Victoria Cross recipient sacrifices his own safety to try and save friend

Best remembered for rushing through flames to rescue a comrade trapped in a burning aircraft, his friends didn?t forget him either. Neither did the people who awarded the Victoria Cross.

Considered one of the most heroic of all the Canadian war heroes, Mynarski was awarded the Victoria Cross for his efforts in trying to pull the rear gunner from the turret of a burning Lancaster aircraft in June 1944 ? even though his own clothing and parachute were on fire.

Inspired by the stories of veterans returning from the Crimean War, the Victoria Cross was developed in 1856 by Queen Victoria to recognize heroic deeds performed on the battlefield. Of the more than 1,300 people who have received the award, 94 were born in Canada, served in the Canadian Army or were closely connected to the country.

Before the Second World War and the Victoria Cross, Mynarski had Winnipeg on his mind. The son of Polish immigrants, he was born in the city on Oct. 14, 1916.

Mynarski joined the Royal Canadian Air Force shortly before his 25th birthday in 1941. Prior to that, he served briefly with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles.

He was originally posted to Edmonton before moving on to Calgary and then Manitoba. Graduating as an air gunner, he was sent overseas in January 1942.

After a series of transfers, he joined the No. 419 ?Moose? Squadron, with which he would become closely associated. The crew?s 13th mission ? a bombing run on the rail marshalling yard at Cambrai, France ? began during the night of June 12.

The mission ? a low-level raid at 2,000 feet ? started out well, but that would change. The crew managed to avoid enemy fire after being picked up by searchlights when crossing into France, but came under attack as it descended for its bombing run.

With explosions rocking the Lancaster, enemy shots knocked out two engines and ignited a fireball in the rear of the aircraft. When the captain gave the order to bail out, Mynarski left his turret and made his way to the rear escape hatch.

Upon seeing his close friend, tail gunner Pat Brophy, stuck in the rear turret, which had been incapacitated in the attack, Mynarski sacrificed his own safety to try and save his friend. Ignoring the flames burning through his uniform, he crawled through the fire in an attempt to free Brophy.

Using an axe and his hands to try and free the turret, Mynarski did not let up until Brophy waved him away. Mynarski reluctantly crawled back through the flames, never taking his eyes off his friend.

When he reached the escape hatch, Mynarski stood up and saluted Brophy. While his clothes continued to burn, Mynarski jumped from the aircraft.

Remarkably, Brophy was thrown free upon impact and came to rest against a tree. Mynarski wasn?t as fortunate.

He was discovered by French farmers and immediately taken to a doctor. However, his burns were so severe that he died within hours.

Pilot Officer Andrew Charles Mynarski was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery and valour of the highest order.

(Paul Spasoff is a freelance writer with an interest in Western Canadian history. Paul can be reached at backtothepast@sasktel.net)