How many relatives can you name that could play the “Londonderry Air” on a mess hall violin, and also by his own hand shoot down 73 enemy aircraft from April, 1917 to July, 1918 over France and Belgium, and be remembered as the greatest flying “Ace” of the “Great War”? That’s right. Big question mark.
There’s only one. Edward “Mick” Mannock V.C., D.S.O. (2 bars), M.C. (1 bar). What’s all that mean? Victoria Cross (posthumous). Distinguished Service Order. Military Cross. And hitting a few bars along the way.
Mick Mannock was of Irish and British decent. We don’t seek famous warrior ancestors-by-marriage, but if we should stumble upon them then famous warrior ancestors-by-marriage it is. Mick Mannock was my consort’s first cousin, twice removed. That means he was a cousin of her father’s mother. Grandmother’s maiden name, as they used to be called, was Amelia Camille Mannock.
Getting up there in the air a hundred years ago and flying around in these canvas, string, wire and dope contraptions and their antiquated mechanics and avionics, and doing what the great Mick and many others did, is an incredible story.
Here’s a few excerpts from a personal diary Mick Mannock kept from April to September, 1917.
“20 April 1917. Over the lines today on Parry’s bus. Engine cut out three times. Wind up. Now I can understand what a tremendous strain to the nervous system active service flying is.”
“3 May 1917. Six of the boys did a great ‘stunt’ yesterday morning. Unluckily, I was not on that duty. They went over ours and the German lines at twenty feet all out, strafed five balloons and returned safely with all machines shot to pieces.”
“7 June 1917. The push on Armentiere-Ypres sector commenced this morning. We escorted FE’s over Lille on bomb-dropping business–and we met Huns. My man gave me an easy mark. I was only ten yards away from him–on top so I couldn’t miss! A beautifully coloured insect he was–red, blue, green and yellow. I let him have sixty rounds at that range, so there wasn’t much left of him. I saw him go spinning and slipping down from fourteen thousand. Rough luck, but it’s war, and they’re Huns.”
“20 July 1917. Had the good fortune to bring a Hun two-seater down in our lines a few days ago. Luckily my first few shots killed the pilot and wounded the observer (a Captain) besides breaking his gun. The bus crashed south of Avion. I hurried out at the first opportunity and found the observer being tended by the local M.O. and I gathered a few souvenirs, although the infantry had the first pick. The machine was completely smashed, and rather interesting also was the little black and tan terrier–dead–in the observer’s seat. I felt exactly like a murderer.”
“19 August 1917. Almost a month since my last notes. Pure laziness. Things have happened. Plenty of scrapping in the air, and much glory. Brought my ninth Hun down yesterday morning.”
“5 September 1917. His nose went down (pointing at me) and I immediately whipped round, dived and ‘zoomed’ up behind him, before you could say ‘Knife’. He tried to turn, but he was much too slow for the Nieuport. I got in about fifty rounds in short bursts whilst on the turn, and he went down in flames, pieces of wing and tail, etc.”
War means fighting. Fighting means killing. Killing means dying. It’s an amazingly consistent theorem throughout the sorry history of warfare.
It was the 26th of July, 1918. Mick Mannock had returned to France having been promoted to Major and was commanding 85 squadron whose previous top was Billy Bishop, the Canadian. Mannock, at 31, was ancient by Royal Flying Corps standards. He was also burned out. By modern measures there’s no way he’d still have been flying much less commanding a squadron.
He’d destroyed a German plane before 6 am that morning. Then he did something inexplicable and that he’d repeatedly warned other pilots never to do, which is to go down and have a closer look at the plane you’ve just shot down. A hail of ground fire from the German trenches struck his SE.5a. A wing came off and Mannock crashed. His body was recovered by the Germans and immediately buried. It’s uncertain even now where exactly his grave is.
Five biographies have been written about Mick Mannock from the scholarly to the merely anecdotal. samoyeddogs, through the offices of our hard working research staff, has managed to acquire them all as well as a copy of his personal diary published in 1966. Peace.