F/L Donald Edward Garland VC (28 June 1918 – 12 May 1940) was an Irish recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British, Irish and Commonwealth forces.
Born in Ballincor, County Wicklow, Garland was a pupil at Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, Holland Park, London from 1929 to 1935, and left with a good all-round School Certificate.
After spending some time at an insurance office, he joined the RAF on a short-term commission. Mgr. Canon J. Vance, who became headmaster of Cardinal Vaughan School in 1928: “In those days I questioned young men closely before recommending their applications for short-term commissions because of a lurking fear that they might be forced to start life again at an awkward age, for Donald I had no misgivings whatever. He could start his life again at any time and was bound to succeed because of his independence and of his resourcefulness. I salute Garland’s great heroism”
Garland was 21 years old, and a Flying Officer in No. 12 Squadron, Royal Air Force during World War II, when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC.
On 12 May 1940, over the Albert Canal, Belgium, two bridges, Veldwezelt and Vroenhoven, were being used by the invading army, with protection from fighter aircraft, anti-aircraft and machine-guns. The RAF was ordered to demolish one of these vital bridges, and five Fairey Battle bombers were despatched with Flying Officer Garland leading the attack. They met an inferno of anti-aircraft fire, and the bridge was hit but not put out of commission. Garland and his navigator, Sergeant Thomas Gray, attacked the bridge at Veldwezelt. They died either crashing in the village of Lanaken, or in the hospital in Maastricht, Netherlands. Only one bomber managed to return to base. Sergeant Gray was also awarded the VC for this action in a joint citation with Garland.
Garland is buried at the Heverlee War Cemetery near Leuven, Belgium.
Both Garland and Gray were awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously. Leading Aircraftman Reynolds, the third member of the crew, did not receive a medal because he was not in a “decision making” position. Garland’s Victoria Cross is displayed at the Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon, England.
He had three brothers, F/L Patrick James Garland, F/L John Cuthbert Garland, and P/O Desmond William Garland, who also served in the RAF. None survived the war.