Remembering Comins Mansfield MBE (14-vi-1896 28-iii-1984)

Comins Mansfield MBE in 1976
Comins Mansfield MBE in 1976

BCN remembers Comins Mansfield MBE who passed away on March 28th 1984 in Torbay, Devon.

Comins was the first English born chess grandmaster when in 1972 he was awarded the the title of “International Grandmaster of the FIDE for Chess Composition” three years before the first correspondence GM and four years before the first English born OTB grandmaster.

In the 1976 New Years Honours list Civil Division Comins was awarded the MBE. The citation read simply “For services to Chess”.

Early Years

Comins Mansfield was born on Sunday, June 14th 1896 in Witheridge, North Devon. The birth was registered in the district of South Molton, Devon. His parents were Herbert John (who was a banker) and Julia Emma Mansfield (née Frost). Miss Anne Comins was Herbert’s mother who he memorialised using her name for his only son.

Comins had two sisters Edith K and Margaret M plus a paternal step-sister Harriett C Mansfield.

He was baptised on the 18th July 1896 in Witheridge as an Anglican and the ceremony was performed by JT Benson.

St. John the Baptist Church, Witheridge, Devon courtesy of SIERKSMA'S SEQUENCES
St. John the Baptist Church, Witheridge, Devon courtesy of SIERKSMA’S SEQUENCES

He was admitted to Witheridge School on September 18th 1899 (aged three) and in 1901 Comins continued to live in Witheridge, Devon attending Blundell’s School. The family “left the district” on August 13th 1909.

At the time of the 1911 Census Comins was a boarder at a school in Tiverton, Cheshire. Possibly this was Tarporley High School.

A Career Beckoned

Comins left school in 1914 and did not attend University. He started work at tobacco company W. D. & H. O. Wills (which became part of  Imperial Tobacco in 1901) in Bristol being a prime location for a company which relied on export markets of physical goods.

Interruption by War

According to RH Jones on the Chess Devon web site:

In September 1915 he joined the Royal Artillery, and carried a small travelling set at all times, with which to while away the long hours spent in the trenches. He never lost contact with Chandler during the war, even though the latter was involved in a rather messy British invasion of Iraq, (then Mesopotamia), and the two combined on problems by post, one of which won 1st Prize in the Good Companions magazine in January 1918. Shortly after, he was temporarily blinded by mustard gas, requiring 12 months in hospital.

Gunner Mansfield courtesy of SIERKSMA'S SEQUENCES
Gunner Mansfield courtesy of SIERKSMA’S SEQUENCES

On his release from hospital, the war was over and he re-joined Wills in Bristol and his local chess club, Bristol & Clifton. His skill over the board should not be overlooked – he soon became established in Gloucestershire as a very strong player, winning his club championship for the first time in 1920 and the county championship continuously from 1927 – 34. From his return to Bristol he played for the county regularly, never lower than Bd. 3 and from the time of his first county championship, always on top board. From 1926 to the time of his move to Scotland he was also the Problem Editor of the Bristol Times and Mirror .

According to the National Records Office:

With reference to the medal card of Comins Mansfield we have:

Royal Field Artillery 3024 Gunner
Royal Field Artillery 826184 Gunner

Career Resumption

Comins career with W. D. & H. O. Wills lasted 45 years and in 1934 relocated to Glasgow which halted his composition career until 1936 labelling his problems “Mansfield – Glasgow. His job in Scotland finished in 1950 returning to live in Carshalton Beeches, near Croydon in South London working for a W. D. & H. O. Wills subsidiary.

Marriage

On September 19th 1923 Comins married Marjorie Erica Ward (born 1899) at the Parish Church, St. Paul, Bedminster, Bristol, Gloucestershire. Marjorie died in 2003. Comins and Marjorie had three children, Geoffrey, Hilary and Roderick.

