Two years ago, while working at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France, I was asked to accompany my supervisor to a small Second World War ceremony held by the commune of Gaudiempré in the Pas-de-Calais region.
Gaudiempré is a small, charming town that boasts a population of only 198 people. It is not a well-known site for Second World War commemoration. Yet, each year in June, the residents gather to remember a singular Canadian airman who died in a nearby field in 1944.
Andrew Mynarski was a mid-upper gunner with the No. 419 Moose Squadron tasked with attacking Cambrai on June 12th, 1944. While in flight, his plane was hit resulting in an extensive fire onboard. Before abandoning the doomed plane, Mynarski noticed the rear gunner was pinned in place by the damage. He tried to free the gunner as his own clothes and parachute caught fire. Eventually the gunner convinced him that rescue was impossible and to save his own life. As a last moment of respect, Mynarski turned to the gunner, stood to attention, and saluted – despite being engulfed in flame. After jumping from the plane, people in the French villages below watched as his flaming body fell. Mynarski did not survive. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for heroism.
While this is a tremendously moving story on its own, the annual ceremony which commemorates Mynarski was equally as impactful. Seeing a small French town gather every year without fail to honour a Canadian airman, long dead, left an indelible impression upon me.
Two years later, I am incredibly grateful to be working in Second World War commemoration as the Digital Projects Coordinator for the Juno Beach Centre Association. My appreciation for the importance of commemoration was sparked during my time working at Vimy Ridge, but I have always loved the Canadian heritage and museum sector. I believe that museums are sites of storytelling and signifiers of cultural identity.
In fact, stories have been at the centre of much of my academic and professional experience. I hold a Bachelor of Journalism (Honours) and a Master of Arts in English Literature. These two degrees taught me the value of factual, engaging storytelling and the ways it can be accomplished in a digital space. I’ve since taken my academic training and professional experience and combined them to pursue a Master of Museum Studies degree which I will finish in 2022.
I hope that through my work at the JBCA, I can provide other young Canadians with the same sense of gravity and appreciation which I felt while attending that small ceremony in Gaudiempré.
Dispatches from Juno shares all the news, events, and stories from the Juno Beach Centre in France and Canada. Interested in contributing a story to the blog? Email the editor at email@example.com.