WWII legend “Mad Jack Churchill” The Mad Man Who Went Into Battle With A Longbow, A Sword, And His Bagpipes:
Jack Churchill – aka “Fighting Jack”, aka “Mad Jack” was about as mad as they come and thus is the ideal person with which to begin this descent into insanity. He was known for the phrase “Any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed” and certainly lived up to that reputation: he would run into battle clutching a Scottish broadsword, supplemented by a longbow and also carrying a full set of bagpipes. That’s unusual enough, but it gets weirder: Jack Churchill wasn’t even Scottish.
His story was similar to many of the British officer class in the Second World War: he was born to a military family that was stationed abroad in the colonial service – in Jack’s case, Hong Kong – and educated at a private school back in the old country. He went through Sandhurst, the main officer training finishing school in Britain, before being posted to Burma. Churchill did ten years before leaving the army and beginning to indulge his eccentricities. He was at various points an actor, a male model and a newspaper editor, while also winning competitions for his archery and bagpipe playing (which was seen as an outrage, as an Englishman had beaten many Scots at piping).
By the time the Second World War broke out, Jack Churchill was more than ready to emerge as “Mad Jack“. He rejoined and was sent to France along with the Manchester Regiment. His first action as an officer was to kill a German sergeant with a longbow – the first and only confirmed longbow kill of the entire war. “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,” later explained his son, Malcolm.
Churchill was involved in the Dunkirk evacuation and, after repatriation, fought in Norway, where he lead a charge while playing “The March of the Cameron Men” on his bagpipes. Later in Italy, he took part in the Salerno landings – Scottish broadsword, longbow and pipes in tow – and in Yugoslavia, where he took command of a 1500 strong force before being captured on the island of Brac, having alerted his fellow commandos to the attack by playing a Highland march on his bagpipes. Subtlety and stealth were not among Jack Churchill’s strong points.
Churchill escaped twice – once walking over 200 kilometers from Berlin to Rostock before being taken prisoner again – and eventually was moved to a camp in the Austrian Tyrol. When the Germans left, fearing the advancing Allies, he walked 150 kilometers to freedom in Italy. Mad Jack finished the war in Burma in 1945, where, it is reported, he was disappointed that the Americans had dropped the nuclear bombs on Japan and ended the war, saying “If it wasn’t for those damn Yanks, we could have kept the war going another 10 years!”
Peacetime did not suit Jack Churchill and he struggled to settle back into civilian life. Stories abounded of his further eccentricities: one held that he would launch his briefcase into his own garden as the train passed his home, to save him carrying it with him, while another told of his exploits surfing on the River Severn. He died in 1996, laying to rest a man who, frankly, appears not to have enjoyed the idea of sitting still one little bit.
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Story by Mike Wood