Robert Walsh

Freelance writer from Cornwall

John ‘Mad Jack’ Churchill

 "Yes, I'm Lieutenant Colonel Churchill. Looking for excitement, are you..?"


“Yes, I’m Lieutenant Colonel Churchill. Looking for excitement, are you..?”

Lieutenant Colonel John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill. Known to his friends as ‘Jack.’ Known to his fellow Commandos as ‘Mad Jack’ and/or ‘Fighting Jack.’ Probably known to the German Army as ‘Oh no, it’s him again’, He started life in the leafy, peaceful English county of Surrey. It was about the last conventional time and place Jack would inhabit for, oh, the next couple of decades. He had a public school education, went to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and was posted to Burma as a 2nd Lieutenant in the well-respected Manchester Regiment. In Burma he began his love affair with all things Scottish, despite not having a drop of Scottish blood in him. He studied the bagpipes and acquired a fondness for the Scottish Claybeg, a basket-hilted broadsword that he used in battle because:

“An officer who goes into battle without his sword is improperly dressed.”

Churchill archery

Army life soon began to bore him. Jack was an unconventional man in an extremely conventional world and the British Army was about as conventional as it gets. After ten years in the service he’d had enough of living with strict rules for absolutely everything and he quit, taking a job as a newspaper editor and taking up the sport of archery. The dreaded English longbow was another medieval weapon Jack would take into battle as, after the 1939 World Championship in Norway, the clouds of impending war were darkening the skies of Europe. Jack decided the time had come to rejoin the Army and put himself in harm’s way once again.

 Jack had an individual interpretation of the military phrase 'cold steel.'


Jack had an individual interpretation of the military phrase ‘cold steel.’

Jack’s first taste of action was around Dunkirk in 1940. His regiment were headed for the port and (hopefully) passage home when a German infantry unit suddenly barred their way. Jack, being Jack, solved this little problem unconventionally by killing the enemy commander with his longbow (becoming the last soldier in military history to kill with a bow and arrows). He then led his unit in a desperate charge through the enemy ranks. Shortly after returning to England Jack heard about a new type of British soldier, the Commandos. Despite the fact that he had little idea what Commandos actually did. He signed up because their work was highly dangerous so obviously it would be a lot of fun. Jack proved a natural Commando. He had the aggression of a lion, the coolness of an experienced soldier and was unconventional even by Commando standards. The man and the job fit together perfectly and Jack was already building his legend.

 Why not have a little music between firefights?


Why not have a little music between firefights?

Jack was also keen on motorcycles. Very keen. So keen, in fact, that during one Commando raid he strapped his broadsword to his hip, his bow and arrows on his back and his mighty bagpipes over one shoulder and entered the fray by riding a 500cc monster off a landing craft and straight into the heart of the fighting while bellowing his personal battle cry of ‘COMMAND-OOOOOOOOO!’ Which left his own side astounded and the enemy staring in understandably open-mouthed disbelief. The legend of ‘Mad Jack’ Churchill was growing and now even other Commandos considered him entirely well named. 

By July, 1943 our fearless fighter was a full-blown legend and there was no stopping him. He led Number Two Commando in a raid on the Sicilian town of La Molina, hoping to silence an enemy lookout post. Jack went to reconnoitre the enemy positions with a Corporal as back-up and once again returned having added once more to his legend. He’d brought back some souvenirs of his recon in the form of 42 German prisoners whom he’d collected and marched back to the Commando positions while waving his sword at them ad threatening summary beheading for anyone trying to escape. For some reason his prisoners thought, seeing as they outnumbered him 42 to 1 and he still didn’t seem worried, that ‘Mad Jack’ was just mad enough to make his threat a reality. Can’t imagine why…

 

 "Improperly dressed? Never!"


“Improperly dressed? Never!”

Jack’s impressive run of luck finally ended in 1944. His team were wiped out and he was wounded and then captured while on a mission in Yugoslavia. Despite Hitler’s ‘Commando Order’ stating that all captured Commandos were to be shot, Jack was spared because he told them he was related to a certain other Mr. Churchill, Winston. Jack was no more related to Winston than I am but, as huge a lie as it was, it worked. Jack was sent instead to the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen, from which he promptly escaped, was recaptured, escaped again and made an epic 150-mile march to meet advancing American troops, surviving on rainwater he drank from roadside puddles and a can of onions he’d managed to steal somewhere along the way.

nuke blast

Jack still hadn’t had enough. Within weeks of returning to England he’d managed to arrange a posting to the Far East (where war was still raging) but, sadly for Jack (though probably nobody else involved) the war ended while he was aboard a troopship. He expressed his feelings about the end of the war by blaming the Americans for intruding in European affairs (thus depriving him of further chances to get himself killed) by saying, very angrily:

“Damn those Yanks! If they’d stayed out of it we could have been fighting for another ten years!”

 

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