Jack Churchill

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For other people named Jack Churchill, see Jack Churchill (disambiguation).
Jack Churchill
"Mad Jack" Churchill
Nickname(s) Mad Jack
Born (1906-09-16)16 September 1906
Died 8 March 1996(1996-03-08) (aged 89)
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service 1926–1936
Rank Lieutenant Colonel
Awards Distinguished Service Order, Military Cross
Churchill stares down the barrel of a captured Belgian 75 mm field gun.

Lieutenant Colonel John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming "Jack" Churchill, DSO & Bar, MC & Bar (16 September 1906 – 8 March 1996), nicknamed Fighting Jack Churchill and Mad Jack, was a British soldier who fought throughout the Second World War armed with a longbow, and a Scottish sword (a basket-hilted claymore).[1] He is known for the motto "any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed." Churchill also carried out the last recorded bow and arrow killing in action, shooting a German NCO in 1940 in a French village.[2]

Early life[edit]

Born in Surrey[1][3][4][5][6] and educated at King William's College on the Isle of Man, Churchill graduated from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, in 1926 and served in Burma with the Manchester Regiment. He left the army in 1936 and worked as a newspaper editor. He used his archery and bagpipe talents to play a small role in the 1924 film The Thief of Bagdad.[7]

Second World War[edit]

Churchill resumed his commission after Poland was invaded. In May 1940 Churchill and his unit, the Manchester Regiment, ambushed a German patrol near L'Epinette, France. Churchill gave the signal to attack by cutting down the enemy Feldwebel (sergeant) with a barbed arrow, becoming the only British soldier known to have felled an enemy with a longbow in WWII.[8] According to his son Malcolm, "He and his section were in a tower and as the Germans approached he said 'I will shoot that first German with an arrow,' and that's exactly what he did."[2] After fighting at Dunkirk, he volunteered for the Commandos.[9]

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.[10] As the ramps fell on the first landing craft, Churchill leapt forward from his position playing "March of the Cameron Men"[11] on his bagpipes, before throwing a grenade and running into battle in the bay. For his actions at Dunkirk and Vågsøy, Churchill received the Military Cross and Bar.

In July 1943, as commanding officer, he led 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,[12] which he also did in the landings at Salerno. Leading 2 Commando, Churchill was ordered to capture a German observation post outside of the town of Molina (it/nl), controlling a pass leading down to the Salerno beach-head. With the help of a corporal, he infiltrated the town and captured the post, taking 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."[13] He received the Distinguished Service Order for leading this action at Salerno.[14]

In 1944 he led the Commandos in Yugoslavia, where they supported Josip Broz Tito's Partisans from the Adriatic island of Vis.[15] In May he was ordered to raid the German held island of Brač. He organised 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 eyries 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 re-launch the attack the following morning.[16] The following morning, one 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.[16] He was later flown to Berlin for interrogation and then transferred to Sachsenhausen concentration camp.[9]

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

In September 1944 Churchill and a Royal Air Force officer crawled under the wire, through an abandoned drain and attempted to walk to the Baltic coast. They were captured near the 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, guarded by SS troops. A delegation of prisoners told senior German army officers they feared they would be executed. An army unit commanded by Captain Wichard von Alvensleben moved in to protect the prisoners. Outnumbered, the SS guards moved out, leaving the prisoners behind.[17] 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 force.[9]

As the Pacific War was still on, Churchill was sent to Burma,[9] where 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, saying: "If it wasn't for those damn Yanks, we could have kept the war going another 10 years."[9]

Later life[edit]

In 1946 Twentieth Century Fox produced the film Ivanhoe featuring Churchill's old rowing companion Robert Taylor. The studio hired Churchill to appear as an archer, shooting from the walls of Warwick Castle.

After the Second World War ended, Churchill qualified as a parachutist, transferred to the Seaforth Highlanders, and was soon posted to Palestine as second-in-command of the 1st Battalion, the Highland Light Infantry. In the spring of 1948, just before the end of the British mandate in the region, Churchill became involved in another conflict. Along with twelve of his soldiers, he attempted to assist the Hadassah medical convoy that came under attack by hundreds of Arabs.[9] Following a massacre, he co-ordinated the evacuation of 700 Jewish doctors, students and patients from the Hadassah hospital on the Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem.

In later years, Churchill served as an instructor at the land-air warfare school in Australia, where he became a passionate devotee of the surfboard. Back in England, he was the first man to ride the River Severn's five-foot tidal bore and designed his own board. In retirement, however, his eccentricity continued. He startled train conductors 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 he wouldn't have to carry it from the station.[9]

He finally retired from the army in 1959, with two awards of the Distinguished Service Order, and died in Surrey in 1996.

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.[18]


Churchill married Rosamund Margaret Denny on 8 March 1941[19] with whom he had two children, Malcolm John Leslie Churchill, born 11 November 1942 and Rodney Alistair Gladstone Churchill, born 4 July 1947.


  1. ^ a b "Fighting Jack Churchill survived a wartime odyssey beyond compare". WWII History Magazine. Retrieved 27 September 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "Mad Jack. war hero who went into battle with sword and bow, tops list of great adventurers". The Daily Telegraph (UK). 29 March 2014. 
  3. ^ "Lieutenant-Colonel Jack Churchill". London: Telegraph. 13 March 1996. Retrieved 27 September 2013. 
  4. ^ Drury, Ian (31 December 2012). "The amazing story of Mad Jack". London: Daily Mail. Retrieved 27 September 2013. 
  5. ^ http://www.modern-day-commando.com/Jack-Churchill.html
  6. ^ http://www.procomtours.com/jack_churchill.html
  7. ^ Matinee, Classics. "The Thief of Bagdad (1924)". Retrieved 12 February 2014. 
  8. ^ Young, Peter (1969). Commando, Ballantine Books
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Smith (2005)
  10. ^ Parker p.41
  11. ^ BBC: Great Raids of World War II, Season 1, Episode 6: Arctic Commando Assault
  12. ^ Parker p.133
  13. ^ Parker pp.136–137
  14. ^ London Gazette
  15. ^ Parker p.148
  16. ^ a b Parker pp. 150–152
  17. ^ Peter Koblank: Die Befreiung der Sonder- und Sippenhäftlinge in Südtirol, Online-Edition Mythos Elser 2006 (German)
  18. ^ Thomas, Allister (31 March 2014). "Scots sword-wielding WWII hero honoured by book". The Scotsman. Retrieved 31 March 2014. 
  19. ^ thepeerage.com