• Wed. May 11th, 2022

John “Mad Jack” Churchill was the most interesting participant of World War II

ByMary M. Ward

Mar 24, 2022

Almost all of the world’s superpowers were involved in World War II and they were eager to show off their latest technological advancements. From airplanes and tanks to machine guns, improved weaponry made the conflict far deadlier. One soldier, however, was content to use a simple longbow, a weapon used since the Paleolithic era.

John “MadJack” Churchill

John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming “Mad Jack” Churchill was born in British Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1906. His father, Alec, was a district engineer and the family lived in various locations. At one time, the Churchills lived in Hong Kong. He enjoyed exploring the rural areas of the city, inspiring a life of adventure.

Churchill graduated from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst in 1926 and later served in Burma with the Manchester Regiment.

Jack Churchill shoots his bow at the World Archery Championships, 1939. (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Churchill was a man of many interests. After his time in the army, he flew to Kenya, where he worked as a male editor and model. His mastery of the bow and arrow, as well as the bagpipes, allowed him to appear in a handful of feature films, including A Yank in Oxford (1938) and The Thief of Baghdad (1924).

In 1938 he placed second in a military bagpipe competition and a year later competed in the World Archery Championships in Oslo, Norway.

British Expeditionary Force

Once the Second World War broke out, Churchill resumed his commission, traveling first to France with the Manchester Regiment, then part of the British Expeditionary Force. Unlike the other soldiers, he was armed with a sword, a bagpipe and his longbow. He didn’t always carry a gun, but when he did, he was also proficient.

While in France, Churchill took part in the Battle of Dunkirk, one of the most devastating and influential battles of the conflict. While it is often said that he killed a German with his longbow during this, Churchill later said this was untrue, as his bows had already been run over by a truck.

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John “Mad Jack” Churchill fixes the barrel of a captured Belgian 75mm field gun. (Photo credit: Imperial War Museum / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain)

After Dunkirk, Churchill volunteered for the Commandos and was sent to Vågsøy, Norway. The operation, a raid on a German garrison, was named after his exploits. Prior to his charge, Churchill hopped in with his bagpipes and began playing “The March of the Cameron Man”. He then threw a grenade and went into battle.

For his exploits at Dunkirk and Vågsøy, Churchill was awarded the Military Cross and Bar.

Italy and the continuation of World War II

John “Mad Jack” Churchill participated in the invasion of Sicily as commander of No. 2 Commando, still carrying his bagpipes, sword and longbow. He was tasked with capturing a German observation post outside Molina, which controlled a pass leading to the Salerno bridgehead. Churchill and a corporal were able to complete the mission on their own, taking a total of 42 prisoners, including a mortar squad.

For his success in this operation, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

Jack Churchill conducting a training exercise
John “Mad Jack” Churchill leads a training exercise. Notice the sword in his hand. (Photo credit: Imperial War Museum / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain)

During the 1944 Maclean mission to Yugoslavia, Churchill was leading six others in a raid on Brač when a mortar shell exploded, killing all but him. Churchill had avoided the explosion, as he was away from camp, playing a song on his bagpipes. He was, however, knocked unconscious and captured.

At first the Germans thought they had captured a relationship with Winston Churchill and Churchill was transferred to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He and other prisoners were eventually abandoned on a transfer and traveled 93 miles to Verona, Italy, where he encountered an American unit.

The end of the war and future battles

The war ended shortly after Churchill’s escape, which did not please him. After the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagaski, he lamented, “If it hadn’t been for those damn Yanks, we could have continued the war for another 10 years!”

Churchill, however, continued to serve in future skirmishes. He joined the Seaforth Highlanders after qualifying as a paratrooper and was shipped off to Palestine, where he served as the executive officer of the 1st Battalion.

damaged ambulance
Aftermath of the attack on the Haddasah Hospital convoy, April 13, 1948. (Photo credit: Marlin Levin / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

It was in Palestine that Churchill attempted to protect a convoy of Jewish nurses and doctors sent to bring medical supplies to Hadassah Hospital. The convoy was attacked by Arab forces and 77 of the 79 occupants of the two trucks were killed. The event is now called the Hadassah medical convoy massacre.

Subsequently, Churchill led the evacuation of 700 medical personnel and patients from Hadassah Hospital.

The Legacy of John “Mad Jack” Churchill

John “Mad Jack” Churchill continued to hold a clerical post in the British Army until 1959. He also sought other pursuits, appearing in the 1952 film. Ivanhoe and serve as an instructor at a land-to-air warfare school in Australia. While in Down Under, Churchill also developed a passion for surfing, which remained a lifelong hobby.

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John ‘Mad Jack’ Churchill poses for a magazine, 1971. (Photo credit: Sunday People/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

Churchill lived a long life, dying in Surrey in 1996 at the age of 89. He continues to be recognized as one of the most interesting figures in British military history.