16 Canadians were awarded the Victoria Cross during World War II. I wanted to share the great story of P.O. Andrew Charles Mynarski.
Pilot Officer Mynarski was the mid-upper gunner of a Lancaster aircraft, detailed to attack a target at Cambrai in France, on the night of 12th June 1944. It would be the crew’s 13th sortie. They would be over the target on Friday the thirteenth. While waiting to go, the crew couldn’t help but think of these omens. Andy found a four leaf clover in the grass by the planes. He insisted that his closest buddy in the crew, tail gunner Pat Brophy, should take it.
Shortly after crossing the French coast, the Lancaster was briefly coned by enemy searchlights. After some evasive maneuvers, they were in the safety of darkness again. They began descending to the level of their planned attack when a Ju88 came in from astern. Its cannons blazed from below. Three explosions tore the aircraft. Both port engines were knocked out and began to flame. Hydraulic lines to the rear turret were severed and the fluid ignited, turning the rear of the fuselage into an inferno. The captain, Art de Bryne gave the order to bail out.
Mynarski left his post at the mid upper turret and began to make his way to the rear escape door. Through the fierce flames, he could see his friend Pat Brophy, desperately trying to escape from the immobilized rear turret. Pat was trapped. The turret had jammed in a position where the doors to escape didn’t line up and, in his frantic attempts to free himself, he had broken the manual back-up system as well. By now, all of the other crew members had made their escapes from the stricken aircraft.
In complete disregard for his own safety, Andrew crawled through the flames to assist his fellow gunner. Not noticing that his own flight suit and parachute had caught fire, he fought heroically to free the turret, but all his efforts were in vain. Brophy signaled that there was nothing more he could do and that he should bail out and save himself. Reluctantly, Mynarski complied. Backing through the flames to the escape hatch, he stood up and, before jumping, he saluted his doomed comrade.
French witnesses saw him plunge earthward in flames but when they found him, he was so severely burned that he died within hours.
Ironically, Pat Brophy survived, unhurt. When the Lancaster crashed at a shallow angle, two of its twenty bombs immediately exploded, throwing the tail gunner clear. His watch stopped at 2:13 a.m., Friday, June 13, 1944.
Posthumously, with the rank of Pilot Officer, Andrew Charles Mynarski was awarded the Victoria Cross, the British Commonwealth’s highest award for bravery.