Wednesday, 10 November 2010

A Hero's Salute

A piece for Yarm Writers tomorrow 11th November, altered to include the photos.

Guests arriving at the St George Hotel cannot miss the larger-than-life bronze statue of an airman in WWII flying gear, standing at attention and holding a salute. If they check the memorial garden in front of the hotel, the wartime Officers’ Mess at Middleton-St-George, they will see a tribute to the Royal Canadian Air Force.

In 1944 Andrew Mynarski and Pat Brophy were members of the crew of a Lancaster bomber in the RCAF’s 419 “Moose” Squadron. Although Brophy was an officer the two became friends. Andrew would say. “Goodnight, sir,” and salute Brophy in a teasing way. Shortly before their 13th mission Andrew gave Pat Brophy a four-leaf clover for good luck.
On 11 June 1944 Mynarski was promoted to pilot officer. The next day the two friends left on that 13th mission on a bombing raid over the railway marshalling yards in Cambrai, France. Mynarski occupied the middle gun turret on top of the bomber’s fuselage, Brophy the tail-gun turret.
Later Brophy recalled that it was 12.13am on 13th June on his watch when the Lancaster was hit by cannon fire from a German fighter. With two engines on fire the captain ordered everyone to bail out. Brophy was trapped in the rear gun turret with the back of the plane in flames.
Mynarski, at the hatch ready to jump, saw that Brophy was trapped. By the time he had crawled to reach his friend, Mynarski’s clothes and parachute were alight. Mynarski’s efforts with an axe and his bare hands failed to release the rear gunner.
Brophy screamed at Mynarski to give up and to save himself. As Mynarski crawled back towards the hatch he never took his eyes off his friend. At the hatch he came to attention and saluted. Brophy knew that what Mynarski said before he jumped was, “Good night, sir.”
Andrew Mynarski died from his burns shortly after being found by French farmers. Incredibly Brophy, thrown out of the plane when it crashed, survived without a scratch – the four leaf clover still nestled in his flyer’s hat.
On 11th October 1946, four days before what would have been his 29th birthday, Mynarski was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth’s highest honour for valour.
Andrew Mynarski is buried at Meharicourt Communal Cemetery near Cambrai, France. The bronze statue of him at the salute was dedicated in 2005 at the former RAF Middleton St George, 60 years after he lost his life. Fittingly it was Pat Brophy’s daughter who unveiled the memorial.
Mynarski was just one of the 55753 men of RAF Bomber Command who lost their lives in WWII and one of the twenty-three awarded the VC among who are the perhaps better known Leonard Cheshire and Guy Gibson.
Sixty-five years on from the end of the war there still is no memorial to those in Bomber Command who lost their lives. The memorial fund has not reached the £5.5m target required for its erection in London’s Green Park.
“The Few” have their national memorial on the white cliffs of Dover at Capel-le-Ferne. The Green Park memorial is in danger of being delayed until after the Olympics in 2012. What a shame it will be if there are no veterans left to honour their comrades when it is eventually erected. We should not forget what Churchill said at the time, “The fighters are our salvation, but the bombers alone provide the means of victory.”


Bob Scotney said...

What a coincidence: This evening I was idly switching TV channels when I came to a programme called Victoria Cross Heroes introduced by Prince Charles. The first VC holder to have his story told was Andrew Mynarskl - the subject of A Hero's Salute.

Jo said...

I guess we should do more to draw attention to these guys. Maybe the flight of a Lancaster dropping poppies will help. Interesting post Bob, didn't know anything about it before.