You might have thought that archery skills and the use of a broadsword were the preserve of war theatres like Agincourt, six hundred years ago, but then you probably never came across Lt Colonel Jack Churchill, or ‘Mad Jack’ as he was known to his men in World War II.
Rather than storm a beach with the comforting firepower of a machine gun in his hand, ‘Mad Jack’ liked nothing better than to walk his way there playing his bagpipes and dressed in a kilt. Oh, yes… and armed with a bow and arrow and a two-handed broadsword.
Churchill, the leader of 2 Commando during the war, was proud of that sword. In fact, he is on record as saying that ‘any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly armed’. So, Jack was eccentric to put it mildly, but he was also exceptionally brave.
He was awarded two Distinguished Service Orders and a Military Cross for a wide range of acts and was involved in raids across Europe, from Norway through Sicily, to Messina and the landings at Salerno, Italy.
Alongside a Corporal Ruffell, he took 42 German prisoners and captured a mortar post using only his sword, taking one guard as a human shield and then creeping between sentry posts and forcing the soldiers to surrender.
Churchill was also a highly skilled bowman, and even represented Britain in the World Archery Championships in 1939. He took to the battlefield armed with an English longbow and American Indian arrows, and was the only soldier in the war credited with killing enemy troops by using arrows.
An account in the Dundee Evening Telegraph from May 1945 described his attack against Germans hiding in bushes during the retreat to Dunkirk five years earlier.
‘He was on patrol when some Germans were detected in a thicket about 200 yards away,’ said the report. ‘He shot two arrows into the thicket. There were some strange noises and no answering fire.’
‘Mad Jack’ was finally captured in an attack on the island of Brac, off the then Yugoslavia, when, as bombs exploded around him, he continued to play his bagpipes until he was knocked unconscious.
He later escaped from the Sagan prison but was recaptured and interned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp until being released by the German army.
Born in Surrey in 1906, Churchill was educated on the Isle of Man and at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. He joined the 2nd Battalion the Manchester Regiment in 1926.
Bored by peacetime soldiering, he left the Army ten years later to become a professional bagpipe player and used his archery skills in Hollywood films, including The Thief of Baghdad.
At one stage Churchill did a tour of Europe only to run out of money on the Isle of Capri. From there he decided to walk home, making ends meet by playing the pipes for an Italian dancer. After reaching Paris and still armed with his Scottish broadsword, he worked as a bodyguard for a playboy who pretended to be the Crown Prince of Siam.
At the outbreak of war he was recalled to the Army. ‘I think the war coming along when it did was probably the best thing that could have happened to me,’ he later recalled.
Lt Col Churchill died in 1996 aged 89, but his heroics have been recovered by the researchers at family history website findmypast.co.uk.
I think, when it comes to ‘Mad Jack’, it’s fair to say ‘they don’t make ’em like that anymore’…