Harold Garland: One of Canada's Great Escapees dies at 91
By Don Butler, Ottawa Citizen December 21, 2009 5:16 PM
OTTAWA — Harold Garland's life proves those stereotype-busting TV commercials that depict chartered accountants as men and women of action are no exaggeration.
A pioneer in the accounting field, he rose to become Canada's assistant deputy minister of revenue and president of the Certified General Accountants' Ontario Association.
Last year, he was named one of Canada's 100 top certified general accountants of the past 100 years.
He was skilled with a hammer or wrench, and built his family's first home, a solid brick house in Thornhill, Ont., with his own hands.
But the most fascinating entry on his resume was his involvement as a Second World War prisoner of war in the mass breakout later immortalized by the Hollywood film The Great Escape.
Though Garland, who died last week of cancer at age 91, wasn't among the escapees, he helped to make it happen.
"As a kid, I used to tell my friends my dad was Steve McQueen in the movie," says his daughter, Ann. "My dad was my hero. He was Steve McQueen, and still is."
Harold Ernest Garland was born in 1918 in Toronto. An excellent student, he accelerated through elementary grades, graduating from high school at the top of his class at 16.
The Depression derailed plans for university. He worked as a bookkeeper before enlisting in the Air Force in 1939 after the outbreak of the Second World War.
After training, he was given the rank of flight lieutenant at the tender age of 23 and assigned to the Royal Canadian Air Force's 425 Squadron as a navigator on Wellington bombers.
On a mission to Stuttgart in 1943, his plane was hit by ground fire and crash-landed in a swamp in France. Garland was captured and sent to Stalag-Luft 3 near Sagan, about 100 kilometres southeast of Berlin.
The camp, reserved for Allied Air Force officers, was designed to be escape proof. Huts were raised about two feet above ground so guards could crawl underneath to check for tunnels.
That didn't deter the prisoners, who dug three tunnels — code-named Tom, Dick and Harry — concealing their entrances in concrete plinths that held each hut's stove, night toilet and washroom.
Altogether, about 800 POWs were involved in the escape organization, including between 150 and 200 Canadians. The objective was to liberate 200 PoWs.
Garland was one of hundreds of "penguins," whose job it was to surreptitiously disperse the tonnes of sand excavated by the tunnellers.
It was no small task. Every metre of tunnelling produced about a tonne of sand. According to one estimate, the penguins moved about 230 tonnes of sand in all.
Their method was to fill two sausage-shaped bags, concealed within their pants, with sand. They'd then release their cargo into gardens being cultivated by other POWs.
It's estimated the penguins made 18,000 trips in this manner, disposing of up to 30 kilograms of sand a minute at peak times.
"The penguins were remarkably successful in getting the job done without arousing suspicion," says Jonathan Vance, a history professor at the University of Western Ontario who has written a book about the Great Escape. "They were watched all the time. It only took one single slip by one of the penguins to bring the roof down on everything."
After German guards discovered one of the tunnels, the POWs concentrated on completing Harry. By March 1944, it extended 102 metres from its entrance in Hut 104 to its exit outside the camp fence, about six metres short of the forest cover.
The escape attempt took place on March 24, 1944, a moonless night. Those who spoke German or held key roles in the escape organization were first in line. After that, the POWs drew lots to determine their position in the queue. Garland drew number 125.
Before Garland's turn came up, a German guard caught one of the PoWs exiting the tunnel, bringing the exodus to an end.
By then, though, 76 PoWs had made it through the tunnel and into the woods. All but three were quickly captured, and 50 were executed on the order of Adolf Hitler.
Nevertheless, Vance considers the escape to have been "an enormous success. If you look at the impact it has on the German high command and police, it shakes the Nazi state to its core."
It also forced the Nazis to divert 60,000 to 70,000 troops to anti-escape operations, he says. "I think it was a much bigger success than anyone could have predicted."
At Revenue Canada, Garland worked closely with politicians such as Pierre Trudeau, Jean Chretien, John Turner and Joe Clark. Trudeau once described one of his projects as "the work of a genius," according to Sean Garland, his grandson.
One of his accomplishments at Revenue was designing the country's first capital-gains tax — an achievement even his children view with mixed emotions.
© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service
Thank you Sir, may you rest in peace.
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12-21-2009, 08:26 PM #1
- Join Date
- Mar 2002
- Loco madidus effercio in rutilus effercio.
My Dad Was Steve McQueen or A Penguin
12-22-2009, 12:33 AM #2
- Join Date
- Dec 2009
Wow. It's always a surprise to find a story about this WWII escape. It's very difficult for me to find anyone familiar with the operation; many times, I have to remind the person about the movie to get a response from them. Those old timers were hell, both in warfare, and as prisoners of war. These escapees contribution to inhibiting the Nazi war effort was tremendous. It's difficult to imagine the tens of thousands of staffing and other resources the Nazi's devoted to recovering less than 100 escapees.
Wherever this guys at, I'm sure he's giving someone hell if they deserve it.
12-27-2009, 08:22 PM #3
It is the responsibility of every American service member to resist being captured and to resist their captors as long as possible. Every now and then one of these stories makes it to the light. Unfortunately there are way to many that will never be known.
I'm really bad with names but I can remember the circumstances. In 03 when the maintenance company was captured in Iraq the only person you heard about was Jessica Lynch. Little was mentioned of the other POW's. I recall reading about one that sang "Courtesy Of The Red White And Blue" at the top of his lungs to draw the guards attention away from his fellow soldiers. He took the beatings so they wouldn't have to.
I believe it was Sen McCain recalling one of his fellow POW's creating and sewing an American flag into his shirt that they used for inspiration. When it was found the guards beat him terribly. As soon as he got back to his cell, barely able to see or move he started on another one.
To be honest, the reason I voted for Sen McCain for President was very simple to me. I voted because of what he did over three decades ago. Because of his fathers position as an Admiral commanding the Navy in Viet Nam he was offered early release. POW's are to be released in the order they were captured and it wasn't his turn and he refused the special treatment after already being held for years. He understood that he may die there but he made his decision because he knew it was right, and he would pay dearly if he refused. I'm not sure if you file that under integrity, heroism, stupidity or cajones. If you can do the right thing in those circumstances you are the person I want leading our country.
If you bothered sitting down and getting to know military veterans that served during war you may hear some incredible stories. Many will say they were simply doing their job. I doubt I will ever measure up to the bar established by those that have gone before me but I will always respect them for what they have done.Train like you want to fight.
12-29-2009, 04:07 PM #4
- Join Date
- Mar 2004
- Memphis Tn,USA-now
I'm sure that there MIGHT be a few people serving who would give up where their Grandma hides her money if they thought it would get thenm out of an interrogation session,but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and figure that they won't.
The military is full of people who just see the blood,sweat and tears that they shed as part of the job they they signed on for.
They're going through firefights,long hours with short rest,mediocre food and more stress than any protester has ever faced so that we can go about our lives.They learned it from their fathers and grandfathers who endured worse even before the wars of their generations started.
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