The Lancaster Summer

 

After eight months of planning, many hours of discussions and meetings, sponsorship agreed and a staggeringly enthusiastic British public awaiting her arrival, it was time to depart for a tour that would make history for so many different reasons…

 

The epic 3700 mile journey was planned to commence on Monday, 4 August, at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Centre’s home base at Toronto’s Hamilton Airport. However, as she prepared to depart, the aircraft’s number two engine flooded, resulting in a delay of 24 hours. CWHM engineers tirelessly worked late into the night, and FM213 was able to depart for the following morning for a night stop at Goose Bay, Labrador.

 

On Wednesday 6 August the aircraft departed for the formidable 7 hour 40 minute flight to Iceland. After a low pass over Keflavik airport, the aircraft landed and was taxied to a parking area outside a former US Navy hangar, where the crew were greeted by Canada’s Ambassador to Iceland, Mr Stewart Wheeler, and Colonel Marc Bigaouette (RCAF Advisor to the UK and Defence Attache to Iceland), as well as specially invited guests. The following day FM213 made a short flight across to Reykjavik Airport for a few hours of public display, before returning to Keflavik to prepare for a departure the next morning, 8 August, to the United Kingdom and onwards to the hugely anticipated first landing on British tarmac at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire.

Lancaster Summer – Album #1 Iceland (To play the album below please move your cursor over the bottom of the slideshow for the control panels).

Having successfully made the crossing from Iceland, FM213 was planned to rendezvous over northern Lincolnshire with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Lancaster PA474, plus an example of the flight’s Spitfire and Hurricane, for formation flypasts in the area and to accompany the RAF Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows, for a poignant flypast over Lincoln Cathedral and RAF Coningsby. As may be expected, many thousands of aviation enthusiasts and interested spectators gathered at points around the route, at Lincoln Cathedral and in the Coningsby area. Sadly as the time for the BBMF and Red Arrow’s participation approached, a severe thundery weather front rolled in across the area and resulted in the formation and flypasts being cancelled. Although the expectations of many people were clearly dashed, aircraft and crew safety clearly has to be the top priority.

 

The weather had deteriorated so badly that consideration was given to diverting to an airport such as Humberside, but by successfully dodging the thunder storms and heavy rain, FM213 finally descended out of the gloom around 2.20pm and landed on Coningsby’s runway 07. With roads closed by local authorities, many thousands of bystanders stood along the RAF station’s fenceline cheering and clapping as the aircraft made her way under tow (having shut down on the runway due to over-heating brakes), to a position alongside PA474 outside the BBMF hangar. It was here that the British public had their first close views of FM213, and the aircraft and crew were also greeted by some 100 veterans and a large number of invited guests and media. The residents of Coningsby were well prepared for this great occasion and also gave the Canadian team a warm welcome, bedecking their homes and businesses with Canadian flags and bunting.

 

FM213 underwent a period of routine maintenance and on 13 August performed her first flights and display practices with the BBMF’s Lancaster PA474. Over the following seven weeks, around sixty air displays, events and flypasts were carried out with the aircraft ranging all across the UK to events in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands. One statistic suggested a staggering 1,000,000 people had seen FM213 during her UK tour. One further noteworthy detail is FM213’s middle section – this was replaced after an accident in the 1950s with the similar section of KB895, which flew 35 wartime sorties with 434 Squadron.

Please click HERE for East Kirkby's '3Lancs' events

Lancaster Summer – Album #2 Display Work-Ups (To play the album below please move your cursor over the bottom of the slideshow for the control panels).

Along with the more typical air displays, three events stood out - the ‘3Lancs’ events at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre with Lancaster NX611 Just Jane, a visit to the former Royal Canadian Air Force station at Middleton St. George and the unique Avro formation across Lincolnshire and east Anglia of two Lancasters and a Vulcan!

 

There is no denying the sight of two Lancasters flying together was sensational, but all good things must come to an end, and after a final formation flight across Lincolnshire with PA474, two Hurricanes and two Spitfires, FM213 departed the UK on 23 September, via stops in Iceland, Greenland, Labrador and western Quebec for a safe but rapturous arrival back at Toronto on 28 September.

Lancaster Summer Album #3 Avro Formation and Departure Day (To play the album below please move your cursor over the bottom of the slideshow for the control panels).

Lancaster Summer – Album #4 Middleton St. George and Bomber Command Living History with FM213 (To play the album below please move your cursor over the bottom of the slideshow for the control panels).

