Wincobank Charlie is star of war story

Charlie and Fred Manning
Charlie and Fred Manning
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STEEL worker. Father of three. World War One soldier.

Meet Charles Manning, the regular Wincobank bloke who was all these things. And who, this Remembrance Day, 43 years after he passed away, has become the hero of a new children’s picture book charting the 1914-18 conflict.

Charlie’s War Illustrated - currently selling like hot cakes at London’s Imperial War Museum - has been written and drawn by his grandson (and award-winning author) Mick Manning with partner Brita Granstrom. It uses the story of the one-time Vickers Steel deseamer to explain The Great War to a new generation.

The book - designed like an old-fashioned Boy’s Own adventure comic - follows our hero from signing up in Sheffield at just 21 to travelling the world with the Royal Field Artillery. We see him on the front lines of France and the freezing hills of Salonika. In one memorable scene he eats watermelon for the first time in Egypt. In another he gets drunk on champagne after discovering a cellar of the stuff in France.

It feels, in short, like your granddad regaling you with war-time stories.

“That’s what we wanted,” says Mick down a phone from his home in Berwick-upon-Tweed. “Everything in there is true. That meant explaining the horrors he saw but also sharing the odd cheeky adventure and the camaraderie.”

Mick and Brita - who have released dozens of children’s books in 15 languages - came up with the idea after writing something similar about the World War Two experiences of Mick’s dad, also named Charles.

That was called Tail-End Charlie and has been extensively used in schools since release in 2008.

The pair started the new one by making notes on all the stories Charles told Mick as a youngster. Then they researched his war record - “to make sure there were no granddad-like embellishments”. After it was drawn, the Imperial War Museum historians double-checked for accuracy.

“We wanted the detail spot on,” says Mick, who was raised in Keighley after his dad left Sheffield. “Down to what uniform my granddad would have been wearing.”

The result is something the old boy would surely have been proud of. He continued as a steelworker after the war and lived in Tipton Street. He had three children with wife Elise.

Famously in family folklore, he still had his war issue gun when the Second World War started.

“The first time a German plane flew over Sheffield,” recalls father-of-four Mick, 54, “he ran out and shot at it.”