serving with the RAF (Gazette issue 38070).

Garland spent a further two years in the RAF before moving to Kenya to become a farmer, but continued as a pilot on reconnaissance missions and on commercial flights for East African Airways and then Manx Airlines, before returning to Britain in 1972, and retiring in 1985.

He died, age 95, on 17 January 2016.

Image: National Museums Scotland