Tufty Mann has Denis Compton in some trouble

Tufty Mann bowls to Denis Compton in 1949. Playing cricket represented a return to normalcy after the harrowing years of the war

© PA Photos

The left-armer who went to war

Tufty Mann was a miserly spinner for South Africa, but before that he was a soldier and captive in World War Two

Luke Alfred |

"Tufty" Mann is best known by a generation of pub quiz Einsteins for being immortalised in John Arlott's famous quote about "Mann's inhumanity to Mann". The occasion was the fifth Test of the 1948-49 series in Tufty's hometown of Port Elizabeth, where the South African left-arm spinner was giving the MCC's George Mann such a torrid time that Arlott, ever alert to the claims of the general in the particular, saw an opportunity he couldn't resist.

Mann was a thrifty spinner with a low trajectory, and parsimony was his middle name. Having lived behind the false wall of a pigsty as an escaped prisoner-of-war in north-eastern Italy during the latter stages of the Second World War, he impressed in the post-war trials and made his Test debut for South Africa against England at Trent Bridge in 1947. He clearly wasn't bothered by bowling to Bill Edrich and Denis Compton, because his first eight overs in Test cricket were all maidens, as England started their long climb towards South Africa's 533 batting first.

England were befuddled, scraping to 208 (Lindsay Tuckett 37-9-68-5; Mann 20-13-10-0) before amassing 551 in the follow-on.

Rationing was still a feature of everyday life in England (the South Africans ate more whale steaks, plaice and kippers than they would have liked) but as former allies and members of the Commonwealth, their welcome was warm and open-armed

Among them, the South Africans bowled 226.2 overs in England's second dig, with Mann breezing his way through 60 of them, 22 of which were maidens. His first Test wicket was Compton, who he had caught by Bruce Mitchell for 163. All in all, he was to take 57 more of them in an all-too-brief career.

Batting last, South Africa were given 140 minutes to score 227 to win. Making a brave dash for victory, they were 166 for 1 at the close, their captain, Alan Melville, scoring his second century of the match with 104 not out.

After the privations, horrors and boredom of the war, the 1947 tour to England must have seemed like a furlough on the fields of heaven to Mann. Rationing was still a feature of everyday life (the South Africans ate more whale steaks, plaice and kippers than they would have liked) but as former allies and members of the Commonwealth, their English welcome was warm and open-armed.

Mann (front row, second from right) with his school Michaelhouse's first XI in South Africa in 1937

Mann (front row, second from right) with his school Michaelhouse's first XI in South Africa in 1937 © Chris Mann

Crowds were appreciative, matches were many - the South Africans played 33 in all, two of them against the Gentlemen of Ireland - and the profits were handsome. The South Africans took £10,000 home, and made friends and influenced people by giving Surrey and Lancashire half their gate money to help rebuild their bombed grounds.

With the series hanging in the balance, England having won Tests two and three in the five-match series, Mann came into his own at Headingley in the fourth. Winning the toss and batting, Melville's men were all out on the first afternoon for 175. Len Hutton and Cyril Washbrook guided England to the close, but play on the second morning was delayed for an hour due to a thunderstorm. Despite the storm, the cricket was over-subscribed; the gates were closed early.

On a drying pitch now well-suited to the spin of Mann and Athol Rowan, England crawled towards a lead. The South African spinners weren't going to make it easy. Mann and Rowan bowled 96 first-innings overs between them. Mann took 4 for 68 in 50 overs, accounting for Washbrook, Edrich, Compton and Ken Cranston. Despite his best endeavours, it wasn't enough. England declared on 317 for 7, a lead of 142, and, with the South Africans stuttering to 184 in their second innings, England stormed to win by ten wickets, taking the series.

When Mann walked down the troopship gangplank at the end of the war, he was so emaciated that his wife didn't recognise him

Born in Benoni, a gold-mining town east of Johannesburg, in 1920, Mann was the son of a mine doctor. He was educated at Michaelhouse in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, initially showing greater aptitude at golf than he did at cricket. When not yet 20, he won the Natal Open at Umkomaas, which led via a glut of introductions - one was from Bobby Locke, South Africa's famous golfer - to the young woman who later became his wife.

