[Pic: Garshowitz family]
Wt Off A A Garshowitz
Lancaster serial number: ED864/G
Call sign: AJ-B
First wave. Crashed on outward flight.
Abram Garshowitz, known to his friends as Albert, was born in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada on 11 December 1920, the ninth of twelve children of Samuel and Sarah Garshowitz, who had emigrated from Russia in the first decade of the twentieth century.
At school, he was a keen sportsman, playing many sports but especially American football and rugby. He also played for the Eastwood team in the Hamilton Junior Rugby League, together with Frank Garbas, with whom he would ultimately serve in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Having worked as a salesman before the war, he enlisted in the RCAF in January 1941, indicating on the enrolment form that the reason for leaving his occupation was “to fight for the country”. He qualified as a wireless operator/air gunner in April 1942, and on the day of his brother David’s Bar Mitzvah his family came to see him in Trenton, and bid him goodbye.
After arrival in England, he underwent further training on Whitley bombers, which had a crew of five, and then was posted to RAF Wigsley for conversion onto Lancasters. The crew, under pilot Max Stephenson, included his future Dams Raid crewmates Floyd Wile, Donald Hopkinson and Richard Bolitho. By coincidence also posted to Wigsley was Frank Garbas, and Albert seems to have persuaded Max Stephenson to add him to the crew, along with flight engineer John Kinnear.
The crew’s first operational posting was to 9 Squadron. After a short time, they were moved on to 57 Squadron at Scampton. However, Max Stephenson was then killed, on an operation with another crew, and they were allocated to Bill Astell, an experienced pilot embarking on a second tour of duty.Their first operation was against the French port of Lorient on 13 February 1943. They undertook a number of operations in the next few weeks.
Astell’s crew had been allocated to 57 Squadron’s C Flight, under Flight Commander Melvin “Dinghy” Young. On 25 March, news came through that the entire Flight was to be transferred to a new squadron, under the command of Guy Gibson.
Known as a gregarious and high-spirited character, Albert was responsible for chalking an inscription on the mine carried by AJ-B on the Dams Raid “Never has so much been expected of so few”, as well as another near its door saying “officer entrance only”.
However, luck wasn’t on their side that night. On the way to the Mohne Dam, near Marbeck, AJ-B encountered flak then hit a pylon and crashed in a farmer’s field, killing the crew. They were initially buried in the City Cemetery in Borken, and subsequently reinterred in 1948 in the Reichswald Forest Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.
A prolific letter-writer, Albert wrote many letters and sent numerous pictures to family members, telling them about life in England and what was permissible under censorship rules about his duties. Albert’s nephew Hartley Garshowitz has used this correspondence to build a picture of Albert’s life, and I am grateful for his help with this article.
More about Garshowitz online:
Commonwealth War Grave Commission entry
Garshowitz family tree website
Article by Paul Morley on CBC Hamilton site
Aircrew Remembered webpage 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