Jack Churchill

"Fighting Jack Churchill" or "Mad Jack"

The previous page was: "Malaya"

Lieutenant Colonel John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming "Jack" Churchill, DSO & Bar, MC & Bar. Born 16th September 1906, to 8th March 1996, nicknames "Fighting Jack Churchill" and "Mad Jack", was the brother of Thomas.

He was a British soldier who fought throughout World War II, armed with a claymore broad sword. He once said: "any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed."

Born in Hong Kong to English parents, he was educated at King William's College on the Isle of Man, Churchill graduated from Sandhurst in 1926, and served in Burma with the Manchester Regiment.

He left the army in 1936 and worked as a newspaper editor. He used his hobbies, archery and bagpipe talents to play a small role in the film 'The Thief of Bagdad'.

Malaya

No Relation To Winston Churchill

Churchill resumed his commission after Poland was invaded. In May 1940. Mad Jack and his unit, the Manchester Regiment, successfully ambushed a German patrol near L'Epinette, France.

After tasting the fighting at Dunkirk he hungered for more action. Instantly on hearing news of the Commandos he volunteered to join them, unsure of what Commando Duties entailed, he went along because it sounded tough, dangerous and exciting.

Churchill was made second in command of No.3 Commando in Operation Archery, a raid on the German garrison at Maaloy island and the town of South Våagsø, Norway on December 27th 1941.

As the ramps fell on the first landing craft, Churchill leapt forward from his position and played; "The March of the Cameron Men' on his bagpipes, before throwing a grenade and running into battle.

He burst into the hut of the Butziger, instantly he searched it for papers and other evidence of use to the intelligence departments. When opened a cupboard he came upon an unopened case of Moselle.

Excited at his discovery, at that very same instant a demolition charge blew him up. Unamused, as he was being taken from the hut he was heard to be cursing using a very strong language, believed to be Scottish. He ordered his batman Stretton, not to leave the wine behind.

Fortunately his wounds, although painful were not too serious; he was consoled with the assurance that his bagpies had been retrieved and brought back by Stretton.

For his actions at Dunkirk and Våagsø, Churchill received the Military Cross and Bar. Perhaps Churchill's most impressive military exploits came in early 1942.

After Norway

The War Council was undecided about the Commandos and their role, some could not see their potential; while others had better forsight and were determined to keep them. They were used on small raids with a mixture of success and failure; it was still a learning process which would bear fruit in abundance in the near future.

It is claimed that Churchill and five other Commandos harassed a whole German outpost of around 300 men for about three weeks, in which time they hid in the dense undergrowth surrounding the outpost. They managed to evade all the attempts by the German patrols sent-out to capture them, surviving on a diet of Marmite and Salami.

On 10th July 1943, Colonel Jack landed with 41 R.M. Commando, 40 R.M. Commando who were landed on the next beach at Punta Castellazzo at 03:00 hours. He wasn't in command of any of the Invasion Spearhead; he had a different task to carry out.

Churchill's job was to identify the number of dead Italians and their units. To do this he had to remove the divisional flash on their collars, one Italian was in amess because a burst of machine-gun fire had hit him full in the face.

The Long Italian Trail

Later he led No.2 Army Commando from their landings at Salerno. Churchill was ordered to capture a German observation post outside the town of La Molina controlling a pass leading down to the Salerno beach-head.

He led the attack by No.2 and 41 R.M. Commandos, infiltrating the town and capturing the post, taking 42 prisoners including a mortar squad. Churchill led the men and prisoners back down the pass with the wounded being carried on carts with huge wheels, pushed by German prisoners.

He commented that to him it was "an image from the Napoleonic Wars." He received the Distinguished Service Order for leading this action at Salerno.

Jack Churchill produced a captured German Order dated only five days before, prophesysing very accurately the way the Commandos would come ashore in an attack.

There followed detailed orders for dealing with such an assault and, had the German garrison obeyed them, it would have cost Fighting Jack and No.2 Commando very dear.

Farther Along The Coast

The Germans were pressing very hard when a heavy machine-gun team were seen moving near the summit of the great hill above Vietri. "They looked very sinister," says his brother Brigadier Tom Churchill, "as they climbed round the cliff." "It was obvious that unless we knocked them out they would make our position untenable."

Col Jack from the roof of his headquarters, was able to direct the fire of the 3-inch mortars upon them. Presently Brigadier Tom Churchill looking looking through his field-glasses, had the satisfactory experience of seeing a Hun blown into the air and crash down to earth. Most of the team were either killed or captured.

Hearing the sound of digging being carried through the night's air Churchill halted the Troop, on finding a footpath leading uphill to Pigoletti, went on alone with Corporal Ruffle.

Entering the village street silently, they heard the chink of spades and picks. In the shadows they could see the glow of a cigarette. Churchill crept along until he could see the outlines of two German sentries. In battledress brandishing a sword he approached shouting "Hande HocH!" they obeyed with trembling haste.

Looking around he could see a large German mortar in the middle of the courtyard with, around it, its crew sleeping. Churchill ordered the corporal to keep the sentries covered with his Tommy gun.

He then advanced upon the crew of the mortar and demanded their surrender at the sword point. Fuddled with sleep and fear ten of them raised their hands. They two were at once covered by Corporal Ruffle and his sub machine-gun.

Hastening back he collected his Troop and led them into the village. He then chose one of his prisoners and taking him with him for the password, he visited each sentry one at a time; each time Churchill flourished his sword they surrendered.

Churchill and his Troop collected thirty-seven prisoners and captured a regimental post intact. For his deed that night Churchill was again admitted to the Distinguished Service Order.

Adriatic Islands Of Yugoslavia

On 16th January 1944, he led the Commandos in Yugoslavia, where they supported the efforts of Josip Broz Tito's Partisans from the Adriatic island of Vis.

Mad Jack, believed in attack so raiding began almost immediately. On the 27th January he led three Troops of Commandos and thirty officers and men of the U.S.A. Operations Group to Hvar; surrounded and attacked a German outpost in the port of Milna and brought back four prisoners.

In May, he was ordered to raid the German held island of Brac. He organised a motley army of 1,500 Partisans, 43 R.M. Commando and one troop from 40 R.M. Commando for the raid.

The landing was unopposed, but on seeing the eyries from which they later encountered heavy German fire, the Partisans decided to defer the attack until the following day.

Churchill's bagpipes signalled the remaining Commandos to battle. After being strafed by an RAF Spitfire, Churchill decided to withdraw for the night and to re-launch the attack the following morning.

The following morning, one flanking attack was launched by 43 R.M. Commando with Churchill leading the elements from 40 R.M. Commando. The Partisans remained at the landing area.

Only Churchill and six others managed to reach their objective. A mortar shell killed or wounded everyone but Churchill, who was playing "Will Ye No Come Back Again?" on his pipes. Almost immediately shouts were heard and it seemed rescue was at hand.

Then came a flurry of grenades with a fragment of one striking Colonel Jack upon the head and stunning him. On regaining consciousness he found the Germans prodding the bodies, to discover who was alive.

Colonel Jack was assisted from the field and shut up with twelve other Commando prisoners, most of them wounded, in a pit ten feet deep, at the headquarters of the German battalion which had held the hill.

Colonel Jack was later flown to Berlin for interrogation and then transferred to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. His sword and bagpipes had been taken from him; they were presently on exhibition in a glass case in Vienna.

A Few Months Later

In September 1944, Jack and a Royal Air Force officer crawled under the wire through an abandoned drain and attempted to walk to the Baltic coast. They were recaptured near the coastal city of Rostock, a few kilometres from the sea.

In late April 1945, Churchill and about 140 other prominent concentration camp inmates were transferred to Tyrol, guarded by SS troops. A delegation of prisoners told a senior Germany army officer they feared they would be executed.

An army unit commanded by Captain Wichard von Alvensleben moved in to protect the prisoners. Outnumbered, the SS guards moved out, leaving the prisoners behind.

The prisoners were then set free. After the departure of the Germans Churchill walked 95 kilometres to Verona, in Italy where he met an American armoured force.

As the Pacific War was still ongoing Churchill was sent to Burma, where the largest land battles against Japanese forces were still raging, but by the time he reached India.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been bombed, and the war abruptly came to an end. Churchill was said to be very unhappy with the sudden end of the war, saying: "If it wasn't for those damn Yanks, we could have kept the war going another 10 years."

Later life

In 1946 Twentieth Century Fox was making the film 'Ivanhoe' with Churchill’s old rowing companion Robert Taylor. The studio hired Churchill to appear as an archer, shooting from the walls of Warwick Castle.

After World War II ended, Churchill qualified as a parachutist, transferred to the Seaforth Highlanders, and later ended up in Palestine as second-in-command of 1st Battalion, the Highland Light Infantry.

In the spring of 1948, just before the end of the British mandate in the region, Churchill became involved in another conflict. Along with twelve of his soldiers, he attempted to assist the Hadassah medical convoy that came under attack by hundreds of Arabs.

Following the massacre, he coordinated the evacuation of 700 Jewish doctors, students and patients from the Hadassah hospital on the Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem.

In His Later Years Jack Churchill served as an instructor at the land-air warfare school in Australia, where he became a passionate devotee of the surfboard. Back in England, he was the first man to ride the River Severn’s five-foot tidal bore, he had designed his own board.

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In Retirement

His eccentricity continued. He startled train conductors and passengers alike, by throwing his attaché case out of the train window each day on the ride home. He later explained that he was tossing his case into his own backyard so he wouldn’t have to carry it from the station.

He finally retired from the army in 1959, with his awards of the Distinguished Service Order, and the Military Cross both with bars. He died at home in Surrey in 1996.

His Family life; Churchill married Rosamund Margaret Denny on 8th March 1941, with whom he fathered two children. Malcolm John Leslie Churchill, born 11th November 1942, and Rodney Alistair Gladstone Churchill, born 4th July 1947.

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