The lucky girl was Daphne Greenwood, who was educated at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and was an understudy to Kitty Prince on the Bournemouth pantomime circuit, playing in pre-war productions like Aladdin and Robin Hood. The two were introduced at Addington Palace Golf Club in Croydon while Tufty was studying at Cambridge, but he was soon recalled home; Daphne followed on the Winchester Castle, which zig-zagged across the Bay of Biscay in an attempt to avoid German U-boats. Behind blackened portholes, passengers went to bed fully clothed. A post-dinner fag was not encouraged.

The couple were married in September 1940, shortly before Tufty (so-called because of a Tintin-like tuft of hair on his forehead) went off to Potchefstroom to join the second anti-tank regiment, and all the trials and lunacies of basic training are captured in an unpublished manuscript, Fugitive Freedom, he wrote about his wartime experiences, which is still in the family's possession.

Mann's diary from his years as a POW in hiding

Mann's diary from his years as a POW in hiding © Chris and Julia Mann

Mann wrote that such was the enmity between pro-German, Ossewa Brandwag-supporting members of the South African military and their English-speaking, pro-Imperial colleagues, that running battles would often erupt along the town's oak-lined streets. "We were known as the 'millionaires' brigade', and the number of wealthy and influential men in the business world was astonishing," he wrote of his regiment. "It was amusing to see them sweating and struggling on the parade-ground, or peeling potatoes in company with a clerk from their own concerns."

Early in 1941, under escort from the HMS Exeter, a fleet of troopships sailed from Durban to Aden and Port Tufiki up the east coast. Amidst disembarkation, an eternity of marching and digging themselves in, there was time for a visit to an Egyptian nightclub or for a game of cricket.

One friendly match was played at the Gesna Sporting Club on the banks of the Nile, where a scratch South African selection played against a team of sundry British officers. The teams gained entrance to the field through different gates and Mann bemoans the fact that he and his team of unlisted men were subtly ostracised and seldom talked to. "We had a very enjoyable afternoon's cricket and the satisfaction of giving our opponents a good hiding. At the end of the game they sent 13 'beer shandies' along on a tray!"

Peasants snuck them meals of polenta and beans; they filched watermelons, ripening in the summer, and rationed their cigarettes. Tufty kept his diary, read Shakespeare, Hugo and Dumas and dreamt of his sweetheart

A couple of months later, after a prolonged game of cat and mouse with Erwin Rommel's Fourth Army across the Western Desert, several guns in the company of which Mann was part were put out of action in a skirmish close to Tobruk. Mann and his fellow gunners were confused and disoriented. "Soon after, Jerry infantry all armed with Tommy guns and machine guns romped over the ridge and there was nothing to do but put our hands up when they threatened us menacingly. Our vehicle was ransacked. A new life had begun for us. We had never dreamed of being taken prisoner," he wrote.

After time in a Libyan transit camp and a dusty voyage in the forward hold of a lighter normally used to transport concrete, the prisoners found themselves in Sicily; from there they hopped across to the Italian mainland, ending up in a POW camp in Chiavari, south of Genoa. On the way there, as they swung through Naples, his mates dirty and emaciated, many of them suffering from dysentery, he noticed a group of Germans heading in the opposite direction: "What a trial it was for us to watch them [the Germans] eating their black bread with cheese and jam and gulping down mugs of steaming black coffee. Most of them were very young."

After months of rationing their fags, counting the days until their next eagerly awaited Red Cross parcel, and engaging in clandestine barter with their Italian guards, Mann's group were moved. With the arrival of spring, they were transported east across Italy, part of workers' parties meant to scythe the corn and hoe the sugar beet. It was here, in a pocket of land between the Po estuary and Venice, that Mann came to rest. "We duly arrived at the farm and immediately were items of terrific excitement and interest from that day onwards," he records.

