The trembling ace

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The air aces of World War I - like the Red Baron - left a rich mythology that persists to the present day. But the man who was, perhaps, Britain's best pilot, remains little known.

A 90-year-old photo album discovered recently in northern France, reveals possibly the last picture of Britain's "highest scoring" fighter pilot from World War I.

It's an innocent photograph. A highly decorated RAF pilot poses for the camera, his arm gently resting on the shoulder of a local French child standing in front of him.

Within days of this picture being taken the pilot - Major Edward "Mick" Mannock VC - would be dead.

Photographs of Mannock, Britain's highest scoring fighter pilot from World War I, are surprisingly rare. This new one has come to light when researchers recently stumbled across an old album belonging to a French farmer whose land was being used by the RAF in the summer of 1918.

Mannock had just completed an extraordinary run of success shooting down 20 German planes that May - four of them in one day - and winning the Distinguished Service Order (one below the Victoria Cross) not once but three times in little over a month.

Part of the explanation is that unlike Germany who promoted their air heroes such as the Red Baron, Britain had a policy of keeping their pilots identities firmly under wraps, preferring the idea that it was a team effort and not all about the individual.

The effect was that while photos and stories of the Red Baron were splashed over newspapers around the world, in Britain Mannock, or "Captain X" as the press referred to him, was virtually unknown.

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