The Mynarski Lancaster

 

The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s Victory Aircraft (Avro) Lancaster Mk.X FM213 (C-GVRA) is dedicated to the memory of Pilot Officer Andrew Mynarski VC and as such is more commonly referred to as the Mynarski Memorial Lancaster. The aircraft is painted in the colours of his wartime aircraft, KB726/VR-A, which flew with 419 (Moose) Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force from Middleton St.George.

P/O Mynarski won the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth’s highest award for gallantry, on 13 June 1944, when his Lancaster was shot down in flames by a German JU-88 night fighter near Cambrai, France. As the bomber fell with both port engines lost and major damage to the centre fuselage, he attempted to free Pat Brophy, the Lancaster’s trapped tail gunner whose turret had been jammed part way through its rotation to the escape position. Brophy miraculously survived the crash and became a Prisoner of War, but sadly Andrew Mynarski died from his severe burns.

Pat Brophy:

 "Then I saw him (Mynarski). Andy had slid down from the mid-upper turret and made his way back to the rear escape hatch, about fifteen feet from me. . . He opened the door and was about to jump when he glanced around and spotted me through the plexiglass part of my turret. One look told him I was trapped.

Instantly, he turned away from the hatch and started towards me. All this time the aircraft was lurching drunkenly as Art tried to keep it on an even keel without instruments. Andy had to climb over the Elsan chemical toilet and crawl over the tailplane spar, as there is no room in that part of the fuselage. These cramped conditions forced him to crawl on his hands and knees - straight through the blazing hydraulic oil. By the time he reached my position in the tail, his uniform and parachute were on fire. I shook my head; it was hopeless. 'Don't try, I shouted, and waved him away.'

Andy didn't seem to notice. Completely ignoring his own condition in the flames, he grabbed a fire axe and tried to smash the turret free. It gave slightly, but not enough. Wild with desperation and pain, he tore at the doors with his bare hands, but this was to no avail. By now he was a mass of flames below his waist. Seeing him like that, I forgot everything else. Over the roar of the wind and the whine of our two remaining engines, I screamed, 'Go back, Andy! Get out!'

Finally, with time running out, he realized that he could do nothing to help me. When I waved him away again, he hung his head and nodded, as though he was ashamed to leave - ashamed that sheer heart and courage hadn't been enough. As there was no way to turn around in the confined quarters, Andy had to crawl backwards through the flaming hydraulic fluid fire again, never taking his eyes off me. On his face was a look of mute anguish. When Andy reached the escape hatch, he stood up. Slowly, as he'd often done before in happier times together, he came to attention. Standing there in his flaming clothes, a grimly magnificent figure, he saluted me! At the same time, just before he jumped, he said something. And even though I couldn't hear, I knew it was 'Good night, Sir.'"

Left alone in the rear turret, somehow Brophy survived the impact when the Lancaster crashed and was subsequently thrown clear only to strike a tree and be temporarily knocked out. Mynarski's descent had been seen by French farmers on the ground. Both his parachute and clothes were on fire. He was located and taken to a German field hospital, but was so severely burned that he died of his injuries. Except for Brophy, all crew members of the Lancaster managed to escape the burning bomber. Five left through the front escape hatch on the floor of the cockpit. When Bomb Aimer Jack Friday, tried to release the escape hatch cover in the aircraft's nose, the rushing wind ripped it from his hands. The hatch cover caught him above his left eye and knocked him out. He fell into the open hatch and jammed it closed until Flight Engineer Roy Vigars reached him to quickly clip on Friday's parachute and toss him out the hatch while pulling the unconscious crewman's rip cord. Only Mynarski managed to leave via the rear escape door. The remainder of the crew survived; four successfully evading capture and two others becoming Prisoners of War. At war's end the story of Andrew Mynarski was told and a posthumous Victoria Cross awarded.

Later, 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."

Lancaster Summer – Album #5 FM213 Interior 

Silksheen Photography extends sincere gratitude to everyone who provided such great hospitality over the summer:

 

  • The Airport ground ops and hotel staff at Middleton St.George/Durham Tees-Valley.

  • The security staff at Keflavik International Airport, the Icelandic Coast Guard, SouthAir’s Kris Albertsson & ground operations team and Mr Baldur Sveinsson.               

 

  • From the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum; Al Mickeloff, David Hills, Mike Charters, Craig Brookhouse and Lisa Sharp.

 

  • And at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, East Kirkby: Andrew Panton and the centre’s most excellent ground staff and Lancaster team.