Four brothers who died while serving in the RAF in the Second World War have been remembered by members of the Flashback Midhurst Facebook group, with flowers laid at the grave in Midhurst Cemetery.
Mrs Elizabeth Fox, the owner and founder of the page, said a new member had made the request and she was ‘overwhelmed with pride’ at the response.
Flight Lieutenant John Cuthbert Garland died aged 32 on February 28, 1943, and his gravestone in Midhurst also commemorates his brothers, who were all killed in action – Flying Officer Donald died in Belgium on May 12, 1940, aged 21; Pilot Officer Desmond was lost on operations on June 5, 1942, aged 27; and Flight Lieutenant Patrick died in Holland on January 1, 1945, aged 36.
On February 28, 78 years after John’s death, Darran Mark Walker asked members of the group to visit the grave to pay their respects and lay some flowers.
Mrs Fox said: “Flashback Midhurst has more than 2,500 members. It is where local people share their stories and memories of the town and its surrounding areas.
“The response was overwhelming, with up to 100 likes and 40 comments on the original post. The grave was visited multiple times in the day and received four beautiful bunches of flowers.
“It is amazing that even in these current circumstances the community will unite and go above and beyond for others.”
The four brothers were the sons of Patrick and Irene Garland from East Finchley.
Mr Walker said: “Patrick and Irene lost all their four boys during World War Two, with 21-year-old Flying Officer Donald Edward Garland posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on March 12, 1940, whilst Pilot Officer Desmond William Garland, aged 27, was lost without trace aboard his 50 Squadron bomber on June 5, 1942, and the fourth son, Flight Lieutenant Patrick James Garland, aged 36, was killed when his Spitfire crashed at Glize-Rijen.”
Nicky van der Drift, chief executive at International Bomber Command Centre, provides more information about the brothers at internationalbcc.co.uk
Donald was the youngest of Patrick and Irene’s five children, born in Ballinacor, County Wicklow, Ireland, in 1918. Patrick was the eldest and the middle child was a daughter, Sheila, who died in 1988.
Donald flew Fairey Battle bombers with 12 Squadron and on May 12, 1940, was part of a daytime operation in Belgium.
Mrs van der Drift said: “The mission was extremely risky and the Squadron lost all but one of the five Fairey Battles taking part. His aircraft was shot down close to the target, which was heavily defended both with anti aircraft guns and German fighter planes.”
Donald and his observer, Sgt Thomas Gray, were posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for their bravery.
The citation, published in the London Gazette on June 11, 1940, reads: “Flying Officer Garland was the pilot and Sergeant Gray was the observer of the leading aircraft of a formation of five aircraft that attacked a bridge over the Albert Canal which had not been destroyed and was allowing the enemy to advance into Belgium.
“All the aircrews of the squadron concerned volunteered for the operation, and, after five crews had been selected by drawing lots, the attack was delivered at low altitude against this vital target. Orders were issued that this bridge was to be destroyed at all costs. As had been expected, exceptionally intense machine-gun and anti-aircraft fire were encountered. Moreover, the bridge area was heavily protected by enemy fighters.
“In spite of this, the formation successfully delivered a dive-bombing attack from the lowest practicable altitude. British fighters in the vicinity reported that the target was obscured by the bombs bursting on it and near it. Only one of the five aircraft concerned returned from this mission.
“The pilot of this aircraft reports that besides being subjected to extremely heavy anti-aircraft fire, through which they dived to attack the objective, our aircraft were also attacked by a large number of enemy fighters after they had released their bombs on the target. Much of the success of this vital operation must be attributed to the formation leader, Flying Officer Garland, and to the coolness and resource of Sergeant Gray, who in most difficult conditions navigated Flying Officer Garland’s aircraft in such a manner that the whole formation was able successfully to attack the target in spite of subsequent heavy losses. Flying Officer Garland and Sergeant Gray did not return.”
Donald was originally buried in secret by local civilians and was then re-interred by the Allies in 1945 and is now buried in Heverlee War Cemetery, near Lovain, Belgium.
Desmond flew Avro Manchester bombers with 50 Squadron. On June 15, 1942, his crew took off from RAF Skellingthorpe on a night-time mine-laying mission in the Gorse region.
Mrs van der Drift said: “The aircraft never returned and only one member of the crew survived. He became a POW and later told that the aircraft had been shot down and crashed into the sea just off the French coast.”
John served in the RAF Volunteer Reserve as a medical officer. He suffered ill health and died of natural causes.
Patrick was a pilot in 2 Squadron Tactical Reconnaissance Unit and was flying a Spitfire XIV on an operation to Gilze-Reijen on New Year’s Day in 1945. His aircraft bounced on landing, stalled and crashed upside down.