The Wartime Memories Project - The Forgotten Hero

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The Forgotten Hero - Page 2

This incredibly moving DVD, including a dramatic reconstruction of the night Mynarski's VC was won, is now to buy.

You may order by post, paying by cheque or postal order in Pounds Stirling (GB£) Click here and print out the form:

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Keith's first minature mockup of the statue

Keith Maddison with the part completed clay sculpture

Detail of the parachute harness, worn by a manaquin and sculpted in clay.

The families of Mynarski's crew. Pat Brophy's two daughters meet Roy Vigar's son

The Squadrons' Mascots on display in the St George Hotel.

Pat Brophy's daughter Colleen with Keith Maddison a few moments after the statue had been craned into place.

The Andrew Mynarski Statue stands on a small circle of English grass that is forever a little part of Canada.

The Canadian Squadrons' memorial after the ceremony.

Colleen holding the axe which Mynarski used as he attempted to rescue her father.

The families of Mynarski's crew visit the Lancaster on the apron of the runways they flew from.

The rear turret.

Replicas of Mynarski's medals presented to Betty Amlin.

Looking towards Canada.

No more the Forgotten Hero

by Stuart Mackintosh & Sam Strangeways.

The Northern Echo

ALTHOUGH so much about this long-overdue day (4th June 2005) was Canadian, the weather was determined in its efforts to remain quintessentially British.

From across the globe they had come to see an unforgivable wrong righted - the scandal of Andrew Mynarski's selfless act of fortitude being largely forgotten on these shores at last brought to an end.

Second World War veterans, schoolchildren, politicians, civic leaders . . . all mingled together in the grounds of the St George Hotel, at Durham Tees Valley Airport, for a truly momentous occasion.

They were greeted by bitter, driving rain on a cold, bleak, grey day that had everyone scrambling for their umbrellas.

Yet there was one defining moment when the adverse conditions were forgotten. One glorious moment when, although the heavens had opened, nobody cared.

One deeply emotional moment that will never be forgotten, that brought tears to the eyes of young and old alike. One moving moment that had the hairs standing up on the backs of the necks of everybody privileged enough to be there.

An impeccably observed two-minute silence and the sounding of the Last Post had followed the unveiling of the bronze statue, fittingly carried out by Colleen Bacon, daughter of Pat Brophy, the man whose life Mynarski had daringly battled to save.

Everybody waited, their heads turned skywards, oblivious to the atrocious weather. And then it happened.

The magnificent, spine-tingling, droning sound of the legendary Lancaster bomber grew louder and louder as it thundered towards the airport.

"Here she comes," one frail veteran uttered to himself, straightening his medal-clad attire, stepping out of the hotel reception into the rain and gazing up with all the same eager anticipation of the choir of children next to him.

The lumbering giant, one of only two Lancasters in the world still flying, soared over the assembled guests, drawing awe-inspired gasps all around.

The young singers from Middleton St George Primary School launched into O Valiant Heart as the Lancaster flew by - again and again and again. There was barely a dry eye.

It was the perfect, touching end to a ceremony that had already been laden with emotion.

Shortly after 11am on Saturday, the Andrew Mynarski injustice was no more.

Aviation historian Geoff Hill set the scene, taking the microphone to tell guests - and a throng of curious on-lookers who had gathered at a nearby fence - the background to why they were there.

After the true scale of Mynarksi's heroism had been explained, Ms Bacon stepped forward to bring the covers off a long-overdue, lasting tribute to the airman, who died aged 27.

As she did so, the Canadian flag was raised aloft and the beautiful, haunting voice of soloist Sarah Kelly, singing Andrew Lloyd Webber's Pie Jesu, filled the air.

Behind her, children sang their hearts out before later, gleefully, attaching themselves to the back of the line in the veterans' march-past.

For statue sculptor Keith Maddison, it was too much. For him, the unveiling did not just represent nine months of hard work. An aviation enthusiast and RAF reservist, whose father served in the RAF during the war, he was moved to tears.

"I have never been affected like that at an unveiling," he said afterwards. "During the Last Post I just lost it. I just got overwhelmed.

"It was the relief after all the work and thinking of the guys in the foundry that put in a really special effort to get to this moment." He was by no means the only one to be moved.

Betty Amlin, whose letter to The Northern Echo brought the Mynarski story firmly into the public eye, was also overwhelmed. With her husband, Jimmy, a former Canadian airman by her side, she said after the event: "I was so proud of everybody today and the statue is wonderful. I am so happy we have got to this day and it has worked out the way it has."

Group Captain Bob Judson, station commander at RAF Coningsby, in Lincolnshire, where the Lancaster is based, greeted veterans at a viewing area after the ceremony. "It was a tremendous privilege, very sobering, very humbling. When you read what Andrew Mynarski did, you can only say it was the purest form of heroism," he said. "This was fantastic to be involved in. All the guys on the flight love to meet the veterans and be reminded of what they did for us."

Stan Instone, a former flight engineer with 419 Squadron, with which Mynarski once flew, said: "I came into the squadron just after Mynarski had left. I found it extremely moving today - I was choked." Poignantly, Ms Bacon also stepped aboard the Lancaster, seeing the seat her father would have occupied as a rear gunner during that fateful night in 1944. In the background, 16 air cadets, representing the 573 Andrew Mynarski VC Air Cadet Squadron, looked on in awe at the historic aircraft.

By the end of an emotionally draining day, the rain had given up and blue skies began to burst through the cloud. The 8½ft statue stood proudly, as people flocked to have their photographs taken by its side. Those pictures should be treasured keepsakes - souvenirs of the day we could finally say, with immense pride and satisfaction, that Andrew Mynarski is no longer a forgotten hero.

The Northern Echo's Forgotten Hero Campaign

The Wartime Memories Project would like to hear from anyone who was stationed at Middleton St George during the war years, or anyone who lived nearby. We would love to hear your recollections of life on the base and the surrounding area.

Please contact us:

Click to send an email.
Click here to complete the online form.

Andrew Charles Mynarski was a quiet chap with agood sense of humour. He enjoyed woodwork and loved to design and build furniture. He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force just before his 25th birthday. He trained as an Air Gunner and was posted to Number 9 Squadron in October, 1943. In March, 1944, after training with No 1664 HCU he was posted to 419 (Moose) Squadron to fly Lancasters from RAF Middleton St George.

The crew took off for their 13th mission together on the night of June 12, their target, the rail marshalling yards at Cambrai, France. 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.

As they began descending for the bombing run, a Ju88 came in from astern, attacking the Lancaster with all its guns. The damage to the Lancaster was severe, both port engines were set alight, the 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, a pre arranged signal of the letter P in morse, flashed on the intercom lights.

Warrant officer Mynarski left the mid upper turret and moved to the rear escape door. Through the fierce flames, he could see Rear Gunner Pat Brophy, desperately trying to escape. The rear turret had jammed in a position where the doors to escape didn't line up.

With 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 tried to free the turret, with a escape axe and his bare hands, but it was an impossible task. Brophy signaled that there was nothing more he could do and that he should bail out and save himself. Reluctantly, Mynarski obeyed his friends wishes. He had to crawl backwards through the flames to the escape hatch, where 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.

Miraculously, Pat Brophy survived, unhurt. When the Lancaster crashed at a shallow angle, two of its twenty bombs exploded, throwing the tail gunner clear. His watch stopped at 2:13 a.m. Friday, June 13, 1944. Pat made his way to London with the help of the French Resistance and was able to relate the story of how Andrew had tried to save him.

Posthumously, Andrew Charles Mynarski was awarded the Victoria Cross, the British Commonwealth's highest award for bravery.

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