In 1941, Winnipeg’s Andrew Mynarski enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He trained at the British Commonwealth Air Training bases at Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta, and MacDonald, Manitoba and graduated in 1942 as a mid-upper air-gunner.
He went overseas in December 1942 and was eventually posted to 419 (Moose) Squadron to fly as a mid-upper gunner on Lancaster’s from Middleton St. George.
Mynarski was part of a Lancaster crew that took off on the night of June 12, 1944 for their target destination: the rail marshalling yard at Cambrai, France. They were nervous because of the omens surrounding the number 13 – this would be their 13th mission and they would be over the target on June 13th.
Their Lancaster was attacked and hit by an enemy fighter. The incoming bullets crippled the port engines and ignited an extensive fuel and hydraulic oil fire. The captain ordered the crew to bail out. Mynarski saw his buddy, Pat Brophy, still in the rear turret and used a fire axe and bare hands in a vain attempt to free the trapped tail gunner.
With parachute and clothing aflame, Mynarski finally realized there was nothing he could do. Before jumping, Mynarski saluted Brophy in a final gesture. He made it to the ground alive, but was so badly injured he died within hours.
Brophy somehow survived the descent to the ground still trapped in the rear gun turret and was blown away from the wreckage on impact. Brophy was hidden by French civilians and ultimately made it back to London in September where he learned of Mynarski’s death. It was not until 1945 when Brophy reunited with the rest of the crew, that the details of his final moments on the aircraft were revealed.
John W. Friday
John W. Friday was the bombardier on the ill-fated 13th mission. It is something of a miracle that John Friday survived the crash. When the order to bail out was given, he was injured by releasing the front escape hatch in the aircraft’s nose; in-rushing wind whipped into his face, struck him on the forehead and knocked him unconscious. Other crew pushed Friday’s limp body through the hatch, pulling the parachute rip cord. Friday landed alive and was found by French civilians who turned him over to German authorities because they could not treat his injuries. Friday spent the remainder of the war in a prison camp.
Friday was one of two crewmen captured and interned by the Germans. Four others were hidden by French civilians and found their way back to England some weeks later.
Mynarski was the only fatality. He is buried in Méharicourt Cemetery, Méharicourt, France, a village 32 kilometres east-south-east of Amiens.
Victoria Cross Awarded Posthumously
Pilot Officer Mynarski was the first member of the RCAF to be decorated with the Victoria Cross in the Second World War. His Victoria Cross is on display at the Air Command Headquarters in Winnipeg with other memorabilia. Mynarski is also remembered with a statue of his likeness at Middleton St. George, England, the home base of 419 Squadron. Andrew Mynarski VC Junior High School on Machray Avenue in north Winnipeg was named in his honour. The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum dedicated its Lancaster VR-A, one of only two flying Lancasters remaining in the world, in his memory.