In 1940, some of the German commanders who were overseeing the push into France began to receive seemingly random reports of soldiers having been killed with broad-head arrows or hacked with a English Claymore. Effective enough weapons it would seem, but archaic even in that day and age. They likely could have guessed the bowman was an English soldier, but they couldn’t have appreciated these as the calling card of the rabid eccentric, Captain Jack Churchill.

Jack Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill was born on 16 September 1906 in Hong Kong, to English parents, and lived his entire life with an affection for all things Scottish. He was a lifelong soldier who knew no fear, and in fact thrived on violence. He graduated the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in 1926 and was commissioned in the Manchester Regiment, but in 1932 all the peace that was roaming around Europe irritated Jack right out of the army. He spent his years off mastering the bagpipes⁠— an unusual hobby for a Brit⁠— nevertheless, it was a pastime at which he excelled. His leisure time came to an end with German’s attack on Poland, and Jack promptly re-enlisted, and was assigned back to the Manchesters. He insisted upon carrying a bow, arrows, and a sword with him into combat.

His name, being a bit of mouthful, was abbreviated by his comrades to “Fighting Jack Churchill” or sometimes just “Mad Jack”. When the English put out a call asking for commando volunteers, Jack didn’t know what a commando was, but he heard there would be more action, so he signed up.

While training for the commandos, Jack was famous among his fellow trainees for praise when earned, scolding for sloth, playing his bagpipes at 3:00 AM, and making ad hoc speeches such as: “There’s nothing worse than sitting on your bum bottom doing nothing just because the enemy happens to leave you alone for a moment while he has a go at the unit on your flank. Pitch in and support your neighbor any way you can.… ”

Commando training ended with an attack on Nord Fiord, Norway. While the two companies he commanded advanced on their target, Jack stood in the lead craft, and played on his pipes “The March of the Cameron Men”. His report at mission’s end was simply: “Maaloy battery and island captured. Casualties slight. Demolitions in progress. Churchill.”

In another attack Mad Jack and one of his enlisted men managed to sneak up on a pair of German sentries making rounds. He leapt at them, sword in hand and shouted, “haende hoch!” The Germans obeyed by dropping weapons and raising their hands. One sentry was taken back to camp while the other had Jack’s belt wrapped round his throat, and together they continued the rounds. At each guard post his prisoner would say something to lull the guards into complacency, then a mustached-mad-man with a sword would jump out and order them to drop their arms. All in all, the two Brits rounded up forty-two prisoners that night.

In 1944 Jack’s luck and tenacity took a slip when he was ordered into an impossible situation. Most of his squad was killed, and Jack was taken captive. After being hauled to Berlin for questioning, he was sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he was meant to stay until war’s end. He might have done so, but one night the power went out, and Jack was prepared: he had a rusty can and some onions. It was all that he needed. In the darkness he just walked away and made his escape.

"Mad Jack" Churchill, date unknown
"Mad Jack" Churchill, date unknown

The rusty can became the cook pot for the Nazi occupied vegetables he “liberated” on the way. Jack stayed off the road to avoid detection, and held a steady route south until he encountered a column of tanks bearing the white star of the US Army. By the time he stepped out of the brush and snapped out a passable Sandhurst salute he’d been free for eight days and had walked 150 miles.

By the time Colonel Churchill was back in action, the war in Europe was almost ended. Never one to let circumstances get him down Jack asked to be redeployed because, “there are still the Nips, aren’t there?” By the time he got there, however, the atomic bomb had been dropped and the war was over.

Mad Jack continued in the army and until 1959, after having qualified as a paratrooper and serving in the Palestine conflict. Even in retirement his eccentricity continued. He startled train conductors and passenger by throwing his attaché out of the train window each day on the ride home. Before he died in 1996, he explained that he was tossing his case into his own backyard so he wouldn’t have to carry it from the station. Seems perfectly reasonable for a man who said “people are less likely to shoot at you if you smile at them” and “In my opinion, sir, any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed.”