It’s somehow fitting to visit the memorial to 115 Squadron in the rain.
The air is still, no-one else is around and the gloomy, overcast sky renders the perfect backdrop to allow silent thoughts about my grandad, who was a rear-gunner in 115 Squadron. Ronald flew 30 operations in a Wellington bomber and was fortunate – the life expectancy of rear gunners was desperately short -to return home safely to meet his newborn son: my dad.
It is touching to learn that the Squadron still exists in the form of 155 Squadron Association and 115 (R) Squadron, Central Flying School, who have both made the journey to leave Poppy wreaths at the Memorial.
Since writing Rear gunners: a perilous and lonely war , I was honoured to receive a comment on the blog post from Ron Goldstein, a WWII Veteran who served in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Egypt, Austria and Germany. Ron’s late brother, Jack, was a mid-upper gunner who perished over Nuremberg in March 1945. Ron’s story about his brother threw me back into my research about gunners and this story about Andrew Mynarski, a Canadian recipient of a posthumous Victoria Cross, brought home, once again, the utter bravery and selflessness of these aircrews:
Andrew Mynarski, a mid-upper gunner, was taking part in the crew’s 13th operation on 12 and 13 June 1944, when their Lancaster was hit by an enemy nightfighter. Losing both port engines, the pilot ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft, without realising that Pat Brophy, the rear gunner, was trapped in his turret. Andrew Mynarski slid down from his mid-upper turret and made his way to the rear escape hatch; he was about to jump when he noticed Pat Brophy was trapped. Without thought for his own safety, he turned away from the hatch and started crawling in the cramped conditions through the blazing hydraulic oil. By the time he reached the rear gunner, his uniform and parachute were on fire. After several desperate attempts to release Pat Brophy from the turret, with a fire axe and his bare hands, Pat Brophy gesticulated for Andrew Mynarski to leave; as the situation was impossible and Andrew Mynarski was, by this stage, a mass of flames below his waist. There was no way to turn around in the confined quarters, so Andrew Mynarski had to crawl backwards through the hydraulic fire again, to return to the escape hatch; where he paused and saluted Pat Brophy before jumping. Andrew Mynarski survived his landing, but later died of severe burns. The remainder of the crew survived; four successfully evading capture and two others becoming Prisoners of War. Pat Brophy lived to tell the tale as the Lancaster’s crash landing forced the turret open and pitched him out. Later, Pat Brophy said, “I’ll always believe that a divine providence intervened to save me because of what I had seen, so that the world might know of a gallant man who laid down his life for a friend.”