PASSENGERS jetting off around the world from Teesside airport can now also enjoy a journey into the past thanks to an exhibition that has been set up in the departure lounges.

The display has been put together by aviation historian Geoff Hill and tells the 80 year story of the airport, which opened in 1941 as Bomber Command’s most northerly airfield before, in April 1964, becoming a civilian airport.

At the centre of the exhibition is the story of Andrew Mynarski, the Canadian airman who won a Victoria Cross for his self-sacrificing attempt to free his friend, the rear gunner Pat Brophy.

As their stricken Lancaster plummeted on fire towards the ground, rather than jump to safety, Mynarski tried to free Brophy from the rear turret, even attacking it with an axe, before the flames became too much. Because of his efforts, Mynarski sustained fatal injuries while, miraculously, Brophy was thrown clear on impact.

“In the 1960s, I was a rambler and we found lots of Second World War crash sites and in those days you didn’t need permission to take things off them,” says Geoff, of Sedgefield, explaining how he began his collection.

He even has a Lancaster axe like the one used by Mynarski, although this is understandably considered to be too dangerous for an airside display.

There are lighter items as well, including the secret compasses that were given to airmen in their tobacco pipes, cigarette boxes and the heels of their flying boots so that if they got shot down, they knew which way was home.

Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen, whose authority owns 75 per cent of the airport, said: “It’s vital that we never forget the massive role our airport played as a bomber base during the Second World War, and the incredible acts of bravery and heroism.

“These fascinating pieces really bring to life our airport’s stories, so that people from across Teesside can discover the site’s rich heritage as they wait to fly out to Alicante, Majorca or Bulgaria."

Geoff said: “I’m really happy to be able to share this history with the public and highlight artefacts relating to some of our most famous historical moments, such as the exceptional courage of Andrew Mynarski.”

L For more, including the airfield’s nuclear past, see Saturday’s Memories.