On October 13th 1928, some news flashed around Blantyre that well known character Johnnie Mann was dead.
However, people were being cautious in their telling of this news, having heard the same news only a week before. To confirm , some people telephoned Mr Millar the governor of Hamilton Combination Poorhouse, where Johnnie had been admitted to the previous September 14th. Mrs Millar spoke in kindly terms of Johnnie and said he must have enjoyed immense popularity for attracting so many inquiries not only from Blantyre but from surrounding areas.
Every District, more or less at one time of another had provided a local character, and in this respect Blantyre had Johnnie Mann. He was everybody’s Johnnie and looked upon as part and parcel of Blantyre life. Many can recall his eccentricities and as he unburdened himself of his tales of woe, his many ambitions always seemed to “be just about being realised. “
Johnnie’s father was old Wull Mann, remembered by the older generation as “Inkerman” who resided at Kirkton, High Blantyre. The sobriquet he carried through his life and prided himself in it as an old Crimean war veteran. His regiment was the glorious old 42nd foot soldiers and his medals showed he took part in the battles of Balaclava, Inkerman, Alma and Sevastpol. If by chance you are not a resident of High Blantyre and didn’t know this interesting bit of family history Johnnie soon made you aware of this fact and supplied you with a great deal more interesting escapades of his interesting old dad, who was laid to rest in the old kirkyard at High Blantyre.
Johnnie’s simplicity was taken full advantage of by the younger men and girls out for fun and amusement and they were in their element when they got him set agoing on his walking expeditions- and he could walk too! But Johnnie himself was quite happy. He had some brothers and a sister in New Zealand and many years ago, he had saved sufficient money from his wages to take a trip there with the intention of remaining with them; but things were not to his liking and before long he was back in his native High Blantyre.
With great gusto, Johnnie used to tell the story that he was the “only man on the boat” and boasting of his walking ability, told that he had won a competition on the crossing for walking seven times around the deck. For 39 years Johnnie was employed as a surface labourer at Earnock Colliery and never lost a days work in his life. However, the 7 month strike of 1926 really brought his working days to an end and he was one of a great number who never got re-started.
Another one of his outstanding achievements is when he walked from High Blantyre Cross to Ayr (and back!), the event made historical by his writing of a poem about his feat of endurance. It was also a source of extreme amusement to passers by, as he touched his hat, tipping it in politeness to say hello. Johnnie always wore a proper hat and the young girls enjoyed that to the full with the respect he offered to all and sundry. He was a favourite of children too. It was no uncommon incident to see a dozen children clinging around him in the street to shake his hand or receive a kindly word. However, it was the strike and lack of work that “broke” Johnnie. He gradually became feeble and downhearted and latterly his circumstances compelled him to take up residence in a lodging house where illness overtook him and he was eventually admitted to the poorhouse hospital. It was of no surprise to his friends in Blantyre that he had passed away. As a final nod of recognition, and something quite uncommon, the Rev C.S Turnbull, Parish Minister and his elders took over the funeral arrangements and had his remains laid to rest in the grave of his parents at the rather full High Blantyre kirkyard. Six of Johnnie’s old schoolmates turned up from afar to pay their respects.