Updated: Apr 28, 2021
One of the men rescued at the Dunkirk Evacuation was Jack Churchill or Mad Jack, who was an extraordinary character. He fought in WW2 with a sword and a bow and arrow, which he used to great effect – during the battle of Dunkirk, he was pushed forward into enemy lines to shoot German soldiers with his bow and arrow to great effect. After fighting at Dunkirk, he volunteered for the commandos.
As second in command of No. 3 Commando in Operation Archery, he was part of a raid on the German garrison at Vågsøy, Norway in December 1941. As the ramps fell on the first landing craft, he leapt forward playing “March of the Cameron Men” on his bagpipes, before lobbing a grenade and charging into the battle. For his actions at Dunkirk and Vågsøy, Churchill received the Military Cross and Bar.
His bagpipes were with him as he led 2 Commando from their ship at Catania in Sicily, as was his trademark Scottish broadsword and his longbow with arrows. He was ordered to capture a German observation post outside Molina. With the help of only a corporal, he infiltrated Molina, captured the post, taking 42 prisoners, including a mortar squad. He received the Distinguished Service Order for leading this action at Salerno.
Apparently, Churchill later walked back to the town to retrieve his sword, which he had lost during combat. When the NCO of a disorientated US patrol insisted of walking towards enemy lines, Churchill told him that he was going his own way and he would not be coming back for a “bloody third time.”
In 1944 he was to be found in Yugoslavia, leading the Commandos supporting Josip Broz Tito’s Partisans. In May, he was ordered to raid the German held island of Brač. He pulled together a “motley army” of commandos and partisans. They managed to land, but due to German fire from the gun emplacements, the Partisans decided to defer the attack until the following day. Churchill’s bagpipes signalled the remaining Commandos to battle but after being strafed by friend fire from an RAF spitfire. Churchill also decided to wait until the next morning.
When 43 Commando, launched a flanking attack, with Churchill leading what was left of 40 Commando, the partisans remained at the landing area. Only Churchill with 6 others managed to reach the objective. While awaiting capture, Church played “Will Ye No Come Back Again?” on his bagpipes until he was knocked unconscious by grenades. He was taken to Berlin for interrogation because the Germans believed, wrongly, that he was a direct relation to Winston Churchill. Eventually he was transferred to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.
It wasn’t long before he and a RAF Officer Bertram James tried to escape, crawling under the wire and through an abandoned drain. They were apprehended near the German coastal city of Rostock, a few kilometres from the sea.
Churchill was one of around 140 inmates who were considered important enough to transfer to the Tyrol, guarded by the SS. When these prisoners told senior German Army officers, they expected that they would be executed, a German army unit commanded by Captain Wichard von Alvensleben chose to protect the prisoners which lead to the SS guards leaving them behind. They were then released, and Churchill walked 150 kms (93 miles) to Verona, Italy where he met an American armoured unit.
Churchill’s adventures did not end there – the war in Europe might have ended but he was sent to Burma where land battles against Japan were raging. However, as Churchill reached India, Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been bombed and the war ended. As always, Churchill’s reaction is famous and remarkable. He was said to have been exasperated by the end of the war, saying: "If it wasn't for those damn Yanks, we could have kept the war going another 10 years!"