Landings of Foreign aircraft at Gormanstown airfield,
1939-1945, County Meath
The aerodrome at Gormanstown was the location of seven unannounced arrivals by aircraft of the belligerent nations during the Second World War. All bar one of the aircraft was able to leave under its own power. Just one of those aircraft was German.
The first such landing took place on the afternoon of December 21st, 1941 when a Vickers Wellington bomber, being flown by a solo pilot, landed. An aircraft had been reported flying off the east coast by the Irish Coast Watching Service over the preceding half hour or so. The landing was at 16:39. The pilot reported that he was ferrying the aircraft from Hawarden in Cheshire to Aldergrove in Northern Ireland. He had become lost and had landed already at Ballyhalbert in Northern Ireland but had gotten lost again. He was accommodated overnight having been interviewed at Portobello Barracks in Dublin. During this time his circumstances were taken note of, that he wore a uniform with shoulder straps carrying the letters USA while his cap bore the letters ATA. The man gave his name as Leslie Lee Garlow and it was soon determined that he was actually a civilian pilot. It was for this reason that the Irish Government allowed him to depart without being interned. The aircraft was refueled and took off at 13:05 next day. An Irish officer, Lt. D. K. Johnston, was sent to Aldergrove with him to assist in navigation.
Major General P A Mulcahy, Officer Commanding the Irish Air Corps, in a report dated the 22nd December 1941, identified the aircraft as being a Wellington type bomber carrying the number Z.145 on the fuselage.
The pilot of the aircraft was indeed a civilian pilot, a member of the ATA, the Air Transport Auxiliary, a body of civilian pilots recruited by the British Air Ministry and used for the ferrying of aircraft from the factories to front line stations. The men and women regularly flew alone and without the benefit of navigation aids and radios.
Lee Leslie Garlow was a
33 year old man from Grand Rapids, Michigan, the adopted son of
Martha and Leonard Lee Garlow. His ATA service file is held in
the RAF museum and was kindly shared by Terry Mace from the ATA
Stuart Updike’s diary is in the Maidenhead Heritage Center. He was, like Lee, an ATA pilot. In it he mentions Garlow as he had sailed from Canada with him.
Updike's diary starts in Canada, where recruits were given flight tests, and the entry for 30 May 1941 states "Should have gone to England today, bad weather, probably tomorrow. Have met a bunch of boys going with me (approx.18 from States)."
They arrived in Scotland, took a night sleeper to London on 8 June, then went to White Waltham for induction and training.
Updike's diary entry for December 27th reads "3 more boys killed - Lee Garlow, Texan"
Similarly, the book “We flew without guns” by mentions Garlow, as described by an ATA colleague, Joseph Gen Genovese: Lee Garlow had been a lot like Fulton when I first knew him; completely carefree , liking the danger of his job, and in every minute of his spare time looking for a gang to drink with or a girl to kiss. He had brought the playboy spirit with him from the States, where he had been a rich man's son, a sportsman flier, and even at one time a Hollywood actor. He was a handsome boy, six feet tall, broad-shouldered and straight, with curly black hair, a trim moustache and the manner of Ronald Colman at his best. But Lee had changed after flying with the ATA for a few months. He was more serious and he seemed to take a sincere pride in the work he was doing. He told me once that flying for England was the first real job he had ever had and the first honest responsibility he had ever felt.
The above mention of him being an actor is borne out by some newspaper articles and gossip column’s of the prewar period and one from the summer of 1942. So far, only a minimum of newspaper articles have been found relating to Lee Garlow and the only movie role attributed to him so far identified is that of an extra in the 1938 musical, “Start Cheering”. His family is traced through the 1910, 1920 and 1930 US census records. In 1910 and 1920 he is enumerated as Leonard Garlow Jr, adopted son. He is not found living at home in the 1930 census, he is at that time living in Kalamazoo, Michigan, working as a buyer in a shoe store. The 1928 year book for the South High School, Grand Rapids contains a photo of the football team, one member of which is a Leonard Garlow. The 1940 census of the United States finally finds a Leonard L Garlow, aged 31, from Michigan, resident in the Tuscany Hotel, New York. He lists no occupation. As is known from the Stuart Updike diary, Garlow sailed from Canada with other ATA candidates in 1941.
Garlow’s ATA service file held in the RAF museum in Hendon records his British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) contract being signed on the 8th August 1941, with Lee resident at the Hotel Pierre, New York. In that file it is highlighted that he had been a pilot since 1930, described as having a XXXX license. He recorded that he owned a Spartan Executive aircraft type.
Gen Genovese, in his book, tells a story that Lee had instigated arranging for a group of the ATA pilots to make a visit to Dublin for New Years celebrations. His book was first published in 1945. In it he wrote: “During his few months over there he became one of the best ferry pilots we had. "For almost two months I've been living like a Boy Scout, Gen," Lee said that day at White Waltham, "and I'm planning to keep it up. But I'm going to cut loose once —just once— and that'll be New Year's Eve. Ninteen hundred and forty-two is going to mean a lot to me. It will be my first year as-well, as a man. Up till a couple of months ago I was never anything but a kid. Pockets lined with easy dough, a belly full of booze half the time— and I thought I was living— high, wide and handsome. Hell! I didn't know what it was all about. ." I didn't feel philosophical, and I laughed. "Well," I said, "it's nice to know you've found the answer. But getting back to New Year's Eve— if you're figuring on celebrating in Carlisle I think you'll be disappointed. Why don't you try to get to London? You know all the spots there—" "I know them all and I'm sick of them," Lee said.”
