This week my delve into the weirder side of Wikipedia brought up the story of Jack Churchill – a fearlessly eccentric British warrior.
Lieutenant Colonel John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming “Jack” Churchill, DSO, MC & Bar (1906 – 1996), nicknamed Fighting Jack Churchill and Mad Jack Churchill, was a British soldier who fought throughout WWII. He is known for the motto “any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly armed.”
An international standard archer in his youth, Churchill became the only British soldier known to have felled an enemy with a bow and arrow during the war, when he ambushed a German battalion in Northern France and shot their commanding officer as a signal to attack. After picking up a gunshot wound himself in the fighting at Dunkirk, he volunteered for the newly formed Commandos as soon as he had recovered.
Churchill was installed as second in command of No. 3 Commando. On a raid in Norway in December 1941, he leapt forward from the first landing craft ramp – having previously been playing a rousing tune on his bagpipes, before throwing a grenade and running into the fray, sword drawn.
Churchill (far right) emerging from his landing craft, broadsword in hand
Further action in Sicily in 1943 saw Churchill increase his notoriety as he again fearlessly spearheaded attacks with his trademark Scottish broadsword, a longbow and arrows around his neck and his trusty bagpipes. The slightly unusual thing about all this is that Churchill was not in any way Scottish – he just liked Scottish history and tales of brave Scottish chieftains.
In early 1944 he led the Commandos in Yugoslavia, where they supported Tito’s partisans as they attempted to take the Adriatic island of Vis. Only Churchill and six others managed to reach the objective, but as they got there a mortar shell killed or wounded everyone but Churchill, and within minutes he used up the last of his revolver ammunition. Knowing that escape was futile, and having no further means of killing the enemy at hand, Churchill took up his bagpipes and played a lament until he was thrown unconscious by a grenade and taken off to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp by his bemused captors.
In September 1944 Churchill and an RAF officer escaped and attempted to walk to the Baltic coast. They were recaptured a few miles from the sea and transferred to a PoW camp in Austria. When the floodlights at the camp failed one night he escaped again, and, living on stolen vegetables, walked alone across the Alps near the Brenner Pass before making contact with an American reconnaissance column in the Po Valley.
As the war in the pacific was still on, Churchill asked to be sent to Burma, post haste, as he felt there was still more he could contribute to the war effort. Unfortunately for him by the time he reached India, Hiroshima had been bombed and the war had finished.
After World War II ended, Churchill qualified as a parachutist and later ended up in Palestine as second-in-command of 1st Battalion, the Highland Light Infantry, and was involved in frontline fighting there in 1948, helping 700 Israelis to safety.
In later years, Churchill served as an instructor at the land-air warfare school in Australia, where he became a skilled surfer. Back in England, he was the first man to ride the River Severn’s tidal bore and, being ahead of the curve by many years, shaped his own surfboards. In retirement, however, his eccentricity continued. He startled train conductors and passengers daily on his journey home from London to Surrey by violently throwing his attaché case out of the train window each day. Eventually it transpired that he was tossing his case into his own back garden so he wouldn’t have to carry it from the station.