Andrew Mynarski

They said there would be no ceremony this year, but that didn’t prevent a few from gathering around the cenotaph.  In lieu of a ceremony there was one Mountie to provide the salute, and four decorated veterans, one stepping into the role of speaker.  Our pilots, however, came through as if nothing was unusual this year.  Twice they circled through the silver skies, leaving trails of smoke like gauzy banners. I always appreciate the aerial demonstration.  It reminds me of one the great WWII stories…

It was the dead of night, June 12 1944.  High above the fields of France a Lancaster, one of the famous ‘Moose Squadron’, steadily approaches the target.  But the mission will never be completed.  Flying Officer George Brophy, the rear gunner, sends an intercom message to the pilot.  He’s spotted a German plane.  No sooner does the pilot begin evasive maneuvers when cannon shells rock the plane, destroying the turret hydraulic system and the two port engines.  The entire tail is ablaze like a comet.  The pilot does what he can with the doomed Lancaster, and orders the crew to bail out.  Pilot Officer Andrew Mynarski, however, turns back.  He fights his way into the flaming tail of the plane, where Brophy, his closest friend, is trapped.  The rear turrets are jammed and the handle broken off in his hands.  Mynarski, having no tools, tears at the immovable turrets with his bare hands.  He keeps at, even though his uniform is in flames, even though Brophy desperately waves him away. “Get going, you’re on fire and can’t help me anyway!”  Finally, reluctantly, Mynarski releases his hold.  But he pauses at the hatch. Looking back at Brophy, Mynarski stands to attention and salutes.  Then he dives.  But it is already too late for him.  French citizens notice the flaming figure, standing out brightly against the night sky.  P.O. Mynarksi dies from the burns five minutes after landing.  Meanwhile, Brophy can only stay crouched in his prison, waiting for impact.  The Lancaster hits the ground, bouncing, breaking apart, bombs scattering and exploding.  Somewhere amid the chaos, Brophy is thrown free.  Amazingly, he survives and is picked up by the French resistance. 

Andrew Mynarski was posthumously awarded for the Victoria Cross, the highest award for valour in the British Empire.  I remember being touched by the story when I first heard it in high school, mainly through this clip here: Andrew Mynarski | Historica Canada  But more can be found here:  419 Squadron RCAF 1941 to 1945 Andrew Mynarski

Lest We Forget

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