Wednesday November 11, 2020 Smile for the Day: Remembrance Day

The federal department of Veterans Affairs Canada states that today, Remembrance Day, is of “remembrance for the men and women who have served, and continue to serve our country during times of war, conflict and peace”; particularly the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, and all conflicts since then in which members of the Canadian Armed Forces have participated. (Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

Growing up in Winnipeg, I attended Andrew Mynarski Junior High.  Here is Andrew’s story:

Andrew Charles “Andy” Mynarski, VC (14 October 1916 – 13 June 1944) was a Canadian airman and a recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for bravery in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. Mynarski was 27 years old and flew with No. 419 “Moose” Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War when he died attempting to help rescue a trapped crew member. His Victoria Cross was awarded in 1946, the last such award to a Canadian airman in the Second World War.

In January 1942, after a series of transfers through operational training units, as a warrant officer (second class), he joined Flying Officer Art de Breyne’s crew as the mid-upper gunner in No. 419 “Moose” Squadron, based at RAF Middleton St. George, Darlington, County Durham.

In early June, 1944, de Bryne’s crew received Canadian-built Avro Lancaster Mk X bomber, #KB726.

In the aftermath of D-Day attacks on 12 June 1944, Mynarski was aboard KB726, taking part in the crew’s 13th operation, a raid on northern France. They reached their target at midnight, Tuesday, June 13. After encountering flak over the coastline and briefly being “coned” by searchlights, the Lancaster was attacked by a Junkers Ju 88 enemy night fighter over Cambrai, France. Raked by cannon fire with major strikes on the port engines and centre fuselage, a hydraulic fire engulfed the bomber. Losing both port engines, de Breyne ordered the crew to bail out. As Mynarski approached the rear escape door, he saw through the inferno in the rear, that tail gunner Pilot Officer Pat Brophy was trapped in his turret. The tail turret had been jammed part way through its rotation to the escape position.

Without hesitation, Mynarski made his way through the flames to Brophy’s assistance. All his efforts were in vain, initially using a fire axe to try to pry open the doors before finally resorting to beating at the turret with his hands. With Mynarski’s flight suit and parachute on fire, Brophy eventually waved him away. Mynarski crawled back through the hydraulic fire, returned to the rear door where he paused and saluted. He then reputedly said “Good night, sir,” his familiar nightly sign-off to his friend, and jumped.

Except for Brophy, all crew members of the Lancaster managed to escape the burning bomber. Five left through the front escape hatch on the floor of the cockpit. When bomb aimer Jack Friday, tried to release the escape hatch cover in the aircraft’s nose, the rushing wind ripped it from his hands. The hatch cover caught him above his left eye and knocked him out. He fell into the open hatch and jammed it closed until Flight engineer Roy Vigars reached him to quickly clip on Friday’s parachute and toss him out the hatch while pulling the unconscious crewman’s rip cord. Only Mynarski managed to leave via the rear escape door.

Mynarski’s descent was rapid due to the burnt parachute and shroud lines, resulting in a heavy impact on landing. He landed alive though severely burned, with his clothes still on fire. French farmers who spotted the flaming bomber found him and took him to a German field hospital but he died shortly afterwards of severe burns. He was buried in a local cemetery. Brophy remained trapped in the bomber and remained with the bomber when it crashed in a farm field. As the bomber disintegrated, and began breaking apart, Brophy survived the crash and the subsequent detonation of the bomb load. Still lodged in his turret, the crash broke the turret open with him pitched out, striking a tree and being temporarily knocked out.

Four of the crew members: Brophy, navigator Robert Bodie, radio operator James Kelly and pilot de Breyne were hidden by the French and, except for Brophy, returned to England shortly after the crash. Vigars remained with the unconscious Friday and both were captured by the Germans, being interned until liberated by American troops. Brophy joined French Resistance fighters and, after joining a resistance unit to continue the fight on the ground behind enemy lines, returned to London in September 1944, where he learned of Mynarski’s death. It was not until 1945 when Brophy was reunited with the rest of the crew that the details of his final moments on the aircraft were revealed. He related the story of the valiant efforts made by Mynarski to save him.

Mynarski lies buried in Grave 20 of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission plot in the Méharicourt Communal Cemetery, near Amiens, France.

In late 1945, de Breyne started the process of gaining recognition for Mynarski’s extraordinary deed by recommending an award and enquiring about the location of his grave. Although facing some initial resistance, the recommendation worked its way up the command structure of the RCAF and RAF. On 11 October 1946, a Victoria Cross was posthumously awarded for “valour of the highest order” to Andrew Charles Mynarski, by then also awarded the rank of pilot officer. (Wikipedia)

Second, a Song:

No Remembrance Day would be complete without a Last Post, Moment of Silent and the Rouse.  Here is a version performed by the Governor General’s Foot Guards.


Thought for the Day:

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place, and in the sky, The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard among the guns below.” –  John McCrae

Have a great day!

© 2020 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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