Beirut hostage war hero dies

Robert Fisk@indyvoices
Sunday 20 September 2015 21:06



Jackie Mann, who died yesterday aged 81, was among the bravest and the saddest of the Beirut hostages, the last Briton to be kidnapped, the first to die in freedom - among the few not to be forgotten.

When you entered the dank and penurious apartment which he had shared with his wife Sunnie, the first thing you noticed on the walls were Mann's RAF squadron badges, the names of Tangmere and Biggin Hill fading after years of Lebanese heat, along with the happier memories of his long-ago romance and marriage.

When he was released by his kidnappers in September 1991, at the age of 77, he had spent 865 days in captivity, all of them in solitary confinement, forced to eat the Arabic food he hated, and given no medication for the terrible, itching, burn-scars inflicted in the Battle of Britain. Frail and haggard after his release to Syrian security men, he angrily announced that his voice had gone "after two and a half years of chaining, of being told `do this', `do that', `don't do that' and `be quiet'."

He was brought back to Britain, given a Spitfire fly-past at RAF Lyneham and returned to the arms of his wife.

Sunnie Mann, who during his captivity had written a nostalgic book of their difficult life together - with his bank account sealed, she was desperate to find a means to support herself - was to die of cancer scarcely a year after his release. Squadron Leader Mann lived on inCyprus, unable to drag himself from the Mediterranean sun to a grey Britain that held nothing for him. He had been suffering from heart and lung problems, and died at his home in Nicosia.

He was a man who lived the greatest days of his life at an early age, shot down six times in his Spitfire before being so badly burned that he entered the "guinea-pig" plastic surgery hospital at East Grinstead. In 1941, with a painful new face, he met Sunnie, then a young attractive divorcee and part-time ambulance driver. The couple arrived in Lebanon in 1946 - Jackie went to work for the new Middle East Airlines; Sunnie started a riding school in Beirut.

But by the start of the civil war in 1975, he was retired; his pension was collapsing with the devalued Lebanese pound, his marriage had long ago lost its magic. Their coastal apartment block had turned into a squalid building surrounded by militia offices. Jackie Mann was kidnapped near his favourite pub in May, 1989 - perhaps because of some injudicious remarks he made about Salman Rushdie in front of a Shiite Muslim television cameraman. His captors, possibly Palestinians, treated him with contempt - as he did them - until the UN Secretary General, Javier Perez de Cuellar, secured his release.

Always fearing that the sacrifices of the Second World War were being forgotten, Mr Mann would probably have wished to die on no other day than Remembrance Sunday.

Obituary, page 18

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments