Wartime bullet found after death of veteran

To most people it may seem like an ordinary bullet – a relic of a long lost battlefield.

But to the family of one Second World War paratrooper, Jack Mansell, it is a reminder of their relative’s past in one of the bloodiest episodes of the conflict.

The scrap of metal was found in the ashes of the veteran, from West Bromwich, who died in hospital aged 90.

His friends, family and members of the armed forces paid tribute to the Black Country Soldier who was one of 35,000 allied soldiers dropped behind enemy lines in the Netherlands during Operation Market Garden in 1944.

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Second World War veteran Jack Mansell, aged around 19, before he was shot by a German sniper

The operation, which was intended to force an entry in Germany over the Lower Rhine, had been seen as a way of finishing the war by Christmas but was a devastating defeat for the Allies after they encountered a far stronger resistance than they had expected. Between 15,130 and 17,200 Allies were killed, wounded or captured.

At the time Private Mansell was only 21 years old and was fighting with the elite airborne unit of the Second Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment, which he had signed up to because they were based close to home.

Pte Mansell was part of an anti-tank unit manning a six-pound gun and on the day of the operation his team landed by Horsa glider in a meadow about six miles from the vital road bridge at Arnhem.

After fighting waves of German tanks for several days, their guns ran out of ammunition and he and his fellow comrades were forced to pull back.

But during their withdrawal Pte Mansell was shot by a German sniper in the right hip and taken to a field hospital.

The bullet that the Pte thought had passed through him remained lodged in his body for 69 years.

It was only discovered during an x-ray of his abdomen during the 80s.

His nephew Kevin Edwards said: “During the 1980s Jack injured his abdomen while moving some metal at work.

“A routine hospital x-ray showed a bullet located in his right hip. All those years ago, Jack had thought the German bullet had passed through him – in fact it was still lodged in his body.

“It was left there as it gave him no trouble.”

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Jack’s wife Evelyn

Pte Mansell was cremated at West Bromwich Crematorium, on November 22, and to the surprise of the staff they managed to find the German bullet among his ashes.

Mr Edwards added: “It had melted a little, but was easily recognisable.”

A couple of days after arriving at the field hospital, as the Germans arrived and took over, Pte Mansell and five friends slipped out.

The escape attempt proved to be in vain and Pte Mansell was captured quickly and sent to work in German mines and on the railways. Then in the spring of 1945, while on a forced march, a tank with a white star on its side appeared on a hill and an RAF Typhoon fighter-bomber flew low over – he knew he was finally free.

A couple of weeks later Pte Mansell was back at home – a comfort to his parents whose other son, Tom, had been killed in action by a landmine in the final weeks of the war. He had been serving with the Fifth Battalion The Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry.

After the war, Pte Mansell returned to Germany, where he worked as a dispatch rider and spent hours of his free time riding around the war cemeteries on his motorbike, trying to find Tom’s resting place.

After years of research on the internet Tom’s grave was located on the War Graves Commission website, and in September 1999 Pte Mansell finally visited his brother’s grave for the first time.

Mr Edwards said: “Jack was a very proud man. He never considered himself to be a hero, although he was.”

The 53-year-old from Pinewood Close, Walsall added: “He was a very popular and well loved man. Men like him are literally a dying breed, and should never be forgotten. It would be a shame if his passing was to go unnoticed.”

Julie Willets, the paratrooper’s daughter said: “My dad was a very easy going, family orientated man. He was a massive Baggies fan and went to a lot of the matches.”

His funeral was attended by more than 300 friends and family members, as well as five regimental standard bearers and a bugler who sounded The Last Post. Guests also donated to veterans’ charity Help for Heroes raising £620 in his memory.

The 59-year-old from Fairyfield Avenue, Great Barr, added: “Despite all the amazing things he did, he never really spoke to me about what he had done in the war until the very end of his life. The stories I’ve been told about him are amazing.”

He also leaves two sons Terry, 66, and Paul, 44, seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren.