Saturday, 13 December 2014

Mad Dogs and Servicemen: "Mad Jack" Churchill

In which G.M. Norton celebrates the soldier who went to World War Two armed with a sword and a bow and arrow.


If you’ve not already made his acquaintance, please allow me to introduce you to Lieutenant Colonel John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill, or “Mad Jack” as he was known.

Churchill (no relation to Sir Winston) was a soldier in Second World War, whose exploits on the battlefield are the epitome of military romanticism.
Mad Jack

A highly-decorated soldier, Jack survived multiple explosions; successfully escaped from two prisoner of war camps; captured more than forty Nazis during a single raid, armed with just his sword; and became the only British soldier during Second World War to kill the enemy with a bow and arrow.

As Jack wryly commented, “Any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed.”

Born in Surrey in 1906, that’s probably the most ordinary thing
about him. After graduating from the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, Jack served for ten years in the military, spending time stationed overseas. Bored with peacetime, Churchill left the army and embarked on a grand tour of Europe. Such was his prowess with the bow and arrow, Jack represented Great Britain at archery in the 1939 World Championships. He also appeared in small roles in The Thief of Baghdad and A Yank at Oxford. A keen bagpipe player, he also took second place in a 1938 military bagpipe contest, causing a minor scandal because an Englishman had fared better than so many Scots.

As soon as the Nazis invaded Poland and war became imminent, Churchill rushed to the battlefield. The longbow came out almost immediately, shooting a Nazi sergeant through the chest with a barbed arrow.

His next daring exploit was in 1943. During a daring late-night mission on Italian soil, Jack spent the evening quietly tiptoeing from one German post to the next, surprising the guards with his claymore sword. By the end of the night he’d captured 42 prisoners, earning himself the Distinguished Service Order.
Churchill on the far right, brandishing his sword

The following year in 1944, Churchill was sent to Yugoslavia, to lead an attack on a heavily-guarded tower on the island of Brač. Through a barrage of fire and mortars, he was one of only seven men to reach the target and, after firing off every bullet he had, Jack was on his own, the last man standing. Not one to wave the white flag, Jack proceeded to play ‘Will Ye No Come Back Again?’ on his bagpipes until the advancing Germans knocked him out with a grenade blast.

After an interrogation, Churchill was sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, which he promptly escaped from. Somehow, he managed to walk undetected for 125 miles through Nazi territory towards the Baltic Sea. Alas, his luck ran out when he was eventually recaptured just miles from the shore. Jack being Jack, he escaped once again from the second concentration camp, making his exit during a power cut.
Taking aim

Just as Churchill was sent to India to prepare for the invasion of Japan, the war ended. Jack, who was enjoying himself enormously, wasn’t very pleased. “If it wasn’t for those damn Yanks, we could have kept the war going another ten years.”

After the war, the adventures continued. He trained to become a parachutist; saved hundreds of Jewish doctors during the violence surrounding the formation of Israel; and learned to surf after moving to Australia. He later returned to England where he became the first man to ride the River Severn’s five-foot tidal bore.

G.M. Norton
Protagonist of ‘Norton of Morton’

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