Imagine you’re a German soldier during WWII, just for a moment. It’s nearing the end of December, and you’re in a coastal town in far west Norway — England is somewhere across the icy waters. It’s freezing cold, and British boats are closing in. Troops are about to charge the garrison, and the first landing craft hits the ground. The ramp lowers, and out jumps a man toting several bagpipes. He’s playing “The March of the Cameron Men,” while the other men charge forward toward you with their rifles. Once he is done, he throws down his bagpipes, tosses a grenade forward and begins to fight with the others.
This is a true story.
Jack Churchill, otherwise known as “Mad Jack,” was known for these types of memorable assaults. In France, he once initiated an ambush using a barbed arrow with a longbow, which would be the last recorded longbow kill during a war. Malcolm Churchill, his son who lives in southern England, said that, “He and his section were in a tower and as the Germans approached he said, ‘I will shoot that first German with an arrow’ and that’s exactly what he did and they held the rest off with machine guns.”
He had initially served in the military, gotten out and worked in several different fields — to include an editor for a Kenyan newspaper and a male model, as well as appearing in several films. He also shot in the World Archery Championships (this was before he killed a man with a bow). After all that, the war broke out and he dove headfirst back into the military, sword, bow and bagpipes in hand.
He would be known for saying that, “In my opinion, any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed.”
Jack Churchill would eventually serve in the British Commandos, alongside his brother. Their youngest brother was a pilot who was killed in the war. “Mad Jack” thrived in this environment, as he had already been using guerrilla tactics to hit German supply lines and key positions. He was even wounded in the neck by German small arms fire. The number of enemy Germans he was able to capture as a commando is staggering.
And his heroics weren’t just for show — he received the Distinguished Service Order, Military Cross, and several distinguished for all the campaigns he served in. He deployed to France, Norway, Italy, Yugoslavia where he would be captured. How did he get captured? A mortar round struck and injured everyone but him, and he began playing the bagpipes assuming the incoming grenades would kill him. They rendered him unconscious instead and the Germans were able to capture him.
After his time as a POW in a concentration camp (including one escape and recapturing) and subsequent rescue by the Americans, he tried to go Burma to fight. To his dismay, the war had just ended.
And though the war ended, his adventures did not stop. During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, he was credited with the successful evacuation of approximately 700 Jews from a hospital and university. He would ride his motorcycle across Burma. However, he always went back and put himself in a position to teach younger generations, though as of yet none of them have initiated an ambush with a longbow.
Jack Churchill died at the age of 89 in 1996.
Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, altered by the author.