Second Lieutenant Frederic Manning

Date of birth: 22 July 1882
Place of birth: Sydney, NSW
Date of death: 22 February 1935
Place of death: Hampstead, London, England

Frederic Manning, an Australian, fought in the British Army during the First World War, later writing one of the finest novels - Her privates we - to emerge from that conflict. He was born in Sydney on 22 July 1882 and went to live in England at the age of 15. After two years he returned to Sydney with a growing interest in pursuing a literary career.

He returned to England shortly after his 21st birthday and was able to indulge in an almost reclusive, scholarly life thanks to a small remittance from Australia and, later, from his interest in his brother's sheep-station. Literary ambitions notwithstanding, Manning published relatively few works. His early output consisted of poems and he became principal reviewer at the Spectator in 1909. In the same year he published his first prose work, Scenes and portraits. It made Manning's reputation as an author, but those who awaited his next novel were doomed to disappointment. An historical romance which he worked on for years never materialised and his output was limited to reviews and poetry.

In October 1915 Manning enlisted as a private in the King's Shropshire Light Infantry, having once been rejected by the Royal Flying Corps. By nature a loner, Manning found the close conditions of military life trying, but after six weeks of training he was nevertheless persuaded to apply for a commission. Charged with drunkenness, he was returned to his unit and it was as a private that he fought on the Somme in 1916.

In April 1917 he published a volume of poetry, Eidola, some of which reflected his experiences of war. He was promoted to lance corporal in late 1916 and applied for a commission in November. As a line soldier, Manning developed a self-confidence that had hitherto been unknown to him. On 30 May 1917 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Irish Regiment and in July was posted to Ireland. Shortly after, however, he was arrested for drunkenness, court-martialled and severely reprimanded. In October, suffering from nervous exhaustion and drinking regularly, Manning was hospitalised in Cork. He sought to resign his commission and was discharged unfit for further service. An attempt in October 1918 to be re-appointed as an officer met with failure and Manning ended the war as a civilian.

In the years after the war Manning endured regular bouts of ill-health. In 1923 he published a biography of Sir William White, designer of the dreadnought class of battleships, but his output remained sporadic. In 1927 he was invited to write about his war experiences and, once begun, the book was quickly completed and published as The middle parts of fortune under the pseudonym "Private 19022". An expurgated version, Her privates we soon followed, earning the praise of such writers as T.E. Lawrence and Hemingway.

Suffering again from ill-health, Manning returned to Australia in 1932 but left for England two years later where the climate again affected his health. He died in Hampstead, London, on 22 February 1935.

Related Links