A wreath for a war hero

A wreath for a war hero

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First published in Leader The Northern Echo: Blog: Editor Peter Barron by

WHEN I move on from the editor's chair, one of my proudest memories will be the sight and sound of a Lancaster bomber, from the Battle of Britain Memorial flight, thundering low over the statue of war hero Andrew Mynarski at Durham Tees Valley Airport.

That was in June 2005, following one of the most successful campaigns in Northern Echo history.

A debate had been raging about what the airport should be called. Teesside Airport was no longer thought to be good enough.

As the debate went on, The Northern Echo received a letter from 80-year-old Betty Amlin, who's husband Jimmy had been a first-class leading aircraftman with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), based at Middleton St George, near Darlington.

Betty suggested the name Mynarski Airport in memory of “The Forgotten Hero” Andrew Mynarski who had died trying to save a fellow crewman, who was trapped in a stricken Lancaster which had taken off from the Middleton St George base during the Second World War.

In truth, the airport was never going to be called Mynarski Airport. The authorities had already made up their minds that it should be Durham Tees Valley Airport. But Betty’s letter reignited the story of Andrew Mynarski.

We couldn’t realistically demand that Mynarski Airport should replace Teesside Airport. But we could do something else to remember him. We could campaign to have a statue made.

Andy Mynarski’s story was told and re-told in the pages of The Northern Echo. Our readers dug deep into their pockets. They were joined by people in Canada.

Looking back now, it was meant to be. Via Middlesbrough Football Club, I found a gifted sculptor in Northumberland called Keith Maddison who had crafted the statue of Wilf Mannion, outside the the Boro's Riverside stadium. It turned out that Keith was the son of a Lancaster rear gunner so he was desperate to do the job.

Then, by chance, I sat next to a man on a train, who turned out to be in charge of the Heritage Lottery Fund in the North-East. I told Keith Bartlett about our Forgotten Hero and, months later, a grant for tens of thousands of pounds was the result.

In the end, we raised £76,000 and the surplus money went to Middleton St George Primary School which had been devastated by an arson attack. The statue was commissioned and, on June 4, 2005, it was unveiled in one of the most moving ceremonies I have ever seen. The unveiling was performed by Colleen Bacon, the daughter of Pat Brophy, the man Andy Mynarski had battled to save and who, incredibly, had survived the crash.

When the Lancaster flew over that day to salute Andrew Mynarski at the end of our campaign, tears came to my eyes. I felt just as emotional last Thursday when the Mynarski Memorial Lancaster, from Canada, performed another flyover on a special day to commemorate not only Andy Mynarski's sacrifice but the sacrifice of so many young men who were based at Middleton St George during the war.

It was an honour to be there and place a wreath on behalf of the generous readers of The Northern Echo at Andrew Mynarski's feet.

AND when I move on from the editor's chair, one of my worst memories will be the dealings with George Reynolds as Darlington Football Club plunged into crisis.

Dark times descended on the Quakers and it all got very nasty. There have been plenty of low-points for the arena George built since then but last week's announcement that the New Zealand All-Blacks will be based there for next year's Rugby World Cup is the undoubted high.

Well done to Mowden Park Rugby Club for showing football how it should be done – with the community and family-friendliness at the heart of its plans.

The challenge now is to welcome the All Blacks in style. Darlington must break the world record for the most people doing the haka. It'll only take 3,265. Let's do it.

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