Flight Lieutenant Eric Garland, who has died aged 95, served throughout the Second World War, initially in the Army and then with the RAF; he was decorated three times, including two MCs for gallantry.
As a 20-year old officer in the 6th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, Garland was awarded his first MC for the “conspicuous bravery” he showed in rescuing three men from a burning ammunition store during a very intense bombing raid at Watou during the retreat to Dunkirk. In Lebanon, less than a year later, by now with No 11 (Scottish) Commando, he won a Bar to his MC, during the invasion of Vichy-controlled Syria-Lebanon, for his part in the Litani River raid. The following year he transferred to the RAF and trained as a fighter-reconnaissance pilot.
Eric Francis Garland was born in south London on February 2 1920. After leaving Whitgift School, Croydon, he worked as a trainee manager with Imperial Airways and also joined the Artists’ Rifles, a TA regiment. At the outbreak of the war he was commissioned into the York and Lancaster Regiment and in November 1939 crossed to France with the BEF as part of the 138th Infantry Brigade, 46th Infantry Division.
After the action that earned him his first MC, Garland, supported by 40 men, had been ordered to hold a bridge over the Canal des Moëres at Téteghem against a much larger German force. They came under heavy mortar fire but held out for three days before taking one of the last boats – a paddle steamer called the Medway Queen – back to Britain, where he volunteered for service with the newly formed No 11 (Scottish) Commando. During his rigorous Special Forces training in the Scottish Highlands, he learnt that an enemy bomb had hit his home at Chipstead, Surrey, killing his 17-year-old sister and the family dog. He joined his commando unit in Palestine where they were given the task of mounting an amphibious assault on the Litani River and securing both banks in order to prevent the demolition of the Qasmiye Bridge that crossed it, thereby allowing the Australian 21st Infantry Brigade to advance towards Beirut.
Garland landed on the south side and had to cross the wide, fast-flowing river while taking heavy casualties from 75mm guns. Stuck in dead ground, his force was unable to move because they were being shelled and engaged by snipers. Later he recalled: “I was tired of waiting and having my men killed. I got to the river bank and I thought I would chance it. I exposed myself to the fire a few times so that I could locate one of the snipers... I located him nearly 200 yards away on the other side of the river, and I shot and killed him using a Bren gun – we found the sniper’s body later. It was quite a dangerous game but by then I felt like a cornered cat: I was prepared to kill or be killed.”