Jack Churchill

John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill, also known as Jack, was born in Columbo, British Ceylon, on September 16, 1906. His parents were Alec Fleming Churchill and Elinor Elizabeth. Jack’s father, Alec, served in the Ceylon civil service at the time of his birth. However, the family soon moved back to Dormansland, Surrey.[1]

In 1910, the family moved to British Hong Kong after Alec Churchill was appointed Director of Public Works. They returned to England in 1917.[2]

Jacked Churchill was educated at King Williams College on the Isle of Man. He graduated from Royal Military College in 1926 and served in Burma with the Manchester Regiment. He left the army in 1936 and worked as a newspaper editor in Nairobi, Kenya. He was also a male model. A man of many talents, he also played a small role in the 1924 film the Thief of Baghdad, where he used his archery and back pipe talents. He was also in the 1938 film A Yank at Oxford.[3] Never one to be dull, in 1939, he represented Great Britain at the World Archery Championship in Oslo.[4]

Churchill reentered the military after Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. He was assigned to the Manchester regiment, which was soon sent to France in the British Expeditionary Force. In May 1940, Churchill and his men were ambushed by a German patrol near L’Epinette. It is said that Churchill gave the signal to attack by raising his broadsword.[5]

Churchill participated in the battle at Dunkirk. Soon after, he volunteered for the Commandos. In Norway, he was the second command of No. 3 Commando in Operation Archery, a raid on the German garrison. As the story goes, as the ramps fell on the first landing craft, he leaped forward from his position playing March of the Cameron Men on his bagpipes before throwing a grenade and charging into battle. Due to his actions at Dunkirk and Vagsoy, he received the military cross.[6]

Churchill participated in the allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943. There, he led the 2nd Commandos. They were ordered to capture a German observation post outside the town of Molina. He and his men infiltrated the town, captured the post, and took forty-two prisoners, including a mortar squad. He led the men in prisoners back down the path and commented that it was “an image from the Napoleonic wars.” For this, he received the Distinguished Service Order.[7]

In 1944, he led Commandos in Yugoslavia to support Joseph Bras Tito’s Partisans from the Adriatic island of Vis. In May, he was ordered to raid the German-held Island of Brac. He organized fifteen hundred Partisans, forty-three Commandos, and one troop from the 40th Commandos for the raid. When they launched in the morning, the partisans remained at the landing area, and only Churchill and six other men managed to reach the objective. A mortar shell killed or wounded everyone but Churchill, who played “Willy No Come Back Again?” on his bagpipes as the Germans advanced. He was knocked unconscious by grenades and captured.[8]

Germans believed that there was a possibility that Jack Churchill could have been related to Winston Churchill.[9] Therefore, he was flown to Berlin for interrogation. From there, he was transferred to a special compound for “prominent” POWs within the grounds of the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.[10]

In September 1944, Churchill, three Royal Air Force officers, and Major Johnny Dodge escaped the concentration camp using a tunnel they had secretly dug. Churchill and one of the Royal Air Force officers, Bertram James, attempted to walk to the Baltic Sea but were again captured by Germans a few kilometers from the sea.

In April 1945, Churchill and one hundred forty other prominent concentration camp inmates were transferred to Tyrol and guarded by S.S. troops. Some prisoners told senior German army officers that they feared they would be executed. A German army unit commanded by Captain Richard von Alvenslenben moved in to protect the prisoners. Being outnumbered, the S.S. guards left the prisoners behind. The prisoners were released, and after the departure of the German soldiers, Churchill walked one hundred fifty kilometers, or ninety-three miles, to Verona, Italy, where he met an American armored unit.[11]

After returning to his ranks, Churchill was sent to Burma. By the time he reached India, the atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the war was over. Churchill, who was said to be unhappy by the war’s sudden end, commented, “if it wasn’t for those damn yanks, we could have kept the gore going another ten years!”[12]

After the end of the Second World War, Churchill qualified as a parachutist and was transferred to the Seaforth Highlanders. There, in the spring of 1948, he and twelve other soldiers attempted to assist the Hadassah Medical Convoy, which had come under attack by Arab forces. Churchill was one of the first men on the scene, and he banged on a bus and offered to evacuate members of the convoy in an APC, despite the British military giving orders to keep out of the fight. His offer was refused because those in the convoy believed that the Jewish Haganah would come to their aid in an organized rescue. No relief arrived, so Churchill and his men provided cover fire against the Arab forces. Unfortunately, two convoy trucks caught fire, and seventy-seven people inside were killed. This incident became known as the Hadassah Medical Convoy Massacre. After the massacre, Churchill helped evacuate seven hundred Jewish doctors, students, and patients from the Hadassah Hospital.[13]

In 1952, MGM studios hired Churchill to appear as an archer shooting from the walls of Warwick Castle and the production of Ivanhoe. Later, he became an instructor at the land-air warfare School in Australia. He became an avid surfer and was the first to ride a tidal bore there. In doing so, he innovated freshwater surfing and established the idea that surfing could take place outside traditional coastal areas.[14]

Jack Churchill retired from the army in 1959. He still enjoyed adventure and was known to startle train guards and passengers by throwing his briefcase out of the train window each day on his ride home. He would later say that he, in fact, was tossing his briefcase into his own backyard so that he did not have to carry it home from the station. He passed away on March 8, 1996, at 89 years old.[15]

[1] Maj-Gen Thomas B.L. Churchill, CB CBE MC, The Churchill Chronicles: Annals of a Yeoman Family, 1986.
[2] “Fighting Jack Churchill survived a wartime odyssey beyond compare”, WWII History Magazine, July 2005, 150-152.
[3] Hay, Mark, “The British Soldier Who Killed Nazis with a Sword and a Longbow”, Vice, May 20, 2014.
[4] “Fighting Jack Churchill survived a wartime odyssey beyond compare”, WWII History Magazine, July 2005, 150-152.
[5] Christian Oord, “‘Mad’ Jack Churchill – The Only Man to Dispatch a German Soldier With a Longbow in WW2,” War History Online, December 9, 2018.
[6] “Fighting Jack Churchill survived a wartime odyssey beyond compare”, WWII History Magazine, July 2005, 150-152.
[7] John Parker, Commandos: The inside Story of Britain’s Most Elite Fighting Force (London: Bounty Books, 2010).
[8] John Parker, Commandos: The inside Story of Britain’s Most Elite Fighting Force
[10] “Fighting Jack Churchill survived a wartime odyssey beyond compare”, WWII History Magazine, July 2005, 150-152.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Joel T. Smith, The Illustrated Atlas of Surfing History: Wave Riding from Antiquity to Gidget (Island Heritage Publishing, 2016).
[15] “Lieutenant-Colonel Jack Churchill”. Telegraph. London. 13 March 1996.

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