STANWOOD — As soon as Mike Mancer heard the engine, he grabbed his Union Jack flag and bolted out the door.
It was the sound of a Supermarine Spitfire, an iconic British fighter plane that helped him survive The Blitz during World War II.
Mancer was just a toddler in London when Germany launched its massive bombing campaign against England from 1940-1941, killing more than 40,000 civilians. The Royal Air Force’s Spitfires defended the skies from Luftwaffe aircraft throughout the onslaught.
Standing on his Stanwood lawn, Mancer remembered how grateful he was for them. He waved the British flag as the Spitfire flew by, hoping to catch the pilot’s attention.
To his amazement, the pilot swung back around, passed low to the ground and waved back at him. Mancer was ecstatic.
“I said, ‘Pick me up, I want to go up,’” he said, recalling the flyover from about five years ago.
Mancer, 80, has long revered the Royal Air Force. His father, Cyril Mancer, served as a navigator on an Avro Lancaster bomber from 1944-1945.
Though his dad died in 1990, Mancer keeps his legacy alive with an RAF-themed display in his living room. It includes artwork and wooden models of Spitfires, Lancasters and Hawker Hurricanes, as well as a dozen books about the Royal Air Force.
On the wall is “September Victory,” a limited edition print by noted aviation artist Nicolas Trudgian, which depicts Spitfires racing low over a countryside. Next to it is a reproduction of an advertisement for war bonds to help manufacture more Spitfires.
He also has a jigsaw puzzle of bombers in flight; a small metal model of a Spitfire; coffee cups with Lancaster and Spitfire art; a picture frame with a quote from English prime minister Winston Churchill, a badge of 57 Squadron, his father’s unit, and a photo of his father in uniform.
Mancer’s wife, Sue, 73, has helped him grow the collection since they married in 1973. Most of it came from gift shops, arts dealers in Lynnwood and Edmonds, museums and other collectors.
“Mike’s collection is not large, but he treasures every piece,” she said. “A lot of this has been acquired in the last 30 years.”
There are, however, a few more artifacts he wishes he had. Mancer knows very little about his father’s service, because all of the elder Mancer’s war memorabilia, including his navigator’s log book, were lost after his death. He was 78.
“If it turned up somewhere, I would bid a lot of good money for that,” he said.
He pieced together most of what he knows through research and trips to museums in England. The couple found a photo of 57 Squadron — which included his father — while visiting the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Center.
The museum is built on an airfield near the village of East Kirksby, where his father was stationed. The main exhibit is a restored Lancaster bomber named “Just Jane;” the Mancers have a wooden model of the bomber in their living room.
During a visit in 2005, Mancer was allowed to step inside the bomber and sit in the navigator’s seat. He pictured his father plotting courses to get the crew to and from bombing sites, while cold from the high elevation and cramped inside.
“It was amazing,” he said. “You could see how hard it was to walk around the plane, it being so narrow.”
Not all of the airmen came back — 172 aircraft from 57 Squadron were shot down during the war, resulting in 435 deaths. His father mostly kept the memories to himself, but when they talked, he made a strong impression.
“I don’t think I would have liked to be a bomber,” he said.
An only child, Mancer lived in east London while his father was at war. Though young, he was old enough to sense the tension among the adults around him.
He didn’t live in the most dangerous part of the city, but danger was still present. He quickly learned how to recognize the sound of V-1 “doodlebug” flying bombs — a precursor to cruise missiles — as they flew toward their targets.
“The one thing about the doodlebug was that you want to keep hearing it,” he said. “When it stops, you’re in trouble.”
Parts of his childhood were spent hiding from the destruction in bomb shelters. He remembers frolicking amongst the rubble, stopping here and there to pick up shrapnel.
After the war, his father worked for various shipping lines on the London docks. He remained in Britain the rest of his life.
Meanwhile, the younger Mancer, who has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s in aeronautical engineering, gravitated toward planes.
He became an engineer for Hawker Siddeley, a British aviation manufacturing company, before emigrating to the U.S. in 1965 to work for Boeing. Mancer was among thousands laid off by the company in 1970. He later became a mathematics teacher in Seattle elementary schools and for the University of Washington. He retired as an instructor from Edmonds Community College in 2002.
His enthusiasm for the Royal Air Force only grew in retirement.
These days, his passions are World War II British warplanes and movies, the novels of Nevil Shute and British television programs. Sue and Mike keep an eye out for more things to add to their collection.
The quote from Winston Churchill on the frame containing Cyril Mancer’s picture sums up his contribution.
It reads: “The fighters are our salvation, but the bombers alone provide the means for victory.”
Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, email@example.com. Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.
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