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.


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  1. ianf on Saturday 19, 2013

    > […] he was tossing his case into his own back garden
    > so he wouldn’t have to carry it from the station.

    My, my, he deserved at least a DSO for that recurring attache-disattachment feat alone. Did he get it? Hardly, only for other of his actions executed in the line of duty… thus possibly ineligible by default. But that’s military logick for you and me, need one say mo

  2. Peter on Saturday 19, 2013

    The exploits of warriors like Churchill, Wingate and Chapman are so mind-bogglingly brave and heroic( mad?), one wonders whether the other Churchill might have traded Ultra for them. Signal interception? No need, just keep giving Jerry lots of cold steel.

  3. John Halliwell on Saturday 19, 2013

    “Stephen, got a great idea for your next film; there’s this lunatic Limey eccentric called Mad Jack Churchill who goes into battle waving a sword, playing the bagpipes, carrying a bow and arrow, and shouting ‘Come on chaps, this is a doddle, home in time for tea.’ He signals ‘attack’ by firing an arrow through the heart of his opposite; wins two DSOs and an MC; is captured, escapes, survives on cabbages nicked from back gardens – walks across the Alps, shrugs off frostbite; fights with Tito; saves hundreds of Israelis, and…..” “Stop! Stop right there; this is ridiculous; we’d be laughed out of Hollywood! ” “But Stephen, it’s all true and there’s a lot more: you must read Worm’s Dabbler piece and this obit from The Telegraph:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/7733516/Lieutenant-Colonel-Jack-Churchill.html

  4. malty on Saturday 19, 2013

    Yugoslavia attracted the colourfull characters like bees to honey although in reality the biggest contribution came from the army medics who accompanied them. The partisans had the nasty habit of killing single women who became pregnant, a not uncommon occurrence in wartime. The British doctors became dab hands at abortion disguised as tweaking the gut, a good number of lives were saved. whether or not the colorfull characters contribution to the war effort was anything other than morale boosting (very important) is debatable, that even Wingate’s larks beyond the Chindwin contributed much is doubtfull, the American industrial complex was already grinding the Japanese into the dust.
    As for escaping POWs, all very derring-do, the problem was the poor sods who didn’t, I knew a man who was taken prisoner on the retreat from Dunkirk, a gunner, they were the last to leave, only he didn’t. He spent a long time in Germany as a guest of onkel Addie and had some very strong opinions on the subject of escapees. The first thing the krauts did was stop the red cross parcels, not funny; confined to huts, dismal; reduced rations, how sad. Escapees, pain in arse was the conclusion.

  5. Worm on Saturday 19, 2013

    Malty in your brief comment you’ve just turned the guy from a hero to a zero!

  6. Ben on Saturday 19, 2013

    There were eccentrics on both sides. I read somewhere, once, can’t remember where but it must be true, that there was an Afrika Korps officer who went into action wearing a kilt because his mum was Scottish. If he’d met Churchill they’d probably have got on well.

  7. ianf on Saturday 19, 2013

    On second reading of this, and the Telegraph obit, I must conclude that, on a 1-to-100 “Mad Jack Churchill Life Wazzup” scale, my own life’s approximate value–THUS FAR, ONE NEVER KNOWS–would be indistinguishable from zero (integral, “0″).

  8. Gaw on Saturday 19, 2013

    Stirring stuff! He sounds like Adrian Carton de Wiart, who appeared on these pages a couple of years ago:

    http://thedabbler.co.uk/2010/10/happy-odyssey/