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Leonard Mann attended Moreland State School before winning a scholarship to Wesley College. Mann left school at sixteen to work as a clerk in the Defence Department and began reading for the Bar. He served in the 39th Battalion, 1st AIF during World War I, experiencing four years of trench warfare before returning to Melbourne to complete his law degree at the University of Melbourne. For most of the 1930s he was Secretary of the Employers' Federation, then held a senior position in the aircraft industry during World War II. After retiring, Mann kept a small farm in the Dandenong Ranges and later moved to coastal Inverloch in South Gippsland.
Mann is most admired for Flesh in Armour (1932), hailed as one of Australia's best novels of the soldier's experience of World War I. Initially Mann could not attract a publisher and arranged for private publication, but following the novel's critical success, he found it easier to attract publishers. In the next forty years Mann published seven novels, of which A Murder in Sydney (1937) and The Go-Getter (1942) became the best-known. Among other themes, Mann's fiction explores the struggles of small communities, the attraction of corruption during the Depression and the plight of Aborigines. While largely remembered for his fiction, Mann also published four volumes of poetry, winning the Grace Leven Prize for Elegiac and Other Poems (1957).
The autobiographical piece, 'A Double Life', written for the 'Australian Writers in Profile' series (Southerly vol. 29 no. 3, 1969), is a thoughtful account of a man who combined a life in industry with a literary life. After the death of his wife in 1976, Mann returned to the Dandenongs to live with his daughter. He died there in 1981.
'Leonard Mann privately published his first novel, Flesh in Armour, in Melbourne in 1932, after he was unable to place it with a publisher in Australia or England. The novel was an immediate success, and Mann was subsequently awarded the Australian Literature Society's gold medal for outstanding book of the year. The book's merits then established, it was republished in England and Australia in 1944.
Drawn in part from the author's combat experience in France during World War I, Flesh in Armour is an exploration of the lives of soldiers in the Australian Imperial Force from the Ypres campaign in 1917 until just before the Armistice. The novel follows the actions and evolving attitudes of three soldiers in the same battalion—a naive and handsome raw recruit eager for combat, a schoolteacher whose intellect and anxiety have led to disillusionment, and a courageous warrior-hero who remains undaunted by battle despite being wounded.The novel bears an unmistakable Australian point of view, particularly in its wry sense of humor in spite of the dark subject matter and in its vehement disdain for British commanders.
Nearly 420,000 Australians enlisted during World War I, and more than half were killed, wounded, or captured. The conflict was the most costly in Australia's history. In the fates of his protagonists—one dies valiantly, one dies in an abject and mentally unhinged state, one survives—Mann pays tribute to the sacrifices of his countrymen and reminds readers of the unforgiving test of character found in war then and now. ' (University of South Carolina Press website sighted July 2010)