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About A Week: VC

Peter Hinchliffe tells the story of Andrew Mynarski, a gallant Canadian airman who was awarded the Victoria Cross.

For more than a year I worked alongside the bravest of the brave.

I was a Leading Aircraftsman, clerking in the control tower at No 3 Flying Training School, RAF Middleton St George near Darlington. This was nine years after the end of World War Two.

A number of the career officers teaching youngsters how to fly jet fighters had served as aircrew during the war. A select few of these had the ribbons of medals awarded for gallantry stitched to their blue uniforms.

I was a national serviceman. In for two years, keep my head down and my nose clean, then resume normal life. As a 19-year-old I wasn’t the least bit interested in military history. Not until many years later did I realise that Middleton was a special place, and that a very special man had been stationed there.

Middleton was the base for two Canadian bomber squadrons during the war, 428 (Ghost) and 419 (Moose). Flying Wellingtons, Halifaxes and Lancasters they dropped 20,000 tons of bombs over Germany.

They lost 200 planes and more than 1,000 men died in action. One of them was Pilot Officer Andrew Mynarski, a tail gunner from Winnipeg.

On the evening of June 12, 1944, Andrew and his friend and fellow gunner Pat Brophy were trying to relax before a bombing raid on Cambrai in northern France.

They found it difficult to overcome superstitious fears. This would be their 13th mission, flown on the 13th of the month.

At 12 am on June 13 their Lancaster, A for Abel, crossed the coastline of France. The crew were keeping sharp lookout for anti-aircraft artillery. Their plane was soon pinpointed by searchlights.

The pilot tried to break away from the spotlights. Brophy spotted a German Junkers following them. It opened fire. As Brophy and Mynarski swivelled their guns to take aim their craft was hit. Brophy remembers checking his watch. It was 13 minutes past midnight.

A wing fuel tank ignited, knocking out two of the Lancaster’s engines. Fire swept through the plane. The pilot gave the order to bail out.

Mynarski was about to jump from the rear hatch when he saw Brophy struggling to get out of his gun turret. Mynarski crawled back through flames, his hair and clothing burning, to try and free his pal.

He struggled in vain to release Brophy’s jammed turret. Brophy ordered him to get out while he still could. Mynarski fought his way back through a wall of fire, turned to salute his friend, then jumped. His clothing blazed as he fell. He survived the jump but died within hours from his burns.

The Lancaster crashed. Amazingly the jammed turret was thrown clear of the wreckage. Brophy emerged with only minor injuries.

Years later he said “I believe divine providence saved me so that the world might know of a gallant man who laid down his life for his friend.’’

Pilot Officer Mynarski was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

I will never forget Andrew Mynarski’s bravery, a gallant man who gave his life so that I have been able to live my life in peace.

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