John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill, DSO & Bar, MC & Bar (16 September 1906 – 8 March 1996) was a British Army officer. Nicknamed "Fighting Jack Churchill" and "Mad Jack", he fought in the Second World War with a longbow, a basket-hilted Scottish broadsword, and a bagpipe.

Jack Churchill
Black-and-white photograph of Churchill in uniform, sitting at a desk, and looking up at the camera while writing
"Mad Jack" Churchill
  • Fighting Jack Churchill
  • Mad Jack
Born(1906-09-16)16 September 1906
Colombo, British Ceylon[1]
Died8 March 1996(1996-03-08) (aged 89)
Chertsey, Surrey, England[2]
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchBritish Army
Years of service1926–1936
RankLieutenant Colonel
Commands heldNo. 2 Commando
Battles/warsBurma Rebellion 1930–32
Second World War
1948 Palestine War
AwardsDistinguished Service Order & Bar
Military Cross & Bar

Early life Edit

Churchill was born in Colombo, British Ceylon,[1] to Alec Fleming Churchill (1876–1961), later of Hove, East Sussex, and Elinor Elizabeth, daughter of John Alexander Bond Bell, of Kelnahard, County Cavan, Ireland, and of Dimbula, Ceylon. Alec, of a family long settled at Deddington, Oxfordshire, had been District Engineer in the Ceylon Civil Service, in which his father, John Fleming Churchill (1829–1894), had also served.[1][3] Soon after Jack's birth, the family returned to Dormansland, Surrey, where his younger brother, Thomas Bell Lindsay Churchill (1907–1990), was born.[4] In 1910, the Churchills moved to British Hong Kong when Alec Churchill was appointed as Director of Public Works; he also served as a member of the Executive Council. The Churchills' third and youngest son, Robert Alec Farquhar Churchill, later a lieutenant in the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm, was born in Hong Kong in 1911. The family returned to England in 1917.[5][6][7][8][9]

Churchill was educated at King William's College on the Isle of Man. He graduated from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, in 1926 and served in Burma with the Manchester Regiment. He enjoyed riding a motorbike in Burma.[10][11]

Churchill left the army in 1936 and worked as a newspaper editor in Nairobi, Kenya, and as a male model.[10][12] He used his archery and bagpipe talents to play a small role in the 1924 film The Thief of Bagdad[13] and also appeared in the 1938 film A Yank at Oxford.[10] He took second place in the 1938 military piping competition at the Aldershot Tattoo.[14] In 1939, he represented Great Britain at the World Archery Championships in Oslo.[15][11]

Second World War Edit

Churchill stares down the barrel of a captured Belgian 75 mm field gun.

France (1940) Edit

Churchill resumed his commission after Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September 1939 and was assigned to the Manchester Regiment, which was sent to France in the British Expeditionary Force. In May 1940, Churchill and some of his men ambushed a German patrol near L'Épinette (near Richebourg, Pas-de-Calais). Churchill gave the signal to attack by raising his broadsword. A common story is that Churchill killed a German with a longbow in that action.[12] However, Churchill later said that his bows had been crushed by a lorry earlier in the campaign.[16] After fighting at Dunkirk, he volunteered for the Commandos.[6] On one occasion, a general who had commented on his weaponry, Churchill is said to have replied "Any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed."[6]

Jack's younger brother, Thomas Churchill, also served with and led a commando brigade during the war.[17] After the war, Thomas wrote a book, Commando Crusade, that details some of the brothers' experiences during the war.[18] Their youngest brother, Robert, also known as 'Buster', served in the Royal Navy and was killed in action in 1942.[19]

Norway (1941) Edit

Churchill was second in command of No. 3 Commando in Operation Archery, a raid on the German garrison at Vågsøy, Norway, on 27 December 1941.[20]: 41  As the ramps fell on the first landing craft, he leapt forward from his position playing "March of the Cameron Men"[21] on his bagpipes, before throwing a grenade and charging into battle. For his actions at Dunkirk and Vågsøy, Churchill received the Military Cross.

Italy (1943) Edit

In July 1943, as commanding officer, he led No. 2 Commando from their landing site at Catania, in Sicily, with his trademark Scottish broadsword slung around his waist, a longbow and arrows around his neck and his bagpipes under his arm,[20]: 133  which he also did in the landings at Salerno.

Leading 2 Commando, Churchill was ordered to capture a German observation post outside the town of Molina, controlling a pass leading down to the Salerno beachhead.[20]: 136–137  With the help of a corporal, he infiltrated the town, captured the post and took 42 prisoners including a mortar squad. Churchill led the men and prisoners back down the pass, with the wounded being carried on carts pushed by German prisoners. He commented that it was "an image from the Napoleonic Wars".[20]: 136–137  He received the Distinguished Service Order for leading that action at Salerno.[22]

Churchill later walked back to the town to retrieve his sword, which he had lost in hand-to-hand combat with the German regiment. On his way there, he encountered a disoriented American patrol mistakenly walking towards enemy lines. When the NCO in command of the patrol refused to turn around, Churchill told them that he was going his own way and that he would not come back for a "bloody third time".[5]

Yugoslavia (1944) Edit

As part of Maclean Mission (Macmis), in 1944, he led the Commandos in Yugoslavia to support Josip Broz Tito's Partisans from the Adriatic island of Vis.[20]: 148  In May he was ordered to raid the German-held island of Brač. He organized a "motley army" of 1,500 Partisans, 43 Commando and one troop from 40 Commando for the raid. The landing was unopposed, but on seeing the gun emplacements from which they later encountered German fire, the Partisans decided to defer the attack until the following day. Churchill's bagpipes signalled the remaining Commandos to battle. After being strafed by an RAF Spitfire, Churchill decided to withdraw for the night and to relaunch the attack the following morning.[20]: 150–152 

Capture Edit

The following morning, a flanking attack was launched by 43 Commando with Churchill leading the elements from 40 Commando. The Partisans remained at the landing area. Only Churchill and six others managed to reach the objective. A mortar shell killed or wounded everyone but Churchill, who was playing "Will Ye No Come Back Again?" on his pipes as the Germans advanced. He was knocked unconscious by grenades and captured. Believing that he might be related to Winston Churchill,[20]: 150–152  German military intelligence had Churchill flown to Berlin for interrogation.[clarification needed] Afterwards, he was transferred to a special compound for "prominent" POWs, including some actual or suspected relatives of Winston Churchill – within the grounds of Sachsenhausen concentration camp.[6]

Jack Churchill (far right) leads a training exercise, sword in hand, from a Eureka boat in Inveraray.

In September 1944, Churchill, three Royal Air Force officers (survivors of the Great Escape) and Major Johnnie Dodge escaped Sachsenhausen by using a tunnel that they had dug in secret. Churchill and Royal Air Force officer Bertram James attempted to walk to the Baltic coast. They were captured near the German coastal city of Rostock, a few kilometres from the sea.

In late April 1945, Churchill and about 140 other prominent concentration camp inmates were transferred to Tyrol and guarded by SS troops.[23] A delegation of prisoners told senior German army officers that they feared they would be executed. A German army unit commanded by Captain Wichard von Alvensleben moved in to protect the prisoners. Outnumbered, the SS guards moved out and left the prisoners behind.[23] The prisoners were released, and after the departure of the Germans, Churchill walked 150 kilometres (93 mi) to Verona, Italy, where he met an American armoured unit.[6]

Burma (1945) Edit

As the Pacific War was still on, Churchill was sent to Burma,[6] where some of the largest land battles against Japan were being fought. By the time Churchill reached India, Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been bombed, and the war ended. Churchill was said to be unhappy with the sudden end of the war: "If it wasn't for those damn Yanks, we could have kept the war going another 10 years!"[6]

Postwar Edit

British Palestine Edit

After the Second World War ended, Churchill qualified as a parachutist and transferred to the Seaforth Highlanders. He was soon posted to Mandatory Palestine as executive officer of the 1st Battalion, the Highland Light Infantry.[6]

In the spring of 1948, just before the end of the British mandate in the region, he became involved in another conflict. Along with twelve of his soldiers, he attempted to assist the Hadassah medical convoy, which came under attack by Arab forces.[6] Churchill, one of the first men on the scene, banged on a bus and offered to evacuate members of the convoy in an APC despite the British military orders to keep out of the fight. His offer was refused in the belief that the Jewish Haganah would come to their aid in an organised rescue.[24] When no relief arrived, Churchill and his twelve men provided cover fire against the Arab forces.[25][6][26] Two of the convoy trucks caught fire, and 77 of the 79 people inside of them were killed.[6] The event is known today as the Hadassah medical convoy massacre.

Of the experience, he said: "About one hundred and fifty insurgents, armed with weapons varying from blunder-busses and old flintlocks to modern Sten and Bren guns, took cover behind a cactus patch in the grounds of the American Colony.... I went out and faced them." "About 250 rifle-men were on the edge of our property shooting at the convoy.... I begged them to desist from using the grounds of the American Colony for such a dastardly purpose."[25][6][26]

After the massacre, he coordinated the evacuation of 700 Jewish doctors, students and patients from the Hadassah hospital on the Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, where the convoy had been headed.[6]

Further film appearance Edit

In 1952, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced the film Ivanhoe shot in Britain featuring Churchill's old rowing companion, Robert Taylor. The studio hired Churchill to appear as an archer, shooting from the walls of Warwick Castle.[citation needed]

Surfing Edit

In later years, Churchill served as an instructor at the land-air warfare school in Australia, where he became a passionate surfer. In 1955, he was the first man to ride a tidal bore, doing so on a five-foot Severn bore wave for over a mile. This was accomplished by designing and building his own 16-foot toothpick surfboard. In riding that tidal bore, Churchill innovated freshwater surfing and established the idea that surfing could take place outside traditional coastal areas. It took years for the idea to gain traction, but tidal bores are now ridden in Brazil and China, and freshwater surfing is also done on the Great Lakes, in Munich, and in Jackson Hole.[27]

