Roy Vigars was aged just 20 when the Lancaster bomber on which he was flight engineer was shot down over France. He escaped the blazing plane, unlike fellow crew member Andrew Mynarski, who died trying to save the life of another man. Roy's son, Jeff, told Sam Strangeways how the tragedy affected the rest of his father's life.

ON June 13, 1994, Jeff Vigars and his wife Carol travelled to a little-known cemetery in Meharicourt, France, and placed a rose on a grave.

They travelled from their home in southern England because both knew that if Jeff's father, Roy, had still been alive, he would have made the journey himself.

The date was significant - it was 50 years to the day since Pilot Officer Andrew Mynarski, whose name was on the headstone, died after an astonishing act of courage on board a Lancaster bomber.

Jeff's father was on the plane too - the only Englishman among the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) crew.

"We went there and did it because there was nobody else to do it," said Jeff, 57. "Our dad would have done it, but he wasn't here in 1994 to do it."

Although Roy, who died aged 65 in 1989, didn't talk much about the night of June 13, 1944, or the following 11 months he spent in a German prisoner-of-war camp, his family knew what those events meant to him.

In 1981, he had gone to Plt Off Mynarski's grave himself, and to the site of the plane crash, now marked with a cairn - a memorial made of stones - with four others from the surviving crew. They were men he stayed in close contact with for his entire life - despite living thousands of miles away on the other side of the Atlantic.

Jeff is sure that the fateful events of June 13 were what kept the crew such a close-knit unit.

"They probably met more than the vast majority of the crews," he said. "There would be a lot more reasons for them to keep in touch and get together."

Roy was only 19 when he joined the RAF, leaving his fiancee, Ellen, behind in Guildford, Surrey. He was 20 when he joined Plt Off Mynarski's crew as flight engineer at the RCAF base at Middleton St George, near Darlington.

On June 13, 1944, the crew's Lancaster bomber was shot down by a Luftwaffe fighter while on a night time mission over France.

As the rest of the crew bailed out, rear gunner Pat Brophy became trapped at the back of the plane.

Plt Off Mynarski, the Lancaster's mid-upper gunner, crawled through flames to try to free his friend.

Eventually realising he could not save him, Mynarski reluctantly bailed out himself, saluting his colleague as he did so.

The brave 27-year-old died from extensive burns while Brophy went down with the plane but miraculously walked away, uninjured.

Plt Off Mynarski's bravery, rewarded with a posthumous Victoria Cross, was unknown to Roy Vigars until he returned to England after the war.

But he too had acted courageously as the burning plane spun out of control.

Jeff said: "My dad's story is: they got shot down and he didn't know what else was going on in the rest of the aircraft. He knew he had to get out of the bottom hatch."

When bomb aimer Jack Friday knocked himself unconscious by lifting the hatch, it was Flight Sergeant Vigars who opened Friday's parachute and pushed him out, following closely on his heels.

"Dad didn't talk about what happened a great deal," said Jeff. "I know he then spent three or four days evading capture, walking.

"He was finally picked up on a little rope bridge and taken to Amiens prison."

Roy was reunited with Jack Friday in Amiens prison and both were taken to Stalag prisoner-of-war camp in Germany, where they remained until the end of the war.

Roy went home to Guildford in 1945, where he married Ellen within a month and returned to his job on the railways.

Jeff, a manufacturing manager for a defence company, was born in February 1947, followed by a brother Anthony, now an ordained priest.

Jeff said his father did not discuss his experiences as a prisoner-of-war, nor his feelings about Plt Off Mynarski's death.

"Not even when we went away to one of the reunions at Middleton St George or when the crew met up in Canada in 1973," he said.

"I think they reverted to 1944 and they were just like young men. It was as if they were pre-June 13, 1944."

Jeff, who stays in touch with other relatives of the surviving crew and members of Plt Off Mynarski's family, remembers the crew reunions as jolly affairs.

"It certainly wasn't doom and gloom," he said. "We thought we could throw a party but they had a great time."

But he also remembers the tremor in the voices of two of the crew, Captain Art de Breyne and radio operator Jim Kelly, when he phoned them in Canada in 1994 to tell them of his trip to France.

"We phoned Jim Kelly and Art and told them we'd done it; it was quite emotional," he said.

"Prior to that, we had been touring Germany and came back through France. I put two German roses on his grave. In 1994 we made sure it was an English rose."

Jeff and Carol returned to the grave to mark the 60th anniversary of the crash last year.

Both were touched by the fact that local French people still mark the date each year with a ceremony and wreath-laying at the cairn.

This year, Mr and Mrs Vigars will set out again on a trip they know Roy would have wanted to make.

The couple, their two sons and grandchild, and Roy's widow, Ellen, will attend the unveiling of a statue of Plt Off Mynarski at Durham Tees Valley Airport.

The Northern Echo has run its Forgotten Hero campaign to raise the £40,000 needed for the 8ft bronze structure, which depicts the hero in full salute.

"I'm very proud of dad and I'm conscious of the fact that we've got to make sure that the story doesn't get lost," said Jeff. "That's why I have got no hesitation supporting the statue appeal."