Portrait of a Hero: RCAF Air Gunner Andrew Mynarski

 

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Pilot Officer Andrew Mynarski. Photo courtesy of National Defence and the Canadian Forces. 

Canada’s Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) aviation history is shaped by the brave and the selfless.

The RCAF has a tradition of producing fearless individuals who use their skills to raise the standards of flight, both in combat and during peace time. 

My name is Bruce “Bez” Beswick. I am a retired RCAF Captain and pilot with 25 years of military service. Today, I am proud to be part of the Solar Ship team as their Flight Test Director.

I was asked to share with the team what it means to be a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force. My thoughts immediately went to Andrew Mynarski, a crew member on a war time mission in 1944 on an RCAF Lancaster bomber. I was lucky enough to fly in the same “Moose Squadron”, 40 years later from 1985 to 1986.

Pilot Officer Andrew Mynarski was one of the brave and selfless RCAF Air Gunners to fly one fateful night over France in 1944.  His courage cost him his life. When I think of determination and honour I think of Mynarski and his crew who demonstrated the reason we serve with our Brothers and Sisters: for each other and for our country. “This is what we do.”

Where we come from, when someone says “I have your six,” we always know someone has given their word to protect us while we go about our job. Be it a peacetime or a wartime mission, these words stand for life. Mynarski proved it and over the years many others have as well.

It is not about being a pilot. It is about being part of a determined and loyal team.

I’ve met countless brave RCAF, RCN and Canadian Army men and women, all of whom had far more skills and capabilities than I could ever have hoped to gain in my work. More than a few of them unfortunately paid Canada with their lives. I am deeply honoured to have been a part of this team.

I hope you like the Mynarski story. It epitomizes what it means to be true friends. 

Andrew Mynarski

Andrew Mynarski was born and raised in the prairies, growing up in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Like so many Canadians, his parents were from a different a country, spoke a different language, and worked hard to give their children a better life. To support his family, Mynarski dropped out of school at the age of 16 and became a leather cutter. He did this for ten years before he joined the Allied forces in their fight against Hitler.

In 1941, Mynarski became a part of the 200,000 Canadians (2% of Canada’s population at the time) who served with the RCAF.  Earning his Air Gunner beret, Mynarski became the mid-upper gunner for the 419 “Moose” Squadron in 1942. After two years of missions together, Moose Squadron was prepped for its 13th operation, flying a Lancaster Mk X KB726. Morale was high—a week earlier, allied forces successfully stormed the beach at Normandy and victory over the Germans was within reach.

Mynarski would not live to see the end of the war.

The Avro Lancaster bomber. Photo courtesy of Carolin Grubb

The Avro Lancaster bomber. Photo courtesy of Carolin Grubb.

In the face of violence, some people flee and some people fight, separating heroes from the rest of us.

At midnight on June 13th, flying over Cambrai, France The KB726 was hit by a German Ju88, sending the aircraft up in flames. With both port engines ablaze, Flying Officer Art de Breyne ordered his aircrew to bail. Just before jumping, Mynarski looked back and saw his friend, tail gunner Pilot Officer Pat Brophy, stuck in his turret in the rear of the bomber. Pushing his way through flames and metal, he was determined to free Brophy. First, he tried a fire axe. When that didn’t work, he used his fists, ignoring the flames that had engulfed his parachute and the lower half of his flight suit. Brophy was shouting, demanding that Mynarski abandon a futile rescue. Finally, Mynarski listened to the commands of his friend and moved to the rear escape. Before jumping, he stood at attention and saluted, saying: “Goodnight, sir,” the same words he said to Brophy each night. He leapt from the aircraft.

French onlookers reported seeing a blazing figure falling through the sky, attached to a fiery parachute. Mynarski lived for a short time after hitting the ground, but quickly succumbed to his burns.

Miraculously, Pat Brophy survived the crash, unharmed.  He wrote to Mynarski’s mother:

“I was scared that night until I saw Andy, then I was cool and calm. If he can do this for me, why should I be scared of dying? I’m not anymore, even now.”

He lived to tell the story of Andrew Mynarski, a soldier who refused to abandon his fellow officer and friend, an airman who exhibited the courage and the heart of a true fighter pilot. Mynarski was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the British Commonwealth’s highest award for military valour.