“What I had in mind was that I’d be stationed at Kirk-bride through the holidays and it would be easy to get to Dublin from there. I'd like to see Dublin and the way the turkeys hail the New Year . . ." That was how it started— with Lee Garlow wanting to put a highlight on the new life he was living, wanting to put on a show for 1942, the year that was going to be a really big and meaningful one for him.”
As mentioned above in the Updike diary, Garlow’s luck in landing in Ireland on the 21st ran out just five days later when he was flying Lockheed Hudson AE489. The aircraft crashed on Glenouther Moor, a short distance from Stewarton in East Ayrshire, on the East Coast of Scotland. The aircraft flew into the ground killing Lee Garlow and co-pilot David Aaron Marks from Middlesex. Some parts from the aircraft were receovered and today are on display in the Dumfries and Galloways Aviation Museum. http://www.dumfriesaviationmuseum.com/
Lee’s remain were buried first at the Monkton and Prestwick Cemetery in the immediate aftermath of the crash. His remains were removed from there to the Cambridge American Cemetery probably in the 1947
In the aftermath of his death a strange cycle of claims were made by those claiming to be his next of kin. He had designated one Mrs Spencer Kennelly from Los Angeles as his next of kin and referred to her as his Aunt. Attorney’s acting on the behalf of his adoptive mother, Martha Garlow were soon also in contact with the American Authorities with regard to his estate. In these correspondences he is referred to as Leonard Lee Garlow. It was revealed in February 1942 by Mrs Kennelly that she was not a living relative but that Lee had lived with her and her late husband in California during his time living there before the war and that they came to see him as ‘her son’ as they had never had children of their own. The impression is given that she also thought he had no other family and had provided documents to show that the Garlow’s had never adopted Lee. It was further complicated later in 1942 when the attorneys from Grand Rapids were also representing Lee’s birth mother, Elizabeth Squires, Nee Baker. The situation was finally settled in early 1946 in a case that has since become case law, GARLOW'S ESTATE v. SQUIRES, that due to the Garlow’s having never officially adopted Lee in a legal sense, the now widowed Martha was not entitled to Lee’s estate. In the event, the three ladies, Kennelly, Squires and Martha Garlow received and had the estate distributed among them.
And so the mysterious solo pilot of the Wellington bomber lies at rest among his country men.
It would be the 12th March 1944 before the next foreign aircraft is recorded arriving at the field. This came in the guise of a Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Seafire, the aircraft carrier based version of the famous Spitfire. The aircraft as flown by a Sub-Lt A J Thomson and he reported to the Irish military officers that he had been engaged on a search mission for a missing American aircraft. The aircraft was topped up with Aviation spirit and allowed to depart that same day. The pilot, Andrew John Thomson was a decorated Fleet Air Arm pilot who would go on to serve in the Korean war.
The aircraft carried the serial number LR841 and had an unremarkable service career it seems. It was serving with 887 Squadron at the time of the landing at Gormanstown and later in 1945 was moved to second line training squadrons, 761 and 768. It was with 768 Squadron on 13 Jun 1945 that LR841 was lost when it went over the side of a carrier and was lost, happily the pilot was recovered safely.
A few weeks later on the 5th May 1944 an American Lockheed P-38
Lightning was deliberately force landed on the runway at
Gormanstown after getting into difficulties. Various
observations of over flying aircraft were made by Coast Watching
Service Look Out Posts, Military and Garda during the day.
The daily logs of sightings includes one entry from Counties
Monaghan & Meath, Cavan, Dublin and Louth: GDA.
INNISKEEN, VIRGINIA, KELLS, obsd. 2 American a/c mov. S.
overland subsequently Mil. BRACKENSTOWN. CARDYS ROCKS
obsd. these a/c. mov. N.E. overland. These a/c. were
obsd. circling over GORMANSTOWN CAMP by MIL. who reported one
as mov. N.
This aircraft made a belly landing, flying from Maghaberry, NI
at 18:30 hours. It was as seen accompanied by another aircraft
which flew on when this aircraft crashlanded. The pilot was
evacuated over border next day. The damaged aircraft was
salvaged and sent over the border on 10 May 1944.
The USAAF file contains very little information other than a copy of a telegram dated May 6th 1944 sent by the American Military Attache in Dublin to the War Department stating simply:
At 1830 GMT May 5 P-38 no. 42-66638 force-landed out of gasoline Gormanstown County Meath without injury to pilot 1st Lt Russell E. Hodge O-684867.
Plane badly damaged pilot evacuated this date.
Russell Hodge was
a veteran B-17 bomber co-pilot who had completed his tour of
duty with the 388th Bomb Group. His Grand son was kind enough to
provide a copy of Russel's May 1944 indivdual flight record.
This shows that he had transferred from the 560th Bomb Squadron
in Mach 18944 to the 312th Ferrying Squadron of the 27th Air
Born in Neilsville, Wisconsin in Nov 1917, he was the son of
Alex and Florence Hodge. He studied at the University of
Wisconsin and was mentioned by them during the war in their
lists of serving alumni. and passed away in 1991.
Compiled by Dennis Burke, 2021, Dublin and Sligo.