Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1940, Leading Seaman Jack Mantle V.C., the Royal Navy, was killed in action aboard H.M.S. Foylebank at Portland Harbour in Dorset.
His parents’ only child, his mother died when he was two years old. He was educated at Taunton’s School in Southampton, and in 1934 joined the Royal Navy at the age of sixteen. Leading Seaman Mantle trained on H.M.S. St. Vincent in Portsmouth, and went on to serve in the Mediterranean and the China Station.
At the outbreak of the second world war, he was assigned to serve on convoy protection duty. He used a Lewis light machine gun to bring down a German raider, and for this action was Mentioned in Despatches. He was at the time one of just a few Royal Navy gunners to have shot down the enemy. In May of 1940 he began serving on H.M.S. Foylebank, a former merchant vessel commissioned by the Royal Navy and converted into an armed cruiser.
British ports were more exposed after the capitulation of France, and were targets for German dive-bombers. At 8:40 in the morning of the 4th of July, twenty German dive-bombers headed for H.M.S. Foylebank, firing their guns and dropping bombs. Leading Seaman Mantle was manning a 40 mm rapid-fire pom-pom gun. His left leg was seriously injured but he did not seek help nor medical attention.
His actions that day earned him the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross, the citation for which reads in part: “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.”
H.M.S. Foylebank was bombed, and sank the next day with over half the ship’s company having being killed – one hundred and seventy-six officers and crew out of a total of two hundred and ninety-eight. Leading Seaman Mantle’s Victoria Cross was the only one awarded to the Royal Navy for an act of valour on the mainland of Britain.
He lies buried in the Royal Naval Cemetery in Portland Bill, Dorset, and on his headstone are the words: “Because we did not choose to live and shame the land from which we sprung”.
Jack, from Wandsworth, was 23 years old.