Welcome to the News section, where we will be sharing YOUR Juno75 stories! Want to participate? Head over to Your Stories and get in touch!

August 20, 2019 – William Stanley Thompson

Today in #YourStories, Retired Major Neal Nickles shared some anecdotes his uncle told him about his service during the war. Sergeant William Stanley Thompson, known as Bill in the army and Stan at home, though no one really knew why, was a driver/mechanic tracked who landed with the First Hussars on D-Day in one of the Duplex Drive Sherman tanks.

William's story

Of his D-Day experience, Stan was a bit miffed the pilot of the landing craft “liked his boat so much he let them off halfway across the Channel and then made them swim the rest of the way.” Neal later found out Stan’s crew were launched 4000 yards (2.5 miles) from the beach – a long swim for a 35 ton tank at the bottom of an inflatable screen! On the way in, the infantry landing craft drew all the fire because they were the “big boats.” The Germans did not seem to know what the “little boats” were – until it was too late.

Stan rarely spoke about the war, but when Neal joined the army he would open up occasionally. Neal found out his uncle had great respect for fighter pilots but none for bombers since he had been bombed by his own side at least once.

Bill and his crew

After the Battle of Normandy, the Third Division of the Canadian Army swung northeast along the coast and spent much of September 1944 clearing the Channel ports. This was necessary to shorten the supply route so the allies could keep advancing. Stan was part of the siege at Calais, a heavily fortified German position that included seven heavy batteries, concrete bunkers, and a flooded terrain that was well mined and covered with anti-tank guns and artillery. According to Stan, the Germans used some of the shells for the big guns as mines and he saw a tank being blown many feet in the air after hitting one. They were also told the big guns (in the heavy batteries) could not be turned around… that was a lie.

At one point in the winter between 1944-1945, Stan was unable to write home for six weeks due to arthritis in his hands.

In February 1946, Stan returned to London, Ontario. There was a parade near the railway station. Neal was there but as a baby so he doesn’t remember anything about his uncle’s homecoming. Stan became a vehicle mechanic after he was discharged. He never married, but he did maintain his sense of humour. Neal once asked Stan how he made Sergeant. Stan’s answer: “the other one stopped a bullet.”

August 6, 2019 – Andrew “Andy” Charles Mynarski

Today in #YourStories, Matthew Thomas of Montreal, QC shared this story of VC recipient Andrew Mynarski. Matthew says that “his story is remarkable not because he was like an old-fashion Hollywood war hero, accomplishing some near-impossible task, but because he was a regular person performing an act of heroism we can all relate to: trying to save someone he cared about.”

Andrew's story

Andrew “Andy” Charles Mynarski (14 October 1916 – 13 June 1944)

Before the War

Andrew “Andy” Charles Mynarski was born 14 October 1916 in Winnipeg, Manitoba the second son of recent Polish immigrants. In his youth, he attended King Edward and Isaac Newton Elementary Schools and later graduated from St. John’s Technical School. He was athletic – he swam and played both baseball and football – and counted woodworking, painting, photography, and the construction of model airplanes among his hobbies. After the death of his father, he began working as a furrier at age 16 to support his mother and five other siblings. Alert, confident, and sincere in manner, he was known as “Andy” to his friends, and though quiet, he possessed a good sense of humour and was a skilled craftsman before the war.

Service

Like many Canadians, Andy answered the call to serve his country when the war began. In 1940, he joined his local militia regiment – the Royal Winnipeg Rifles – before enlisting with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) on 21 September 1941. He completed basic training at No. 3 Manning Depot in Edmonton and went to No. 2 Wireless School in Calgary before being posted to No. 3 Bomb and Gunnery School at RCAF Station MacDonald in MacDonald, Manitoba. At MacDonald, he earned his “AG” brevet, graduating as an air-gunner on 18 December 1942. On 5 January 1943, he embarked for England, arriving on 13 January to begin further training. As he transferred between various training postings, instructors and superiors noted his keen attitude, teamwork, discipline, and eagerness to learn and fly.

On 10 April 1944, he was transferred to the No. 419 “Moose” Squadron based at RAF Middleton St. George (Durham, UK) for operational duty. Moose Squadron was a heavy bomber squadron that belonged to 6 Group, the Canadian arm of the RAF Bomber Command. It was with the 419 that he joined Flying Officer Arthur de Breyne’s crew as a mid-upper gunner in a 7-man bomber crew. Replacing the crew’s former gunner who had fallen ill, Mynarski quickly found his place. He became close friends with tail gunner George Patrick “Pat” Brophy with whom he formed a “perfect team.” Among the crew, Andy could always be depended upon to keep spirits high with his humour and ease the tension of long bombing runs. They began their missions together on four-engine Handley Page Halifax heavy bombers, but on 5 June the crew received a new plane: a Canadian built Avro Lancaster bomber, designated KB726.

Final Mission

The crew of KB726 flew their last mission the night of 12 June 1944, their 13th sortie together. Their objective was to bomb railway yards in Cambrai, France as part of a larger Allied bombing campaign during both day and night to disrupt German communications and supply lines in support of the Normandy landings. In the early hours of 13 June, they were spotted by searchlights and attacked by an enemy night fighter over Cambrai. Their bomber was hit several times through its body and wings which caused severe damage: two of the four engines on their Lancaster failed and a hydraulic fire spread through the rear half of the plane. With the aircraft critically damaged, Captain de Breyne ordered the crew to bail out.

As Andy Mynarski moved to the plane’s rear escape hatch, he saw through the flames that his friend Pat Brophy was trapped within his tail gunner’s turret. The tail turret had been jammed part way through its rotation, preventing Brophy’s escape through its door. Covered in hydraulic fluid, Andy nevertheless crawled through the fire, undeterred in his effort to reach Brophy. Though he himself was now aflame from waist down, he desperately tried to free his friend, wrestling with the jammed door mechanism and trying to rotate the turret pod with his bare hands. Realizing he could not escape and seeing his friend on fire, Brophy waved him away and shouted for Andy to save himself. Reluctantly, Andy backed away from turret and moved to the escape hatch. At the hatch, he offered one final gesture of camaraderie to his trapped friend, standing at attention and saluting in his flaming clothing, before jumping from the plane. His clothing and parachute near-fully alight, Andy initially survived his heavy landing and was found by French farmers who had spotted the falling bomber. However, he died shortly afterwards due to the severity of his injuries and was buried in a local cemetery.

Andy Mynarski was 27 years old when he died.

Victoria Cross

Though he had remained trapped in his gunner’s turret, Pat Brophy miraculously survived the disintegrating bomber’s crash into a farm field and explosion of two bombs from the bomber’s payload; the bomber’s impact with the earth had dislodged the turret and pitched him from the wreckage to safety. He was subsequently able to evade capture among the French resistance and make his way back behind Allied lines. Though scattered by the crash and war, the surviving members of the crew were reunited in 1945 and Brophy was able to relate the story of Mynarksi’s heroism. In his own words he recalled his friend’s selfless bravery:

“Andy was a popular fellow with everybody on the squadron. We two were awfully close pals and he must have thought of me as soon as things got bad, just as I thought of him. I can’t even see, though, why he bothered battling through those terrific flames and giving up his chance of safety just to see how I was doing and if he could help. Most fellows would have jumped immediately, and I wouldn’t have blamed them. He’d have been O.K. if he had done that.”[1]

After the war, his friends and fellow airmen sought to see his heroism recognized so that his sacrifice would not be forgotten. Though it took time to pass through the command structures of the RCAF and RAF, Arthur de Breyne’s recommendation for an award for his late air-gunner was seen through. On 11 October 1946, a Victoria Cross – the highest and most prestigious award for Commonwealth military service members – was posthumously awarded to Andrew Charles Mynarski for “valour of the highest order.” By then, he had also been posthumously awarded a commission as a pilot officer predated to 11 June 1944.

***

Andrew Charles Mynarski lies buried in Grave 20 of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission plot in the Méharicourt Communal Cemetery, near Amiens, France.

His complete Victoria Cross citation can be found with the Canadian Forces’ Directorate of History and Heritage at: http://www.cmp-cpm.forces.gc.ca/dhh-dhp/gal/vcg-gcv/bio/mynarski-ac-eng.asp


[1] http://collectionscanada.ca/obj/001056/f2/m/sww-28319-mynarski-andrew_charles-j87544.pdf, page 77.

July 22, 2019 – Lawrence Dunleavy

Lawrence Dunleavy was an artillery surveyor who landed with the Queen’s Own Rifles early in the morning on D-Day. His daughter Deborah shares her reflections on his service, and different ways to commemorate and reckon with the past.

Lawrence's story

by Deborah Dunleavy

As a toddler growing up in the 1950’s I would ask my father, “What was it like in the war daddy?” But how does a survivor of the D-Day landing explain those horrific hours to a child? With humor.

My father, Lawrence Dunleavy, was one of seven brothers who enlisted in the armed forces when war broke out across Europe. Dad was Gunner C50760 and he served as an artillery surveyor with the 44 Infantry Battalion, 34th Battery, 14th Field Regiment. He landed at Bernières-sur-mer on Juno Beach with the Queen’s Own Rifles at the first tide on June 6, 1944. His account went something like this:

“Our landing craft hit a mine and the door jammed. We had to jump overboard. The water came up to my neck. I held my rifle in one hand and my surveying equipment in the other, and said, feet don’t fail me now.” He made it into a bit of a lark and he would smile as if it had all been a great adventure.

He told me that he did not remember how he got to the wall or how he got dry. I wonder if the gruesome scene and deafening noise had obliterated all of his memory or if he had chosen to forget that day to protect himself or to protect the innocence of is vulnerable children.

In later years we would watch documentaries of the landing or look at photo essays in coffee table books commemorating the D-Day landing. He would comment that it didn’t look like that when he landed because he had come ashore long before the photographers got there.

For several years the veterans and families of the 44 Infantry Battalion held an annual reunion at the Glen House Resort east of Gananoque, Ontario. I frequently joined my parents at these sometimes solemn and sometimes boisterous gatherings where bravado masked the underlying sorrow that the men felt for their fallen comrades. In 1994 to mark the 50th Anniversary of D-Day I wrote this song for my father:

HE WAS ONE OF THE LUCKY LADS

When I was a little girl
My Daddy told me ‘bout the war,
He used to tell me funny things
But now he tells me more;
He was just a soldier boy
On the banks of Normandy,
He was one of the lucky lads
Made it home from across the sea.

Waters were rough, waters were wild
Eisenhower said, “Let’s go!”
Who would live and who would die
Only time would know;
The Queen’s Own Rifles forged their way
traight into the battle heart,
Not one soldier flinched from the task,
Each man played a part.

Fire on the beach, fire in the air
Fire from a loaded gun,
Operation Overlord had more than just begun
Some would say that D-Day was
The beginning of the end,
Others would say that the cost of life
Was a price too dear to spend.

Thousands went willing
Thousands went strong and brave,
They marched into battle
They marched to an early grave
All hell broke loose on the grey, grey dawn
The dead lay on the sand,
Many a boy on the longest day
Grew up to be a man.

When I was a little girl
My Daddy told me ‘bout the war,
He used to tell me funny things
But now he tells me more;
He was just a soldier boy
On the banks of Normandy,
He was one of the lucky lads
Made it home from across the sea.

After I sang the song one of the veterans joked about the line “not one soldier flinched from the task” and said they sure did.

As the years went on my father became more obsessed about the days leading up to the landing. He could not remember what ship had taken him across the channel from England. The vessel was from New Zealand. He spent copious hours scouring through the National Archives and pieced together his whole campaign. I have his binder full of documents, maps and articles.

On June 3, 2006, three days shy of the 62nd Anniversary of D-Day, my father passed away.  I went to the reunion to tell the few veterans who were still able to attend. The following year would be their last reunion.

Later when I was Storyteller-in-Residence at the Arthur Child Heritage Museum in Gananoque, one of my projects was to collect the stories from seniors who remembered the years before 1945. Many recalled events that happened during the war years. Their recollections inspired me to write the one-woman show “At The Canoe Club Dance”.

I play the character, Bea Tompkins. She is a senior living in a retirement home who doesn’t always know what day it is but remembers singing during the swing era of the war years. Central to the story is her childhood sweetheart, Jimmy, who at the end of the play dies on the beaches of Normandy. In the play I use a picture of my own father in his army uniform to represent Jimmy. And I sing songs my parents would have danced to before my father went overseas. The most touching moment happens when the audience learns that Jimmy has died and Bea sings the old song, “Always” by Irving Berlin. “I’ll be loving you always, with a love that’s true, always. When the things you plan, need a helping hand, I will understand, always, always.”

In the play I act out a scene that actually happened to my parents. When my father enlisted he was first stationed in Petawawa. He had proposed to my mother and was given leave for the wedding. When it was time to get back to the army camp my father boarded the train in Brockville. It was full of soldiers. He leaned out the window and waved good-bye to my mother. He shouted, “Good-bye sweetheart.” And all the other soldiers chorused in with, “Good-bye sweetheart.”

I rarely heard of the devastation that my father witnessed although he did tell me of the time he had just finished digging out his slit trench near the front lines when allied planes flew overhead. The boys were rallied by this sight until they realized that the planes were dropping bombs on their own heads – so called friendly fire.

This year marked the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, and to pay tribute, my husband and I went to the ceremony at the War Monument in Ottawa. It was a solemn occasion. I was there to pay respect to those who had died on the beaches of Normandy and for those who survived, like my father Lawrence Dunleavy, who was, to me, a hero who never claimed to be one.

Deborah Dunleavy is an award-winning professional storyteller and writer living in Eastern Ontario. She may be contacted at teller2go@gmail.com