b. 24/05/1887 Brighton, Sussex. d. 26/07/1918 Lillers, France.
Edward Corringham “Mick” Mannock (1887-1918) was born at Preston Barracks in Brighton on 24th May 1887. His parents came from Irish parentage, the son of Julia Mannock (nee O’Sullivan), and her husband Corporal Edward Mannock, a regular service soldier of the 2nd Dragoons, Royal Scots Greys. The young Edward was of slight build and indifferent health, and soon developed a severe astigmatism in his left eye and was virtually blind in this eye for the rest of his life.
After his father’s service in the Boer War, the family moved to the cavalry depot at Canterbury, and Edward received a scant education at St Thomas’s School until he turned 13, after which he undertook a variety of menial jobs simply to supplement the family income. The ending of his academic studies was not his choice, but a necessity. Soon after arriving in Canterbury, Mannock’s father deserted the family, leaving his wife penniless with four young children.
Struggling against poverty, Mannock joined his brother Patrick in the employment of the National Telephone Company, first as a clerk then as a maintenance man. He also joined a local army territorial unit of the Royal Army Medical Corps.
In January 1914, he left England, having volunteered for a post with a telephone company in Turkey, and became based in Constantinople in a field supervisory position. He was still in Turkey on 5th November 1914 when Britain and France made their joint declaration of war against Turkey, and within days he was one of many British nationals “interred” by the Turkish Government. He was kept in poor conditions and malnutrition, disease and fever was rife. Only the intervention by an American Consular official saved Mannock, racked with fever, and he was repatriated to England on 1st April 1915 as “unfit for military duty”.
On his return, he was now determined to join the fight, and immediately rejoined the RAMC, was promoted to Sergeant and later, Sergeant-Major in the mounted transport section. He then decided to apply for a commission in the Royal Engineers. After three months cadet training at Fenny Stratford, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, RE on 1st April 1916; only to apply for the Royal Flying Corps for training as a pilot. The inspiration for this move was undoubtedly Albert Ball, whose exploits were being publicised nationally.
In August 1916 his application was accepted and, after a brief ground school course at Reading School of Military Aeronautics, he reported to Hendon for initial flying instruction, followed by advanced instruction at Upavon. Granted Royal Aero Club Certificate No 3895 on 28th November 1916, he was posted to 19 (Training) Squadron at Hounslow in early December; then attached briefly to the Hythe gunnery school. His final training at Joyce Green aerodrome with No 10 (Reserve) Squadron, where one of his instructors was Jimmy McCudden (later VC). Despite his eye defect, he managed to conceal this, and was selected to become a single-seat scout pilot.
His orders to go to France arrived on 1st April 1917 and he arrived the following day at St Omer. He then joined his first operational unit, 40 Squadron based at Aire, equipped with the tiny Nieuport Scout and commanded by Major Leonard Tilney. Allotted to C Flight, he made his first solo flight the following day. On 19th April, he had a narrow brush with death, when a lower wing became loose and flew off, and only skilful flying saw a safe landing.
It was not until May 7th that Mannock achieved his first confirmed victory – a kite balloon destroyed. His first victory against an aircraft came on 7th June, followed by two “drove down” victories two days later. After a period of leave, achieved more victories, and on 22nd July he was awarded the Military Cross, and promoted to Captain in command of a Flight.
Having spent several weeks in action, and gained much first-hand experience of the business of air fighting, Mannock, as commander of a Flight, now began to implement his private ideas on how air combat tactics should be used. Between 28th July and 15th August, he claimed five German single-seaters, and in the following week, achieved five more, and on 4th September 1917, achieved a triple victory. Throughout the remainder of September saw another 7 victories, and by 18th October 1917, he was awarded a Bar to his MC, and on 1st January 1918 it saw his final day with 40 Squadron.
After a period of leave, he was attached to the Wireless Experimental Establishment at Biggin Hill, then in mid-February 1918 ordered to join 74 (Training) Squadron at London Colney Aerodrome. The 74 was a new unit, equipped with SE5a single-seat scouts and commanded by Major Keith Caldwell MC, a veteran New Zealand pilot. Mannock was appointed A Flight Commander, and by 1st March, the unit was to readying itself for combat in France. On 31st March, the squadron flew to its initial base at Teteghem, near Dunkirk for a week’s armament practice, and then on 9th April, moved to La Lovie airfield, near Poperinghe, Belgium.
