The German Commander who discovered that one of his men had been struck down by an arrow during the Second World War must have been more than a tad perplexed…
The person behind such a strike was British Soldier, Lietenant Colonel Jack Churchill, abbreviated by his comrades to: ‘Fighting Jack Churchill’, or sometimes ‘Mad Jack’. And with a name like that you can probably tell he was a bit of a character…
Eccentric Jack Churchill was a soldier that knew no fear, graduating at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in 1926, and commissioned in the Manchester Regiment. Churchill also insisted on carrying an archaic form of weaponry – a bow and arrow and a sword with him into combat. The weapon was silent, accurate to 200 yards and lethal.Even though he was English, Churchill had a love for all things Scottish, wore a kilt, and spent years mastering the bagpipes.
His story is as colourful as his personality was, and includes capturing 42 German prisoners with only his broadsword making him the only soldier in the war credited with killing enemy troops with arrows. This act earned him various gallantry medals, including two Distinguished Service Orders and a Military Cross.
Difficulties never fazed Churchill and he actively sought out challenges - for example, returning from a signals course at Poona, he rode a Zenith motor-cycle 1,500 miles across India, a trip complicated by an absence of roads. He therefore followed the railroad line, by stepping on the sleepers (there was nothing in between them) and pushed the bike along the rails.
War broke out in 1939 and Churchill was recalled to the Colours and went to France. Of course he took with him his bow and arrows, which he used on patrols against the Germans in front of the Maginot Line.
He was awarded the Military Cross in the retreat at the Battle of l'Epinette (near Bethune) where his company was trapped by German forces. Fighting against the German forces with two machine guns and his bow, he freed the remains of the company through the German lines at night and reported back to Brigade HQ. He got wounded and carried a bullet in his shoulder all his life.
Churchill was later appointed Lieutenant-Colonel commanding No 2 Commando, which he led through Sicily, with his bagpipes to Messina and then to the landings at Salerno. It was a success and they captured the village of Pigoletti and its garrison of 42 men as well as an 81 mm mortar and its crew. His action had saved the Salerno beachhead at a critical time and in further fighting along the Pigoletti Ridge, he was recommended for the VC but eventually received the DSO.
Another assignment for Churchill was in the Adriatic, where he commanded a force comprising No 43 Royal Marine Commando, plus one company from the Highland Light Infantry and eight 25lb guns. Playing his beloved pipes, Churchill led No 40 Commando in a night attack, but he got wounded and captured.
Because of his name the Germans thought, wrongly, that Churchill must be a relation of the Prime Minister and he was eventually imprisoned in Sachsenhausen Camp, near Berlin, where he was chained to the floor for the first month. He found himself in company with VIPs such as Kurt von Schusnigg, the former Chancellor of Austria, von Thyssen, and Schacht, the former German Economics Minister.
Of course imprisonment wasn’t going to stop someone like Churchill and he tunnelled out of the camp with an RAF officer. Unfortunately, he was recaptured and transferred to a PoW camp in Austria. Again, this wasn’t going to keep Churchill down and when the floodlights failed one night he escaped. This time it was a continued success and he lived on stolen vegetables walking across the Alps near the Brenner Pass…Then he made contact with an American reconnaissance column in the Po Valley.
Appointed second-in-command of No 3 Commando Brigade, in India Churchill prepared for the invasion of Japan, but the war ended – which he regretted, as he wanted to be killed in battle and buried with the Union flag.
Looking for new challenges again, he took a parachute course, making his first jump on his 40th birthday. He then went onto command the 5th (Scottish) Parachute Battalion, subsequently becoming the only officer to command both a Commando and a Parachute battalion.
Having always wanted to serve with a Scottish regiment, Churchill then transferred to the Seaforth Highlanders, becoming a company commander and then he was appointed second-in-command of the Highland Light Infantry in 1948, then serving in Jerusalem. On April 13 1948, Arabs trapped a Jewish convoy of doctors en route for the Hadassah Hospital, near Jerusalem.
Walking alone towards the ambush, smiling and carrying a blackthorn stick Churchill said "People are less likely to shoot you if you smile at them.” And so it proved.
He evacuated some of the Jews but they thought that Haganah (the Jewish army) would save them and did not require his services. One of the HLI had now been killed by Arab fire and 77 Jews were then slaughtered. In hospital Churchill later assisted in the evacuation of 500 patients and staff.
He was second-in-command of the Army Apprentices School back in Britain for two years, at Chepstow, before serving a two-year stint as Chief Instructor, Land/Air Warfare School in Australia. He later joined the War Office Selection Board at Barton Stacey in 1954 and his last post was as First Commandant of the Outward Bound School. Jack Churchill died in 1996.
Apparently, when not engaged in military operations Jack Churchill was believe it or not, a quiet, unassuming man - but he still liked to surprise people. In his last job he would sometimes stand up on a train journey from London to his home, open the window and hurl out his briefcase, before returning back to his seat. Fellow passengers looked on, dismayed and completely unaware that he had just flung the briefcase into his own back garden…
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