Frank Garbas (left) and Albert Garshowitz (right) photographed at Scampton while serving in 57 Squadron. [Pic: Bomber Command Museum of Canada]
Sgt F A Garbas
Lancaster serial number: ED864/G
Call sign: AJ-B
First wave. Crashed on outward flight.
Francis Anthony (Frank) Garbas was born on 13 July 1922 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, one of the nine children of Stanley and Mary Garbas, both of whom had been born in Poland. Many of the families who had moved to Hamilton, attracted by the prospect of work in the steel mills, were also of Polish descent. He attended the town’s Cathedral High School and Technical Institute where he was good at sports, and went on to play rugby in the local Eastwood team with Albert Garshowitz. He also played in another team which became Canadian champions. After leaving school he worked for Otis Elevators, but joined the RCAF soon after the outbreak of war.
After training in Canada and qualifying as a wireless operator/air gunner he was shipped over to England in the summer of 1942, and went to the gunnery school at RAF Stormy Down, where one of his instructors was John (‘Tommy’) Thompson about whom I blogged last year.
He was then posted to a conversion unit at RAF Wigsley, and by coincidence there he met his old friend Albert Garshowitz, who was in a five man crew headed by pilot Max Stephenson. As they were training to fly on Lancasters they now needed an extra gunner. Garshowitz must have pushed successfully for Garbas to join them. He was pleased to tell his family in a letter dated 20 October 1942: ‘The [new] 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.’
After completing training, the crew was posted to 9 Squadron at RAF Scampton just before Christmas. Sadly, early in the New Year, Max Stephenson flew as the flight engineer on an operation to Duisberg with another crew, and was shot down. So, without a pilot, the crew was posted to 57 Squadron, where they were allocated to Bill Astell.
In another letter home, dated 28 January 1943, Garshowitz described Astell as a ‘veteran at the trade’ and ‘an experienced and gen pilot’. He went on to describe how Garbas had only just had his first shave and ‘tore his whole side of the face – laughs galore’. It’s a sobering reminder that he would in fact die before his 21st birthday.
The new Astell crew flew on their first operation in 57 Squadron on 13 February 1943, and had completed a number more before being transferred to 617 Squadron on 25 March. Less than two months later they would die, damaged by flak and colliding with a pylon near Marbeck. They were buried in Borken.
After the war, Frank Garbas and his comrades were reinterred together in Reichswald Forest Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.
The friendship between Frank Garbas and Albert Garshowitz is mirrored in a later generation by that of their nephews, Paul Morley and Hartley Garshowitz. Together they have done much to keep the memory of their uncles alive, and I am privileged to know them both. Many thanks to them for help with these articles about the Astell crew.
More about Garbas online:
Commonwealth War Grave Commission entry
Article by Paul Morley on Bomber Command Museum of Canada website
Article by Paul Morley on CBC Hamilton website
Aircrew Remembered web page about Astell crew
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Robert Owen, Steve Darlow, Sean Feast & Arthur Thorning, Dam Busters: Failed to Return, Fighting High, 2013
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Further information about Frank Garbas and the other 132 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.