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"VIG" 2003 Obituary


VIGARS 

VIGARS o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-08-19 published
MYNARSKI's man FRIDAY
Knocked unconscious, the young bomb aimer was saved when his flight engineer pushed him out of their stricken Lancaster
By Tom HAWTHORN Special to The Globe and Mail Tuesday, August 19, 2003 - Page R7
Victoria -- A Second World War bomb aimer who survived an ill-fated mission during which his friend Andrew MYNARSKI was later awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for trying the save a trapped fellow crewman has died. Jack FRIDAY, who spent his peacetime career with Air Canada, died in Thunder Bay.
Mr. MYNARSKI's sacrifice awed a generation of children who learned of it in their school readers. Mr. FRIDAY was often asked to recount what happened aboard his doomed Lancaster as it burned over France. What many did not realize was that Mr. FRIDAY only learned the details of Mr. MYNARSKI's heroism after the end of the war.
On June 12, 1944, his Royal Canadian Air Force crew was assigned to bomb the railroad marshalling yards at Cambrai. The mission was similar to others in recent days, as No. 419 (Moose) Squadron attacked German reinforcements being rushed forward to repel Allied forces in Normandy.
Six days earlier, the crew had bombed coastal guns at Longues in the early-morning hours before the invasion fleet landed on D-Day. The Cambrai target -- their 13th mission -- was to be attacked on in the early morning hours of June 13. Later, superstitious survivors would speak of that coincidence as a missed omen.
Their Lancaster lifted off the runway at Middleton St. George in Yorkshire at 9: 44 p.m. on June 12. After crossing the English Channel, the bomber was coned -- caught in searchlights -- but the pilot, Flying Officer Arthur DE BREYNE, managed to manoeuvre his craft out of the dreaded lights.
The reprieve did not last long.
Rear gunner Patrick BROPHY, who sat in an isolated compartment at the rear of the aircraft, spotted an enemy fighter below. "Bogey astern! Six o'clock!" he shouted into the intercom, just before a Junkers 88 attacked.
Mr. DE BREYNE threw the bomber into an evasive corkscrew. In an instant, though, his plane was rocked by three explosions. Both port engines were knocked out and the wing set afire. A hydraulic line in the fuselage had also been severed and the midsection of the plane was burning.
The pilot ordered the crew to evacuate as he struggled to prevent the Lancaster from going into a dive. Mr. FRIDAY's duty as bomb aimer was to release the escape hatch. As he did so, the rushing wind whipped the steel door open, striking him above the right eye.
Flight engineer Roy VIGARS was the first among the other crew to clamber to the hatch.
"I made my way down to the bomb-aimer's position and found Jack FRIDAY slumped on the floor, unconscious," Mr. VIGARS told Bette PAGE for her 1989 book, Mynarski's Lanc. "I rolled him over, clipped on his parachute pack, and slid him over to the escape hatch and dropped him through the opening while holding on to the ripcord."
The act was risky, as the parachute could have wrapped around the craft's tail wheel. Mr. VIGARS saw that Mr. FRIDAY's parachute had opened clear of the bomber. He then jumped, followed by wireless operator James KELLY, navigator Robert BODIE and the pilot, who had recovered control of the bomber and set it on a gentle descent.
Unknown to those men, a terrible drama was being played out at the rear of the flaming craft.
As Warrant Officer MYNARSKI prepared to jump, he looked back to see that Flying Officer Patrick BROPHY was still at his rear-gunner's position.
Mr. MYNARSKI, the mid-upper gunner, crawled through the burning fuselage, his uniform and parachute catching fire. Mr. BROPHY was trapped in his seat and the men struggled desperately to free him.
Finally, Mr. BROPHY told Mr. MYNARSKI to jump without him.
Mr. MYNARSKI crawled back through the fire, stood at the door, saluted his doomed comrade, and leapt into the inky sky with his uniform and parachute in flames.
Aboard the Lancaster, Mr. BROPHY prepared for certain death.
Some miles away, Mr. FRIDAY floated unconscious to earth by parachute, landing near a chateau at Hedauville. A pair of farm workers found him in a vineyard the next morning. He was taken to a local doctor who feared reprisals for treating an Allied airman. The injured man was turned over to the Germans.
Mr. FRIDAY finally regained consciousness on June 17, wakening in a prison cell in Amiens. He feared he had lost his eye. A fellow prisoner peeked beneath Mr. FRIDAY's bandages and saw that a flap of skin was blocking his vision. The wound had not been stitched.
Mr. FRIDAY was reunited with Mr. VIGARS as their captors prepared to transport prisoners to Germany.
The pair were sent to an interrogation centre near Frankfurt, before being transferred to Stalag Luft 7 at Bankau, outside Breslau (now Wroclaw), in Silesia near Poland.
The men were separated again on January 18, 1945, as the Germans marched prisoners out of the camp ahead of the advancing Soviet army. The forced march was arduous. Many died of disease, exposure and exhaustion. Mr. FRIDAY survived by stealing frozen beets and potatoes from farmer's fields. He would later remember the only warm night of the march was spent in a barn, where he snuggled overnight with a cow. Mr. FRIDAY was at last liberated by the Soviets in April.
He returned to England in May, where, as recounted in the 1992 book, The Evaders, he prepared a statement, the brevity of which perfectly captured his sense of the dramatic events. "Took off from Middleton St. George. Do not remember briefing or takeoff. First thing I remember is coming to in a hospital in Amiens."
Only later did he learn what happened aboard the Lancaster. As the bomber crashed, the port wing struck a tree, causing the plane to veer violently to the left. The force freed Mr. BROPHY from his turret prison and he landed against a tree, far away from the burning wreckage. He had survived.
Mr. MYNARSKI, the son of Polish immigrants and a leather worker in civilian life, was not as fortunate. He was found by the French, but was so badly burned that he soon died from his injuries. He was 27.
The other crewmen, including Mr. BROPHY, evaded capture with the assistance of French civilians.
John William FRIDAY was the third son born to a pharmacist in Port Arthur, Ontario, on December 21, 1921. He graduated from Port Arthur Collegiate Institute before joining the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942. He was demobilized with the rank of flying officer. He worked as an Air Canada passenger agent for 31 years before retiring in 1985.
In 1988, he joined his former crew mates in ceremonies marking the dedication of a restored Lancaster at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum at Mount Hope, Ontario The aircraft, which was refurbished in the colours and markings of the crew's plane, has been designated the MYNARSKI Memorial Lancaster. MYNARSKI's name also graces a string of three lakes in Manitoba, as well as a park, a school and a civic ward in his hometown of Winnipeg.
Mr. FRIDAY died of cancer in Thunder Bay, Ontario, on June 22. He leaves Shirley (née BISSONNETTE,) his wife of 54 years, five children and four younger sisters. He was predeceased by two brothers.
Mr. BROPHY, whose life he tried to save, died at age 68 at St. Catharines, Ontario, in 1991. According to the second edition of MYNARSKI's Lanc, Mr. VIGARS, who saved Mr. FRIDAY's life, died in 1989 at Guildford, England; Mr. DE BREYNE died at St. Lambert, Quebec, in 1991; and, Mr. BODIE died in Vancouver in 1994. Mr. FRIDAY's death leaves James KELLY of Toronto as the only survivor.

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