Comins Mansfield
Comins Mansfield

At the time of their marriage Comins was living at 25 Sommerville Road, Bishopston, Bristol, BS7 9AD:

25 Sommerville Road, Bishopston, Bristol, BS7 9AD
25 Sommerville Road, Bishopston, Bristol, BS7 9AD

Chess Beginnings

Comins interest in chess started at the age of nine with his father Herbert who played correspondence chess for Devon but his interest in the world of problems was initiated in 1910 with an article (First Steps In The Classification of Two-Movers by Alain C. White) on problems in British Chess Magazine. In 1914 aged 18 he joined the Bristol and Clifton Chess Club and following World War I he became club champion for the first time in 1920. Also, Comins was Gloucestershire Champion from 1927 – 1934 before he relocated to Glasgow where he won the West of Scotland and Glasgow Championships.  At Cheltenham 1928 not only did he draw in 50 moves with FD Yates but he beat Sir George Thomas in 20 moves!

BCM Obituary

From British Chess Magazine, Volume CIV (104, 1984), Number 5 (May), p. 194 :

“Comins Mansfield (14 v 1896 – 27 iii 1984) was an outstanding figure in chess problems, notably in the field of two-movers. Awarded the IM title for problems in 1959 and the GM title in 1972, he served for eight years as President of the FIDE Permanent Commission for Chess Compositions. In 1976 he was awarded an MBE for his services to chess.

Comins Mansfield courtesy of Chess Scotland
Comins Mansfield courtesy of Chess Scotland

As an OTB (over-the-board) player he won the championship of the Bristol Club and of Gloucestershire. From 1964 to 1978 he contributed the weekly puzzle to the Sunday Telegraph.”

Chessboard Delights Selected from the Sunday Telegraph 1964-1974, Comins Mansfield, Routledge & Kegan Paul/Sunday Telegraph, London , 1976, ISBN 10: 0710082878ISBN 13: 9780710082879
Chessboard Delights Selected from the Sunday Telegraph 1964-1974, Comins Mansfield, Routledge & Kegan Paul/Sunday Telegraph, London , 1976, ISBN 10: 0710082878ISBN 13: 9780710082879

CHESS Obituary by Colin Russ

From CHESS, Volume 48 (1984), Numbers 921-922, page 316 we have this rather modest mention:

“Problem Album

Who was Britain’s first chess grandmaster? His name start with M, but no, the answer is Comins Mansfield, to whom F.I.D.E. awarded its newly created title of grandmaster for Chess Composition in 1972, and who died in March this year aged 87. In tribute to him we recall, two of his masterpieces, separated by over half a century.”

Comins Mansfield
Comins Mansfield

Comins Mansfield
BCF Tourney 1974

White mates in two

and

Comins Mansfield
Good Companions 1918

White mates in two

Interestingly the July 1984 issue of CHESS publishes a letter from Ken Whyld taking issue with the above. Ken wrote:

Who was Britain’s first chess grand master? His name starts with M but no, the answer is not Comins Mansfield (page 316 in CHESS, No. 921-2. No, it isn’t. It is J. Mieses in 1950. The error is repeated on page 328. Why do we, as a nation, have to be so snotty about those who chose to be become naturalised?

From page 328 we have this detailed obituary from Colin AH Russ:

We regret to report the death of Comins Mansfield MBE, peacefully at his home in Torquay on 28 March 1984. During his long life of more than 86 years, Mansfield received every possible honour in the realm of chess problem art.

He was born at Witheridge, North Devon, on 14 June 1896, and at 9 was taught to play chess by his father, a keen correspondence player. One of his earliest efforts won First Prize in 1912 in the Illustrated Western Weekly News.

Other problems of his early period were published in the Folders of the Good Companion Chess Problem Club, of Philadelphia, USA. This brought him into contact with Alain C. White, who also recognised his genius and gave him every encouragement. Some of the problems at this time were composed in the trenches, “somewhere in France”, while Mansfield was serving in the Royal Artillery with the British Army. He was severely gassed in May 1918, and discharged from the Army.

He won the West of Scotland and Glasgow Championships while stationed in that city. He was one of the founder members of
the British Chess Problem Society, and served as its President. In 1947, he started a feature in The Problemist entitled “Selected with Comments” which continued in his hands for 35 years. His weekly column in the Sunday Telegraph, mainly confined to game positions, ran from 1964 to 1978.

 

Mansfield’s other venture into publishing was his “Adventures in Composition” in which he takes the reader step by step through the Process that he went through in composing 20 of his problems.