Mann with the Italian family that sheltered him during the war

Mann with the Italian family that sheltered him during the war © Chris and Julia Mann

The Italians soon surrendered. In the post-Armistice confusion, many prisoners made a dash for freedom, hiding in ditches or trudging for the Yugoslav border. Mann and others stayed behind, hiding out in barns or lean-tos in the fields, taking advantage of anti-Fascist rent farmers when they could. Sometimes they holed out in back rooms or crept into barns when darkness fell. Peasants snuck them meals of polenta and beans; they filched watermelons, ripening in the summer, and rationed their cigarettes. Tufty kept his diary, read William Shakespeare, Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas and dreamt of his sweetheart. "The German patrols regularly used to spray the corn fields with machine-gun fire and round up suspected sympathisers," recounts his son, Chris, a poet and academic in the small Eastern Cape town of Grahamstown. "Tufty and a friend hid in a pigsty for nine months."

When Mann walked down the troopship gangplank at the end of the war, he was so emaciated that his wife didn't recognise him. He started playing cricket for Eastern Province in December 1946, nearly helping them to an unlikely victory over a strong Transvaal in the first game of cricket ever played at Ellis Park.

Life returned to normal but he was damaged inside. When Daphne cleaned the house she often found half-eaten sandwiches behind the couch pillows. Apples were rolled into corners or behind chairs, just in case. Mann would never forget the wintertime hunger he felt while stranded in the POW camp in the mountains behind Chiavari; neither would he forget the elaborate rituals involved in collecting water, chopping or breaking wood for a fire, and "making a brew".

After his debut, at Trent Bridge, Tufty played 18 more times for South Africa. He was an accurate, canny bowler, not a big spinner of the ball but capable of nagging away at a length. He always bowled a high proportion of maidens and his economy rate remained under two runs per over throughout his Test career. As a batsman he had a good eye - golf was doubtless the key - as evidenced by a barnstorming innings in the first of two matches against Glamorgan on the 1947 tour. Coming in after a "dreary" Bruce Mitchell had crawled to a century, Mann arrived on the Whit-Monday and hit 97 (a six and 13 fours) in 55 minutes before an appreciative holiday crowd.

"He was nature's gentleman, a man respected by all from the highbrow to the lowbrow. I remember when I was over there with the Australian team that Sunday morning we had, drinking, I think, German beer" Keith Miller in a letter to Mann's wife

Chris remembers listening to the radio commentary of his dad's exploits as a child, when the family lived in a tin-walled house on Port Elizabeth's Old Park Road. He might even - he doesn't say - have heard Arlott talk of his father's continued inhumanity to George Mann. Whatever the memories, the facts tell us that Tufty was suffering from the advance of cancer by the latter stages of the South Africans' 1951 tour to England, in which he played little part. "Whenever I played sport at school I realised that people had incredibly high expectations, which I was unable to fulfil," says Chris. "He also had a reputation as a gentleman player, a real sportsman and a soldier, and he was idealised. That was difficult to live up to.

"Although I was very young, I remember having an almost hysterical experience on the night that he died. I woke up and walked through this dark furniture in a strange house. Moonlight was flooding through the windows and I was filled with fear and dread."

Three years after Tufty died of cancer, aged 31 (Chris has always attributed the disease to the homemade cigarettes his dad smoked while a POW), Daphne received an unexpected letter. It was from Keith Miller, the Australian allrounder. "My dear Mrs Tufty", it began, badly typed on Sporting Life writing paper. "This is a letter I've always wanted to write but I thought it would wait until brighter days, which I hope are sunnier than these last couple of years have been to you. No one need me tell you what I thought of Tufty. He was nature's gentleman, a man respected by all from the highbrow to the lowbrow. I remember when I was over there with the Australian team that Sunday morning we had, drinking, I think, German beer."

"It was a happy day. Little did we know then the sorry days that lay ahead."

The Cricket Monthly is changing. After 35 issues, beginning August 2014, it is going to become a more regular part of your life. Instead of a fully formed issue appearing at the start of every month, one feature will be published every day or so. In its more dynamic form, TCM will be more topical and urgent, while staying true to its founding ambition of scale and depth, and combining quality of writing with rigour of reportage and the spirit of narrative storytelling. It's going from monthly to month-long.

Luke Alfred is a journalist based in Johannesburg

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