Retirement (1959–1996) Edit

Churchill retired from the army in 1959. In retirement, his eccentricity continued. He startled train guards and passengers by throwing his briefcase out of the train window each day on the ride home. He later explained that he was tossing his case into his own back garden so that he would not have to carry it from the station.[6] He also enjoyed sailing coal-fired ships on the Thames between Richmond and Oxford,[28] as well as making radio-controlled model warships.[7]

Death Edit

Churchill died on 8 March 1996 at 89 years old, in the county of Surrey.[7]

In March 2014, the Royal Norwegian Explorers Club published a book that featured Churchill, naming him as one of the finest explorers and adventurers of all time.[29]

Family Edit

Churchill married Rosamund Margaret Denny, the daughter of Sir Maurice Edward Denny and granddaughter of Sir Archibald Denny, on 8 March 1941.[2] They had two children, Malcolm John Leslie Churchill, born 1942, and Rodney Alistair Gladstone Churchill, born 1947.[2]

See also Edit

Notes Edit

  1. ^ a b c "The Churchill Chronicles, Maj.-Gen. Thomas B. L. Churchill, C.B., C.B.E., M.C." (PDF). First Impressions. 1986. pp. 70, 89. Retrieved 6 August 2018.
  2. ^ a b c Warner, Philip. "Churchill, John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming [Jack]". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/62152. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ "Churchill Graves and Memorials at Deddington" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 August 2018. Retrieved 31 July 2018.
  4. ^ Burke's Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage, 1999, vol. 1, p. 337
  5. ^ a b Maj-Gen Thomas B.L. Churchill, CB CBE MC (1986). The Churchill Chronicles: Annals of a Yeoman Family.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Fighting Jack Churchill survived a wartime odyssey beyond compare". WWII History Magazine. July 2005. Archived from the original on 17 September 2013. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
  7. ^ a b c "Lieutenant-Colonel Jack Churchill". Telegraph. London. 13 March 1996. Archived from the original on 28 September 2011. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
  8. ^ "Jack Churchill". Archived from the original on 28 September 2013. Retrieved 26 September 2013.
  9. ^ "Jack Churchill". Archived from the original on 2 December 2013. Retrieved 26 September 2013.
  10. ^ a b c Hay, Mark (20 May 2014). "The British Soldier Who Killed Nazis with a Sword and a Longbow". Vice.
  11. ^ a b "Fighting Jack Churchill". Historic UK. Retrieved 4 July 2022.
  12. ^ a b Oord, Christian (9 December 2018). "'Mad' Jack Churchill – The Only Man to Dispatch a German Soldier With a Longbow in WW2". WAR HISTORY ONLINE. Retrieved 4 July 2022.
  13. ^ Matinee, Classics. "The Thief of Bagdad (1924)". Archived from the original on 23 February 2014. Retrieved 12 February 2014.
  14. ^ Newark, Tim (2009). Highlander The History of The Legendary Highland Soldier. Little, Brown Book Group. ISBN 9781849012317.
  15. ^ 1939 World Archery Championships (Complete results) (PDF), archived from the original (PDF) on 14 October 2013
  16. ^ Owen, James (2012). Commando – Winning World War II Behind Enemy Lines, Ballantine Books
  17. ^ "Generals of World War II". Retrieved 27 February 2015.
  18. ^ Commando Crusade. OCLC 17619513.
  19. ^ "Lt Robert Alec Farquhar Churchill, RN Memorial". Archived from the original on 21 August 2016.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g Parker, John (2000). Commandos: The inside story of Britain's most elite fighting force. London: Bounty Books. ISBN 978-0-7537-1292-4.
  21. ^ BBC: Great Raids of World War II, Season 1, Episode 6: Arctic Commando Assault
  22. ^ London Gazette
  23. ^ a b Peter Koblank: Die Befreiung der Sonder- und Sippenhäftlinge in Südtirol, Online-Edition Mythos Elser 2006 (in German)
  24. ^ Dan Kurzman, Genesis: The 1948 First Arab-Israeli War, New American Library, 1970 pp. 188ff.
  25. ^ a b Martin Levin,It Takes a Dream: The Story of Hadassah, Gefen Publishing House, 2002 p. 22
  26. ^ a b Bertha Spafford Vester (and Evelyn Wells); 'Our Jerusalem'; Printed in Lebanon; 1950; pp. 353–376.
  27. ^ Smith, Joel T.; Croci, Ronald (2016). The Illustrated Atlas of Surfing History: Wave Riding from Antiquity to Gidget. Island Heritage Publishing. p. 151.
  28. ^ Fullarton, Donald (8 November 2016). "'Mad Jack' was soldier hero". Helensburgh Heritage Trust. Retrieved 27 December 2022.
  29. ^ Thomas, Allister (31 March 2014). "Scots sword-wielding WWII hero honoured by book". The Scotsman. Retrieved 31 March 2014.

References Edit

External links Edit