Honouring the brave: Andrew Charles Mynarski was the RCAF’s first Victoria Cross recipient of the Second World War
Born on Oct. 14, 1916 to Polish immigrants, Andrew Charles “Andy” Mynarski was known to be a kind, quiet youth. Mynarski was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously for the daring rescue attempt of his fellow crewman, George Patrick “Pat” Brophy.
Before the Second World War, Mynarski lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba; he went to school and had a relatively normal childhood up until his father died. At that point, Mynarski had to put down the books and resign his adolescence to support his family. Mynarski worked for four years as a leatherworker; he was fond of creating things with his hands. Although life as a craftsman could have been a plausible path for Mynarski, the outset of the Second World War would reveal he was destined for a career in the air.
In 1941, Mynarski enlisted in the Royal Canadian Airforce (RCAF) and trained for about half a year. After graduating, Mynarski qualified as a mid-upper gunner and earned his Air Gunner (AG) half wing, which meant he was almost fully certified to fly. In an aircraft, a mid-upper gunner is responsible for manning the mid-upper turret station. Mynarski flew in an Avro Lancaster Mark X, an aircraft that typically had a crew of seven. During his time with the RCAF, Mynarski had climbed the ranks to become a Flight Sergeant. Mynarski was in the mid-upper turret when he performed the first act of bravery that would warrant a member of the RCAF to be awarded a Victoria Cross.
Through the fire and flames
Mynarski’s crew. From left to right: Pat Brophy (rear gunner), Jim Kelly (wireless operator), Roy Vigars (flight engineer), Art de Breyne (pilot), Andrew Charles Mynarski (mid-upper gunner), Jack Friday (bomb aimer), and Bob Bodie (navigator).
Department of National Defence
Now a fully trained RCAF Flight Sergeant, Mynarski was off to France where he was assigned to No. 419 Squadron, an RCAF unit. Mynarski’s crew would be flying their 13th sortie late on June 12 and early into June 13, 1944. The crew reflected on this eerie set of numbers and before the mission, Mynarski found a four-leaf clover — a symbol of good luck — and gave it to his friend and crewman Pat Brophy. During the mission, Brophy would be manning the rear turret while Mynarski was in the sister position of mid-upper. The two would be defending the bomber from oncoming enemy night fighters, as the rest of the crew manned the aircraft en route to their objective.
The crew’s objective was to attack German positions in Cambrai, France, specifically the rail marshalling yard. During the mission, their bomber came under heavy enemy fire. Eventually, their two engines began to fail and fire broke out — both inside and outside of the aircraft. Pilot Officer Arthur “Art” de Breyne ordered the crew to abandon the burning aircraft. Mynarski was on his way to the escape hatch when he noticed Brophy still trapped in the rear turret, struggling to escape. According to the 1946 citation of the act in the London Gazette, Brophy had been trapped when the port engine of the aircraft failed. In defiance to the command to abandon the airplane and save himself, Mynarski fought through the flames to help Brophy try to break free. However, it soon became apparent that even with Mynarski’s help, Brophy was trapped for good. Brophy told his friend to save himself at which point Mynaski, badly injured by the flames, saluted his friend before escaping from the aircraft. Unfortunately, the flames had damaged his parachute which caused him to descend more rapidly, and he hit the ground with more force than he would have with a fully functioning parachute. The damage on impact and burns from the aircraft caused Mynarski to die shortly thereafter.
A lasting legacy
After the death of her son, Mrs. Stanley Myrnaski visited the RCAF Mess as the guest of honour. From left to right: Len Birchall, Mrs. Mynarski, Mrs. Birchall, and L.A. Costello.
Source: Department of National Defence
Miraculously, Brophy survived the crash of the burning aircraft and was able to testify to Mynarski’s heroic sacrifice. In a letter written to Mynarski’s mother, Brophy espouses his fondness and pride for having known and served with her son, a testament to the close relationship that Brophy and Mynarski shared.
Mynarski was the first RCAF serviceman to be honoured with a Victoria Cross in the Second World War. In 2005, a statue fashioned in his likeness was unveiled in Middleton St. George, United Kingdom, the home of the No. 419 Squadron. Another statue of Mynarski was erected in his hometown of Winnipeg as of 2015. Mynarski’s sacrifice highlights the strong sense of duty and bravery that all Victoria Cross recipients possessed. As of January 2020, his Victoria Cross can be found in Winnipeg at the Air Command Headquarters.