Nobody called him that. “Mad”. Except my father-in-law whose mother, Amelia, was Edward “Mick” Mannock’s cousin. “Micky” yes, but surely not “mad”. I was re-reading ole father-in-law’s autobiography after 20 years, one of 37 books he published, and I didn’t recall him calling him that from the first read-through so it stuck out. Everything’s twenty years.
But today, July 26, 1918, it’s “Major Mannock”. But it’s still good ole “Mick” to friends unless they’re dead. Dreary stuff, Eleanor. I seem to have taken over 85 squadron at St. Omer, France. Why would anyone want to do a thing like that?
It’s all getting a bit vieux chapeau, Gertrude. Stupid war. All this bloody killing. 1918 and we’re still bloody going at it. I’ve had it.
I’m not sure why a “Major.” What else have I been wrong about? He was too modest. Staff sergeant Milliby said: “If you’ve been gazetted a major, Major, then you’re bloody well a major.” So that’s the reason why.
Mick didn’t take a course in killing German airmen in WWI. He was self-taught. He killed with a ferocious efficiency. Early on at 40 Sqd. returning from a patrol the right wing on his plane fell off at 700 feet. Rather than die he managed to crash land. After that nobody wanted to talk about how Mannock didn’t know what he was doing.
“Gentlemen, always above, seldom on the same level; never underneath.”
And don’t follow your kill down. You can get shot up from the ground. Especially true for Mannock because he always attacked from the east and his combats were always over German-held ground. He was the top “Ace” of the Great War.
I have my own theory about what happened to Mick Mannock that cheerful July morning over the lines under low cloudcover at five am. After those two bastard enemies in the German flying contraption were killed. The Kiwi, Inglis, was in on it.
“Both my guns were going full out, when suddenly the Hun’s tail shot up in front of me. A chill ran through me as I pulled up, just missing his tail and wing by a fraction. Looking back I saw my first Hun going down in a mass of flames.”
The Blue Flame
It was a special trip because the squadron usually didn’t open much before 8 a.m. But Inglis needed a first Hun and the major, who by now wasn’t just a legend in his own mind but a greatly respected leader and teacher, and, sine qua non, survivor, wanted to help the Hun-less flyer out. Of course he did.
“We circled once and started for home. The realization came to me we were being shot at from the ground when I saw the major stop kicking his rudder. Suddenly a small flame appeared on the right of Mick’s machine, and simultaneously he stopped kicking his rudder. The plane went into a slow right-hand turn, the flame growing in intensity, and as the machine hit the ground it burst into a mass of flame.”
“I saw no one leave the machine and then started for the lines, climbing slightly and at about 150 feet there was a bang and I was smothered in petrol, my engine cut out so I switched off and made a landing 5 yards behind our front line.”
That’s not Mick, of course. He’s dead even if it is only five-thirty in the morning. That’s the after action report of Inglis, who’d come all the way from the southern hemisphere to give battle, but hadn’t killed anybody before this morning.
It’s quite evident. It’s never been precisely determined where the Germans buried the major’s body. It’s another one of those things that happened 100 years ago. Birth, death, it’s all the same. If things had gone a bit different, and Major M. had got through this morning, he could still be alive.
Quotes from “MANNOCK The Life and Death of Major Edward Mannock VC, DSO, MC, RAF. By Norman Franks and Andy Saunders. Published 2008.