Andrew Charles “Andy” Mynarski VC was born at Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1916. After serving briefly with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1941. In 1944 he was assigned to No. 419 Squadron RCAF that was based at Middleton-St. George where he completed twelve operational flights as a mid-upper gunner and was promoted to Pilot Officer on June 11.
The following night he was sent off on his thirteenth operation in a Lancaster Bomber (KB726). The target was the railway marshalling yards at Cambrai, France. After being coned and successfully evading the searchlights, the aircraft was attacked by a JU-88 nightfighter. The two port engines were knocked out and the aircraft set on fire. Pilot Art de Breyne (a lifetime member of the Nanton Lancaster Society) ordered his crew to abandon the aircraft. After allowing time for the crew to escape, De Breyne parachuted from an altitude of about 800 feet.
Unknown to Art, the rear gunner, Pat Brophy, was trapped in his turret. What then occurred in the rear fuselage is best told in the rear gunner’s own words:
“Then I saw him (Mynarski). Andy had slid down from the mid-upper turret and made his way back to the rear escape hatch, about fifteen feet from me. . . He opened the door and was about to jump when he glanced around and spotted me through the plexiglass part of my turret. One look told him I was trapped.
“Instantly, he turned away from the hatch -his doorway to safety -and started towards me. All this time the aircraft was lurching drunkenly as Art tried to keep it on an even keel without instruments. Andy had to climb over the Elsan chemical toilet and crawl over the tailplane spar, as there is no room in that part of the fuselage. These cramped conditions forced him to crawl on his hands and knees -straight through the blazing hydraulic oil. By the time he reached my position in the tail, his uniform and parachute were on fire. I shook my head; it was hopeless. ‘Don’t try, I shouted, and waved him away.’
“Andy didn’t seem to notice. Completely ignoring his own condition in the flames, he grabbed a fire axe and tried to smash the turret free. It gave slightly, but not enough. Wild with desperation and pain, he tore at the doors with his bare hands -to no avail. By now he was a mass of flames below his waist. Seeing him like that, I forgot everything else. Over the roar of the wind and the whine of our two remaining engines, I screamed, ‘Go back, Andy! Get out!’
“Finally, with time running out, he realized that he could do nothing to help me. When I waved him away again, he hung his head and nodded, as though he was ashamed to leave -ashamed that sheer heart and courage hadn’t been enough. As there was no way to turn around in the confined quarters, Andy had to crawl backwards through the flaming hydraulic fluid fire again, never taking his eyes off me. On his face was a look of mute anguish.
“When Andy reached the escape hatch, he stood up. Slowly, as he’d often done before in happier times together, he came to attention. Standing there in his flaming clothes, a grimly magnificent figure, he saluted me! At the same time, just before he jumped, he said something. And even though I couldn’t hear, I knew it was ‘Good night, Sir.'”
Left alone in the rear turret, somehow Pat Brophy survived when the Lancaster crashed. Mynarski’s descent was seen by the French people on the ground. Both his parachute and clothes were on fire. He was located but was so severely burned that he died of his injuries. The remainder of the crew survived, four successfully evading capture and two others becoming Prisoners of War. At war’s end the story of Andy Mynarski was told and a posthumous Victoria Cross awarded. Later, Pat Brophy said, “I’ll always believe that a divine providence intervened to save me because of what I had seen, so that the world might know of a gallant man who laid down his life for a friend.”
The “Andrew Mynarsk Memorial Lancaster” was restored to flying condition by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, Ontario. The Nanton Lancaster Society is pleased to have assisted by supplying aircraft parts for the restoration.
[ courtesy “Mynarski’s Lanc” by Bette Page ]