Eastwood Park in Hamilton's North End has created many fine athletes, but did you know that it spawned two of the most famous RCAF flyers of the Second World War?
Albert Garshowitz who hailed from Barton and James, and Frank Garbas of Burlington Street took part in the most famous Royal Air Force operation of WW II. The connection to Eastwood would indirectly lead to the two of them flying together on the Dambusters Raid, which took place seventy years ago on Thursday and Friday of this week.
Albert had qualified in Canada as a Wireless Air Gunner. After initial RAF training in England he was stationed at RAF Kinloss in Scotland where he was crewed up with four other flyers on a twin engine Whitley bomber. From there they were sent to RAF Wigsley in Nottinghamshire in October 1942 to be trained to fly the most heralded bomber in the war -the four engine Avro Lancaster.
Frank had been trained as an Air Gunner and after being stationed at RAF Stormy Down in Wales, he too was sent to Wigsley. This is where fate intervened and the paths of the two flyers converged. One can only imagine the surprise and the excitement the boys shared when they saw each other so far away from home in the middle of England. Albert's crew needed a Flight Engineer and a MidUpper Gunner. It is without a doubt that Albert must have implored his pilot Max Stephenson to pick Frank as their new gunner.
In a letter written home, Albert on Oct. 20.1942 he wrote:
"The two new members of our crew is the Flight Engineer & another mid-upper gunner. The F.E. is from Scotland. His name is Jock Kinnear. The Gunner is from our fair city of Hamilton-I used to play football with him for Eastwood . Park. He went to Wentworth Tech-He's a swell fellow. His name is Frank Garbas."
Frank quickly became very close to all of the crew and they became inseparable.
By December of 1942 the crew had completed Lancaster training and on Christmas Eve they were transferred to an active bomber squadron.. On January 8th Max was picked to fly with another crew to Duisburg Germany on a bombing mission. Sadly his Lancaster was shot down, and his crew had lost their skipper and close friend. They were devastated. The war and all of its horrors were suddenly realized.
Soon after this Albert wrote home to an older sister giving her the news that he probably wouldn't be coming home. He said that very few flyers in BomberCommand were finishing a tour of 30 missions. At the end of January the crew
received a new pilot Flight Lieutenant Bill Astell DFC. They were transferred to RAF Scampton where after eight operations over Germany they were picked to join a special squadron to complete a secret mission.
Their preparation was to be able to fly at 60 feet over water at nightwhich was very dangerous. On the day of May 16th 1943 their target became known. They were to attack the great dams of the Ruhr Valley. Their weapon was a 9,000 pound back
spinning bouncing bomb they were tryng to skip across the reservoir into the dam- like skipping a rock on a pond. Many flyers knew that they would never make it home. Tension mounted before take off as everyone realized their odds of returning were
little or none. To break the tension Albert chalked on their bomb which was slung underneath the Lancaster
"Never has so much been expected of so few".
The boys all laughed and climbed aboard. They soon set out over the English Channel at 60 feet and lower. At this low height navigation was very difficult.
Once into Germany flying just above the trees AJ-B missed a turning point and smashed into a hydro pylon near the town of Marbeck. The plane exploded on impact and crashed killing all seven young flyers, inlcuding the two mates from Eastwood.
Eight out of nineteen planes were lost that night. Fifty three boys were killed while three became prisoners of war. A loss rate of this magnitude was unheard of. The
Mohne and the Eder dams were both breached, and the British press christened them with the name "The Dambusters ".
Even though the loss of these two boys was seventy years ago, their families still mourn them. This all began by Albert and Frank being teammates on the Eastwood
Lions Junior football team. Today they lie in a common grave in the Reichswald Forest Cemetery in Kleve, Germany.
As a remembrance of their bravery, the next time our Lancaster flies over Hamilton please salute them, and remember their sacrifice for our freedom.
Paul Morley is the nephew of Frank Garbas. His book "Promise for a Dambuster " will be published in 2014.