Thursday, October 21, 2010

Jack Churchill

Lieutenant Colonel John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming "Jack" Churchill, nicknamed "Fighting Jack Churchill" and "Mad Jack", was an English soldier who fought throughout World War II armed with a longbow, arrows, and a claybeg (a mediaeval edged weapon used in Scotland, considered the smaller counterpart of the claymore). He once said "any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed."

Churchill resumed his commission after Poland was invaded, volunteering for the Commandos after fighting at Dunkirk. Churchill was unsure what Commando Duty entailed, but he signed up because “it sounded dangerous”. 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 his barbed arrows, becoming the only known British soldier to have felled an enemy with a longbow in the course of the war.

Churchill was second in command on a raid on the German garrison at Vågsøy, Norway on December 27, 1941. As the ramps fell on the first landing craft, Churchill leapt forward from his position playing The March of the Cameron Men on bagpipes, threw a grenade, and began running towards the bay.

In July 1943, as commanding officer, he led a squad from their landing site at Catania in Sicily with his trademark claybeg slung around his waist and a longbow and arrows around his neck and his bagpipes under his arm. This was again repeated at the landings at Salerno.
In 1944, he led the Commandos in Yugoslavia, where he was ordered to raid the German held island of Brač. He organised a motley army of 1,500 Partisans, 43 Commando troop and 40 Commando troop for the raid. The landing was unopposed, but the Partisans decided to defer the attack until the following day. 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 to capture them. He was knocked unconscious by grenades and captured. He was later flown to Berlin for interrogation and then transferred to Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

In September 1944, he and an RAF officer crawled under the wire through an abandoned drain and set out to walk to the Baltic coast; they were recaptured near the coastal city of Rostock, only a few miles from the sea. In late April 1945 Churchill was transferred to Tyrol together with about 140 other prominent concentration camp inmates, where the SS left the prisoners behind. After the departure of the Germans he walked 150 miles to Verona, Italy where he met the American forces. From there, Churchill was sent to Burma, but by the time he reached India, Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been bombed, and the war abruptly ended. Churchill was said to be unhappy with the abrupt end of the war, saying: "If it wasn't for those damn Yanks, we could have kept the war going another 10 years!"

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