Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The Lancaster Bomber - some Manitoba connections

One of the two remaining airworthy Avro Lancaster bombers revisits the Western Canada Aviation Museum in Winnipeg from July 30 to August 2, 2010. The plane is named in honour of Winnipegger Andrew Mynarski, the Lancaster pilot officer who earned a Victoria Cross by giving his life trying to save fellow crew members.

Originally British-built, the decision was made on September 18, 1941 to build the Lancasters in Malton, Ontario, far from the the war zone. The engineering task was immense but in the end Canada churned out 430 of them - almost one per day.

Aside from Mynarski many other Manitobans flew Lancasters. The Ruhr Express was the celebrated first Canadian-built Lancaster to go into service. On her maiden flight in August 1943 was Mike Baczinski of Brandon.

Later, John Astbury of Portage la Prairie was a member of her crew.
Astbury was born and raised in Portage and worked with his father Charles at the Link Manufacturing plant. He enlisted in December 1941 at age 20 and received training in Virden, Paulson and Portage la Prairie, eventually being appointed Flying Officer. He deployed overseas in December 1943 and was part of the Ruhr's crew. Sadly, ten days after the above appeared in the Winnipeg Tribune and just a month after going overseas, Astbury was killed in action.

Plans were to have the Ruhr fly back to Canada to be a permanent museum piece but on her penultimate mission in January 1945 she crashed upon landing. The crew escaped but the plane was destroyed.

Other Manitobans lost their lives on Lancasters: Norman McLeod of Balmoral and Charlie Murray, a tenor sometimes featured on CBC radio, among them.

There were stories of survival as well.

Charles Batchford survived the crash of his Lancaster.

One pilot, Stuart Leslie of Winnipeg, was missing in action when his Lancaster was shot down in March 1944. Incredibly, he appeared again in Britain in September 1944 to relay to his family that he was safe and the only survivor of the crew of seven.

There are 23 known surviving Lancasters, or substantial pieces of Lancasters, around the world but only two that are airworthy.

Source of Tribune articles is Manitobia.ca: Astbury Batchfort McLeod Leslie Murray


Western Canadian Aviation Museum
The Canadian Lancasters Bomber Command Museum
The Avro Lancaster Warplane Heritage Museum

No comments: