b. 12/04/1917 Wandsworth, London. d. 04/07/1940 Portland.Harbour, Dorset.
Jack Foreman Mantle (1917-1940) was born in Wandsworth, London on 12th April 1917. He was the only child of Lisle John Foreman Mantle (1885-1981) and Jeannie Mantle (nee Jackson). Tragically, Jack’s mother passed away when he was just two. He attended Taunton's School between 1929 and 1931, joining the Royal Navy in 1934. He trained at HMS St Vincent at Portsmouth, and subsequently served aboard HMS Kent, and on HMS Aurora seeing service on the China Station and in the Mediterranean.
On the outbreak of war he was at Gunnery School in Portsmouth, and thereafter served on convoy protection duty. In May 1940, he was home on leave, and shortly afterwards joined HMS Foylebank, a merchant vessel built in 1930, and converted into an armed merchant cruiser in the anti-aircraft role. She was commissioned into the Royal Navy on 6th June 1940, and immediately commenced training in role. Mantle already had something of a reputation as a gunner from previous convoy duty, and had been credited with shooting down a german raider while serving aboard a French ship (reputedly with a Lewis light machine gun). For this action, he had been Mentioned in Despatches (although this was not announced in the London Gazette until 11th July 1940, a week after he was killed).
British harbours were dangerous places at the beginning of the Second World War for they were attractive targets for enemy squadrons based in nearby France. The capitulation of France in mid-1940 had left Britain exposed. Dive bombers singled out one British harbour after another and on 4th July 1940 it was the turn of Portland, where some convoys had assembled. Part of the protecting force was the armed merchant cruiser HMS Foylebank and one of its 40 mm rapid-fire pom-pom guns was manned by 23-year-old Leading Seaman Jack Mantle of Wandsworth, London.
Mantle already had a reputation, being at that time one of the few naval gunners on convoy protection duty to have shot down a German raider. He had done this with an old-fashioned Lewis light machine gun while serving on a French ship and for this feat had been Mentioned in Despatches.
On 4th July 1940 he reclined in his gunner's swivel chair and faced the fearful sight of more than 20 Stukas diving at him, firing their machine guns and dropping bombs. His exemplary gallantry under fire was witnessed by Foylebank's captain, P.J. Wilson. Foylebank was sunk and Jack Mantle lost his life. His VC citation on 3rd September 1940 is brief and poignant. “Leading Seaman Jack Mantle was in charge of the Starboard pom-pom gun when HMS Foylebank was attacked by enemy aircraft on the 4th of July 1940. Early in the action his left leg was shattered by a bomb, but he stood fast at his gun and went on firing with hand-gear only: for the ship's electric power had failed. Almost at once he was wounded again in many places. Between his bursts of fire he had time to reflect on the grievous injuries of which he was soon to die but his great courage bore him up till the end of the fight, when he fell by the gun he had so valiantly served.”
Jack Mantle's Victoria Cross was the only one awarded to the Navy for an act of valour on mainland Britain. He had joined the Navy at the age of 16 and, fittingly, he was buried in the Royal Naval Cemetery, Portland Bill, Dorset. Jack’s medal group of VC, 1939-45 Star, Atlantic Star, and War Medal 1939-45 is held by the Mantle family, though in 2006, they placed the group on long term loan to the Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth.
LOCATION OF MEDAL ROYAL NAVAL MUSEUM, PORTSMOUTH.
BURIAL PLACE: PORTLAND NAVAL CEMETERY, PORTLAND, DORSET. GRAVE 672.
Wandsworth Town Hall, Wandsworth, London
RFA Lyme Bay, Yeovil
Courtesy of Brian Drummond
Mantle's medal at the Royal Navy Museum
(courtesy of Thomas Stewart)