Just three days later, Mannock achieved the squadron’s maiden victory east of Cauvin. Before the end of April, he had added seven more. May 1918 proved to be his most successful month of operations with no less than 24 victories. On 19th May came the award of the DSO and a week later, in a letter to a friend in England, he wrote “now I have 41 victories” showing his thirst for destruction of the enemy. By the end of the month, he had received a Bar to his DSO, and began June with a triple victory. By the 18th of the month, and the start of a period of leave in England, he had added eight more. By then his reputation as a superb fighting leader had spread along the Western Front in RAF units, yet he was still unknown outside Service circles.
Promoted to Major on 21st June, he was chosen to succeed Major “Billy” Bishop VC DSO MC DFC in command of another SE5a fighter unit in France, 85 Squadron, when Bishop was withdrawn from operations to assist in the formation of the Canadian Flying Corps. Mannock took up his role on 3rd July, and wasted little time in returning to combat. By the 22nd July, he had added another 12 victories to add to his personal tally. By now the pilots of 85 Squadron had come to have utter faith in Mannock and believed he was invincible. Sadly this proved not to be the case just four days later on 26th July 1918.
On that day, Major Mannock offered to help a new arrival, Lt. D.C. Inglis, obtain his first victory. After shooting down an enemy LVG two-seater behind the German front-line, Mannock is believed to have dived to the crash site to view the wreckage, seemingly breaking one of the unwritten rules of fellow pilots. However, while crossing the trenches, the fighters were met with a massive volley of ground-fire. The engine of Mannock's aircraft was hit and immediately caught fire and crashed behind German lines. Mannock's body is believed to have been found, though this is unproven, about 250 yards from the wreck of his machine, perhaps thrown, perhaps jumped. The body showed no gunshots; Mannock always promised to shoot himself if he was ever going down. A report from German intelligence stated that his remains were “buried at a point 300 metres north-west of La Pierre-au-Beure, in the vicinity of Pacaut, east of Lillers.” This report was never officially confirmed. In more recent times, following research, some believe that the grave of a “British Airman of the Great War” in Laventie Military Cemetery holds the remains of Mick Mannock. He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial of the Missing.
After the Armistice of November 1918, when the final awards and honours for wartime service had been promulgated, many former colleagues of Mannock began to express dismay that he had not been recognised by the award of the VC. Investigation into his war record at Air Ministry resulted in an official accreditation to Mannock for a total of 73 air combat victories, which was published in the Weekly Dispatch of 18th May 1919, with an added comment that Mannock “should be awarded the VC.”
The growing agitation for a posthumous VC reached the newly appointed Air Minister, Winston Churchill, who was sympathetic. Finally, on 18th July 1919, nearly a year after his death, the London Gazette announced the award; its citation only citing 50 victories and ending with the words “he was an outstanding example of fearless courage, remarkable skill, devotion to duty, and self-sacrifice, which has never been surpassed.” His medals were privately held until September 1992, when at an auction at Sotheby’s, Billingshurst, Sussex, his medal group including the VC, DSO and Two Bars and MC and Bar were sold for £132,000 to Michael Ashcroft and are now displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum. Sadly, his WWI campaign medals (1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf) are missing from the group. In 2014, Dix Noonan Webb sold his memorial plaque to an unknown bidder for £22,000.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: NO KNOWN GRAVE - ON ARRAS MEMORIAL, FRANCE. BAY 1.
Mick Mannock's medals including VC, DSO with Three Bars, and MC with Bar on display at Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London (December 2014).
Royal Engineers Memorial. Chatham
RFC Memorial to the Missing, Arras, France
Graeme Lothian drawing
Canterbury War Memorial
RAF Memorial, St Clements Danes Church, Aldwych
The grave of a British airman buried in Laventie Military Cemetery in France. Recent research believes this could be the final resting place of Mick Mannock VC, DSO**, MC*
Ian Fleming Artwork
Old Steine War Memorial, Brighton (Jane Kistnasamy)
Mannock's stone in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin
(courtesy of Michael J Whelan and Tony Kearns)