Originally Published September 2012.
Fighting Jack Churchill
John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill has got to be one of the most colorful figures of World War II, Although born of English parents I think you’ll excuse the fact that he’s a topic for this month’s newsletter. He was born in Hong Kong, and was educated at King William’s College on the Isle of Man, and after graduating from The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 1926 he served in Burma with the Manchester Regiment. He seems to have spent a good part of his spare time riding a motorcycle around the Indian subcontinent and, even though he wasn’t Scottish, he started learning to play the bagpipes. There’s a claim he used his talents at the pipes and archery to play as an extra in the 1924 movie the Thief of Bagdad. He also apparently did some work as a male model. In 1936 he left the army to work as a newspaper editor and went on to represent England in the Archery World Championship in 1939.
When Germany invaded Poland he resumed his commission with the Manchester Regiment. In in one of his first actions in May of 1940 his unit ambushed a German patrol in France. Churchill gave his men the signal to attack by taking down the enemy sergeant with an arrow and is the only British soldier known to have killed an enemy soldier with a longbow during World War II. But as the German Blitzkrieg swept across France, the British were being pushed back and were attempting to do what they could to stall the German advance. Churchill is said to have lead his unit in small guerrilla/surprise attacks. Some of these are said to have included Churchill riding a motorcycle and armed with nothing but his bow and arrows and a Scottish basket-hilted broadsword. When asked by a fellow officer he supposedly replied that “In my opinion, sir, any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed.“
He later volunteered for Commando Duty and was in command of No. a Commando in a raid on a German garrison in Norway in 1941 and “Mad Jack” is described as having leapt from the landing craft to play his bagpipes before throwing a hand grenade and running to join the battle. In 1943 he led a commando mission from a landing site in Sicily again with his broadsword at his waist, longbow and arrows on his back and bagpipes under his arm. During a similar landing in Salerno his unit was ordered to deal with an artillery battery garrisoned in a town that greatly outnumbered his squad. His 50 men charged the town from all sides in the middle of the night and the surprised Germans were overwhelmed. They took 136 German prisoners and inflicted and unknown number of casualties.
One of the more incredible stories I’ve found is how he is said to have single-handedly take 42 German prisoners including a mortar crew with just his broad sword. He took one guard as a shield and went from sentry to sentry sneaking up on them and capturing them at sword point. His explanation is said to have been:
“I maintain that, as long as you tell a German loudly and clearly what to do, if you are senior to him he will cry ‘jawohl’ and get on with it enthusiastically and efficiently whatever the situation.“
His later exploits included escaping from two POW camps, serving in Palestine protecting Jewish medical personnel from Arab attacks, and went on to become a military instructor in Austria and became a hardcore surfer.
His military honors included the Military Cross and Bar, the Distinguished Service Order
I think I’ve found the next biography I’m going to look for…