Obituary / Jackie Mann

Jackie Mann had his time of glory 55 years ago, when he was a Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain, but had fame thrust on him by becoming one of the last hostages to be freed in Beirut.

Many will remember the moment the RAF, with rare delicacy, managed to combine time and memory by arranging for a Spitfire to fly overhead as Jackie Mann emerged from the plane which brought him from the forced freedom ceremonies for the benefit of the Syrians in Damascus to the real welcome at the Lyneham air station in Britain.

Mann was a sergeant pilot in the Battle of Britain, and was shot down several times, on the last occasion being seriously burned. He became one of the "guinea-pigs", the fliers whose bodies were painfully and slowly patched up by the great plastic surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe, and attended meetings of that dwindling band whenever he could. For Jackie Mann, those wartime days were the highspot of his career. Behind the bar he later managed in Beirut he kept a book listing the names of all those who fought in the great air battle. If someone boasted of having taken part, Mann would look up the book. "Can't find your name here," he would say. And that would be the end of that particular customer.

After his wartime service, Mann joined Middle East Airlines, and eventually became chief pilot of what was and still is the best airline in the region. He married Sunnie McWhirter, who was the company's first air hostess, and together they lived the good life in pre-war Beirut - drinks at the St George's Club with the other English expatriates, the London papers delivered a day late, shopping at Smith's supermarket for English food. Jackie remained the complete Englishman, hardly noticing those among whom he lived. In the 42 years he spent in Beirut, he learned hardly a word of Arabic, and disliked the marvellous Lebanese food.

In other ways too, Jackie Mann was stuck in time. When Middle East Airlines converted its fleet from turbo-prop to jet planes, he found difficulty in making the transition. Eventually, he retired early. Then came the time of the doldrums. He managed two bars - the first, frequented by journalists, he took some pleasure in naming the "Cock and Bull". From flying planes, he moved to talking about them with the expatriate pilots who still flew in and out of Beirut.

Gradually, the scene changed. In 1975 the civil war in Lebanon began, and the good life was over. The streets became the battleground, inflation made comfortable living more difficult, and slowly the expatriate community on which Mann depended dwindled away. When the hostage-taking began almost all foreigners left the country, but Jackie and his wife, who had started a riding stable, had no thought of going. He was convinced he was safe, because, he said, everyone knew he had no money and was of no importance to anyone.

He was wrong: deprived of other targets, the kidnappers seized Mann in 1989, releasing him at the end of 1991. When he came out, Mann revealed he had been beaten during captivity, but within days he turned from a frail old man into the indomitable character many had known - a man who was very angry at his captors. No turning the other cheek for Jackie Mann; if he had managed to get his kidnappers at the end of a gun, there is no doubt what he would have done. His period of convalescence as a guest of the RAF must have been one of the happiest times of his life. He was back in the milieu he loved best and missed so much, given special respect by senior officers young enough to be his sons, who paid to him the tribute due to The Few.

But once that time was over, Mann was not going to remain: after being an Englishman abroad so long, he could not take the cold and fogs of a British winter. He did not go back to Beirut, which he would certainly have done if it had been feasible, but settled instead for Cyprus, that haven of Britishness in the eastern Mediterranean. There, he found old flying cronies, friends from Beirut to reminisce with, English beer and food.

This last phase of Jackie Mann's life, until his wife's death from cancer in November 1992, was perhaps the best of all, a tiny recompense for the awful time of captivity.

John Bulloch

Jack Mann, pilot: born 1914; CBE 1992; married 1943 Mrs Sunnie McWhirter (died 1992; one daughter); died Nicosia, Cyprus 12 November 1995.

Suggested Topics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Project Manager (Procurement & Human Resources)

Unpaid: Cancer Research UK: If you’re a professional in project management, lo...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices