When a young Polish North End boy named Andrew Mynarski fought through the wall of flame enveloping his Lancaster bomber to try to free his fellow crewman Pat Brophy, who was trapped in the rear, he must have known his fate was sealed.
He and six other crew members had been told to bail out of the plane that had been blasted from underneath by a Nazi night-fighter over the wheat fields of France.
It was 13 minutes after midnight, June 13, 1944 on what was to be their 13th mission.
Covered in hydraulic fluid, the young gunner spotted Brophy and scrambled through the flames to reach him. Using an axe first and then his bare hands, he tugged frantically to set him free.
With the plane about to crash and Mynarski a mass of flames, Brophy screamed at Mynarski to save himself. Reluctantly, and with a look of sheer anguish, the 27-year-old crawled backwards through the flames again until he got to the escape hatch.
His clothes aflame, he saluted Brophy before he jumped.
Miraculously, the plane carrying five tons of explosives, smashed into a tree as it crashed, freeing Murphy from his blazing prison and tossing him about 50 feet away from the burning wreckage which quickly exploded.
Brophy survived without a scratch and the other crew members also survived. Unfortunately, Mynarski had landed still aflame. Although he was rushed off to a doctor by French farmers who found him, he died a short time later due to the severity of his burns.
It wasn’t until 1945 when Pat Brophy was reunited with his other crewmates that he finally was able to tell the story of how Mynarski had risked his life to try and save his.
The story resulted in a Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth’s most prestigious honour, being awarded posthumously to Andrew Charles Mynarski on Oct. 11, 1946.
Mynarski has been honoured in Manitoba with a school, legion, cadet group, squadron, several lakes and a park named after him. But sadly, many today, still do not seem to know who he is.
One Winnipegger, who not only knows who he is, but also regards him highly, is Dianne Mowdy who remembers worrying about having to change schools to attend Andrew Mynarski V.C. Junior High back in the 1960s.
"My dad, Ed Mowdy, told me how he used to chum with Andy’s brother, Chester, and how my uncle, he’s 90 now, Paul Mowdy, used to chum with Andy," she recalled. "To be able to go to a school that my dad actually knew the guy it was named for made it all very real and special to me...I remember Remembrance Day was a very solemn and meaningful event."
A statue of Mynarski was erected in the air field in England from which he left on his final mission, but it has been slow going for local organizations trying to raise funds for a statue in Winnipeg.
"Fortunately it’s all coming together so it’s all good news," said Jim Bell of the local chapter of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society.
"The project began in 2005," added Bill Zuk, spokesperson for the project, and "concluded in 2010....Charlie Johnston has created a series of maquettes and they have been cast and bronzed.....we are hoping to have the project wind up in the spring of 2013."
Cheryl Girard is a Riverbend-based writer who loves to write about all things Manitoban.
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