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Jack Churchill

Lt. Col. J. M. (Mad Jack) Churchill C.O. No. 2 Commando

Born in an English family but a Scotsman at heart, Lt. Col. John Churchill, nicknamed Fighting Jack or Mad Jack, was one of the most eccentric figures in World War II. He was known to carry a bagpipe and a broadsword into battle. He also was the only soldier in the war to have a confirmed kill of an enemy combatant with bow and arrow.

Born in Hong Kong, educated in England and a graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Jack Churchill chose the military as a career. He was stationed in Burma where he killed time by touring the neighbouring countries on his motorcycle, studying the bagpipe and honing his archery skills. After ten years he left the army for more adventurous occupations such as sports, modelling, editing a Kenyan newspaper and starring as a movie extra (he played the bagpipes in The Drum, pulled bow oar in A Yank at Oxford and showed off his talent with the bow in A Thief in Baghdad). In 1938 he placed second in a piping championship where he was the only English competitor. In 1939 he represented England at the Oslo World Archery Championship.

After the breakout of war Churchill rejoined the army and was deployed with the British Expeditionary Forces in Northern France. He became a company second-in-command in his old regiment, the Manchester. It was during this time that he took to going into battle with a sword and bow. In May 1940, fighting a rear guard action covering the British retreat near the French village of L'Epinette he killed a German sergeant with his bow. After the Dunkirk evacuation Churchill volunteered for the commandos.

Jack Churchill leading a commando exercise with sword in hand

On December 27, 1941 he led two companies of the No. 3 Commando against the German battery on Maaloy Island as part of the Vaagso Raid while playing the March of the Cameron Men on his bagpipe. In July 1943 the commandos participated in the invasion of Sicily in regular line infantry role. As commanding officer of No. 2 Commando, in the town of La Molina he captured a total 42 German soldiers, taking them prisoner in small groups with the help of his trusted claymore and a corporal named Ruffel.

In 1944 Churchill ended up in Yugoslavia supporting the partisans. When ordered to assault an Adriatic island held by the Germans, he assembled a mixed force of partisans and commandos and led them to battle to the sound of his bagpipe. By the time they reached their objective Churchill was the only man standing. He kept playing the pipes until captured. He was imprisoned at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he immediately set upon finding a way out. In September he attempted to escape with three fellow British officers (two of them survivors of the Great Escape), but they were captured before they could reach the Baltic coast.

Next spring Churchill was transferred to a camp in Austria, where his chance of slipping away finally came. He crossed the border into Italy and walked a hundred miles till he ran into an American armored column. VE-day passed, but Churchill was intent on getting back into the fray and volunteered for service in Burma. By the time he got there, however, the war had ended in the Pacific, too.

After the war Churchill went about his usual occupations: he starred as an archer in another movie (Ivanhoe), qualified as a parachutist, saw service in Palestine, took up surfing and continued baffling those around him with his eccentricity, for example by throwing his briefcase out the window every day on the train ride home. For his wartime actions he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Bar, and Military Cross and Bar.

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