Adventures in Composition, Comins Mansfield, CHESS, Sutton Coldfield, 1948
Adventures in Composition, Comins Mansfield, CHESS, Sutton Coldfield, 1948

The book was edited by A. C. White and first appeared in the USA in 1942, and was published in Britain by CHESS, Sutton Coldfield, in 1948. it became a classic, and many composers could testify to the help they have received from it.

In “Adventures in Composition“, Mansfield expounded his principles for making good chess problems: originality, economy, and artistic finish. if he found that an idea could not be set without forfeiting one of these principles, then he put it on one side, and turned his attention to something else. Therefore, although one can say that some of his problems are better than others, it is impossible to find one that is bad.

A. C. White made Comins Mansfield the subject of his last book in the Christmas Series: “A Genius of the Two-Mover” in which he gave some 100 of the master’s 300 problems.

A Genius of the Two Mover, C. Mansfield by AC White, The Christmas Series, 1936.
A Genius of the Two Mover, C. Mansfield by AC White, The Christmas Series, 1936.

He wrote: “The key-note of his style lies in his freshness of outlook and in a clarity of vision with which few composers have been gifted.” Brian Harley, the distinguished author and editor of the
famous Observer column for so many years, continued the story with a further 100 of Mansfield’s Problems.

In view of his international reputation, it was only fitting that Mansfield should represent the BCPS at the first meeting
of the FIDE Problem Commission in Piran in 1958, that he should serve as its President from 1963-71, and that in 1972 he should be awarded one of the first grand master titles, honoris causa, in recognition of his contribution to problem chess. He thus became the first Briton to receive this title, before any British chess players had reached any title norms. Four years later he received the recognition of his country, when his name appeared in the Queen’s New Year Honours list as recipient of the MBE, for services to chess.

Source: The Problemist, May 1996. Photo taken March 1996 at the Mansfield Centenary Meeting at Paisley, when Barry Barnes delivered a lecture on Comins Mansfield. Left to right: Geoffrey Mansfield (son of Comins), Robert Gray and Barry Barnes, International Master of Chess Composition.
Source: The Problemist, May 1996. Photo taken March 1996 at the Mansfield Centenary Meeting at Paisley, when Barry Barnes delivered a lecture on Comins Mansfield. Left to right: Geoffrey Mansfield (son of Comins), Robert Gray and Barry Barnes, International Master of Chess Composition.

ln 1975, Gerhard Jensch, editor of the problem column in Schach-Echo, brought out a supplement to “Adventures in Composition”, containing 63 of Mansfield’s later problems, showing how he had reacted to the changing themes and styles of the post second World War period. Barry Barnes, the following year, brought out “Comins Mansfield MBE: Chess Problems of a Grandmaster“, in which he presented 2O0 problems with full solutions and comments, many of them culled from Mansfield’s private notes and correspondence.

Comins Mansfield MBE: Chess Problems of a Grandmaster, BP Barnes, 1976
Comins Mansfield MBE: Chess Problems of a Grandmaster, BP Barnes, 1976

It is appropriate to finish with the comment with which E. L. Umnov concluded his introduction to Barry Barnes’s book in 1976: “Mansfield’s work is a source of pride not only to British chess, but to chess the world over”.
C.A.H.R.

Hooper & Whyld on Mansfield

From The Oxford Companion to Chess (OUP, 1984) by Hooper & Whyld :

“English two-mover composer widely regarded in his time as the greatest in this field. During the life of the GOOD COMPANION CHESS PROBLEM CLUB (1913—24) he was one of the pioneers who gave new life to the two-mover. The ideas then introduced have since become traditional, and Mansfield has adhered to them, continuing to gain successes although not always following the latest trend. In 1942 he wrote Adventures in Composition, an excellent guide to the art of composing. In 1957 he was awarded the title of International Judge of Chess Compositions; in 1963 he accepted and held for eight years the presidency of the FIDE Commission for Chess Compositions; in 1972 he was one of the first four to he awarded the title of International Grandmaster for Chess Compositions.

A. C. White, A Genius of the Two-mover (1936) contains 113 problems by Mansfield; B. P. Barnes, Comins Mansfield MBE: Chess Problems of a Grandmaster (1976) contains 200 problems.

101 Chess Puzzles and How to Solve Them, Brian Harley and Comins Mansfield, Sterling Publishing, New York, 1960
101 Chess Puzzles and How to Solve Them, Brian Harley and Comins Mansfield, Sterling Publishing, New York, 1960

Sunnucks on Mansfield

From The Encyclopaedia of Chess by Anne Sunnucks :

“International Grandmaster of the FIDE for Chess Compositions (1972), International Master of the FIDE for Chess Compositions (1959), International Judge of the FIDE for Chess Compositions (1957). President of the Permanent Commission of the FIDE for Chess Compositions from 1963 to 1971. President of the British Chess Problem Society from 1949 to 1951.

Born at Witheridge in North Devon on 14th June 1896. He has composed about 1,000 problems, nearly all of them two-movers, since 1911. He is regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time. His outstanding ability was recognised early when A Genius of the Two-Mover in the A.C. White Christmas series of books was published in 1936. He is the author of Adventures in Composition (1944) and co-author with the late Brian Harley of The Modern Two-Move Problem.

The Modern Two- Move Chess Problem, Brian Harley and Comins Mansfield, Museum Press, London, 1944 & 1958
The Modern Two- Move Chess Problem, Brian Harley and Comins Mansfield, Museum Press, London, 1944 & 1958

From 1926-1932 he was Problem Editor of The Bristol Times and Mirror, and he is at present Problem Editor of The Sunday Telegraph His feature “Selected with Comments” has been a permanent feature of The Problemist. A strong player, Mansfield won the Gloucestershire Championship from 1927 to 1934. He has a recorded win over Sir George Thomas, a late British Champion and International Master.

Mansfield made a life-times career with the tobacco firm of W.D. & H.O. Wills. He is a dedicated family man with three children.

C. Mansfield, 1st Prize, Hampshire Post, 1919

White to play and mate in two moves.

Solution to Two-Mover above : 1. Qf5 !

Harry Golombek on Mansfield

From The Encyclopaedia of Chess by Harry Golombek we have:

Britain’s most distinguished problem compose, output about 859, nearly all two-movers. Very active during the period of the Good Companions, contributing to their folders many classic examples of half-pin, cross-check, and other important themes. Books include Adventures in Composition (1943), a fascinating expose of the composers methods. President of the British Chess Problem Society, 1949-51. President of the FIDE Problem Commission, 1963-71, and Hon. President since 1972. International Judge (1957); international master (1959), grandmaster (1972).

Curiously RH Jones wrote

“At Paignton, Mansfield seemed to know Milner-Barry quite well, but Golombek kept his distance. It is noticeable that Golombek’s Encyclopaedia of Chess (Batsford 1977) is almost unique of its kind in containing no individual entry for Mansfield; even a long 3½ page article on the history of chess problems, which mentions numerous half forgotten composers, contains no reference to him. This is surely no oversight and must be interpreted as some kind of inexplicable snub.”

We too made initially made the same error and it is true that there in individual entry for CM outside of the Problemists section.  Did RHJ miss the above entry as we initially did?

John Rice on Mansfield

From British Chess (Pergamon Press, 1984) John Rice writes:

“Comins Mansfield was born at Witheridge, Devon on 14th June 1896. At the age of 18 he joined the Bristol and Clifton Chess Club, and after World War 1 he soon won the club championship and the Gloucester Championship several times. For 14 years until 1978 he conducted the weekly chess features in the Sunday Telegraph.

In 1959 he he became an ‘International Master of the FIDE for Chess Composition’ and in 1972 one of the first four grandmasters. For 7 years he was President of the FIDE’s Permanent Commission for Chess Compositions.

Mansfield is widely regarded as being one of the three greatest composers of chess problems of all time. In 1976 was awarded the MBE for his services to chess.

Mr. Mansfield worked for 45 years in the tobacco firm W.D & H.O. Wills – first in Bristol, then in Glasgow and finally in London. He is now enjoying retirement in Torbay.

Mr. Mansfield writes: It was in 1959 that the FIDE decided to broaden their titles to include artificial positions such as ‘problems’ (the so-called poetry of chess), where mate has to be forced in a specified number of moves. The Master title then came into being, while the ‘Grandmaster’ distinction was withheld until 1972.

Comins Mansfield
Comins Mansfield

I have always felt that life is too short to deal with anything but two-movers. Here is one of my earliest successes (ed: shown here in Desert Island Chess) composed in the trenches in World War 1.”

Desert Island Chess

From The Complete Chess Addict (Faber&Faber, 1987,p.222), Fox & James we have a section entitled Desert Island Chess which includes this problem:

C. Mansfield

First Prize Good Companions, March 1917

Mate in 2

Of it, Alain White, the world connoisseur wrote – ‘This may well be taken as the standard cross-check problem of the twentieth century’.  The key-move 1.Be4 looks senseless, as it sets the black king free and apparently jeopardizes the white one by unpinning the black knight. But it threatens mate by 2.Nxc4 This knight can open fire on the white king in four ways. If 1…Ne5+,2.Rd3 is mate. If 1…Nxd6+, the mate is 2.Bd3. If 1…Nxe3+, Nb5 mates, while 1…Nd2+ is answered by 2.Nc4.

The next position is of a quite different type:

CHESS, 1950, First Prize

White to play and mate in two moves

It illustrates several quiet defences by a single black piece. This has a rather colourless key, 1.Bb2, which threatens mate by 2. Rg4. Moves of the black bishop stop this but give rises to six other mates. If 1…Bg1;2.Nc7. So the bishop must stay on its long diagonal. 1…Bg3 allows 2.Rxh4. If 1…Bf4 (unpinning the R), 2.Re5. If 1…Be5, 2.Rd4. If 1…Bd6, 2.Rc8. If 1…Bb8, 2.Rb6. There are three other subsidiary mates, after 1…Rf8, 2.Rf4. If 1…d1=q,2.Qd1 and finally if 1…Rg2  (or Rg1 or Rg3).

In the 1950s it became fashionable for composers to try to hoodwink solvers by arranging close tries which almost solved the problem. But this trend often militated against the merit and interest of the actual solution.  In  this problem the solver soon discovers that he must set-up a double-threat by 1.g4,g3,f4 or f3, each move cutting off both a black rook and bishop.

Die Schwalbe, 1956, First Prize

White to play and mate in two moves

But which is the right move? 1.g4 threatens mate by 2.Qxe4 and Qd1, but is defeated by 1…Nxf2. Similarly 1.g3 (threatening 2.Qe3 and Bxb3) is met by 1…Nc2. So try 1.f4 (threatening 2.Qxe4 and Bxb3), but this fails to 1…e3. This leaves the key-move 1.f3 which does the trick. There is a fair amount of by-play. 1…Rf4 forces 2.Bxb3.  1…Bf4 forces 2. Qxe4; while after 1.Kd4 and Nc4, the mates are 2. Qxc3 and Bxe4 respectively.

In an ABC of Chess Problems, Section III, Composition and Solving, page 266 onwards,  John Rice discusses in detail the methods of Comin Mansfield and any student of solving and composition would do well to study this chapter.

An ABC of Chess Problems, John Rice, Faber & Faber, London, 1970, SBN 571 08672 1
An ABC of Chess Problems, John Rice, Faber & Faber, London, 1970, SBN 571 08672 1

Other Sources

Here is an excellent biography from Chess Devon by RH Jones

Here is a biography from Keverel Chess by RH Jones

Here is the entry for CM from the BCPS web site

Biography from Chess Scotland by Alan McGowan

Here is the largest collection of his games from Britbase and John Saunders

Here are his games from chessgames.com

Here is his Wikipedia entry

America Salutes Comins Mansfield MBE
America Salutes Comins Mansfield MBE
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4 thoughts on “Remembering Comins Mansfield MBE (14-vi-1896 28-iii-1984)”

  1. Mansfield played the infant Conquest at Hastings CC. His column in ‘The Sunday Telegraph’ was unambitious in as much as it was almost without news but it gave a flavour of the game as might be gleaned by a commuter or the causally interested. None of his games spring to mind but I’m sure there are still some sculling about.

  2. Re Nothing from Harry Golombek: One of the named contributors to his Encyclopedia was John Rice, who contributed a series of articles on Problems at pages 248-266. There is a biographical entry for Mansfield at page 253 where he is described as “Britain’s most distinguished problem composer” and one of his two-movers is given at page 258.

    1. Thanks for that David. Both RH Jones and myself appear to have made the same schoolboy error in not noticing the entries for problemists inside the Problemists section. Wording has been corrected.

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