'Mad Jack', the extraordinary story of a British commando by Richard Denham and Count Dankula
The following is a guest post by Richard Denham, author of Weirder War Two.
John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill was one of the most colourful and eccentric characters to emerge from the war. His nickname ‘Mad Jack’ was well earned. He graduated from the Royal Military College in Sandhurst in 1926 and served with the Manchester Regiment in Burma. After leaving the army ten years later, he worked as a newspaper editor; male model; actor and bagpiper in Raoul Walsh’s The Thief of Bagdad and represented Britain in the World Archery Championships in Oslo in 1939.
With the outbreak of the war Churchill reenlisted and joined the British Expeditionary Force in France. His unit ambushed a German patrol near L’Épinette in the Pas de Calais, with Churchill using a bow and arrow to kill a soldier, the only known death by arrow in the entire war and the most recent confirmed archer kill in combat. Churchill insisted on carrying a broadsword and believed that any officer without one was ‘improperly dressed’, (this despite the fact that no English regiment ever carried a broadsword which was reserved for Scottish regiments).
After the evacuation of Dunkirk, Churchill signed up for the commandos in June 1940, a new unit developed by Winston Churchill (no known relation) to carry out raids against the Reich. During an amphibious assault on a German garrison in Vågsøy, Norway, Churchill, still a keen piper, began a solo performance of ‘March of the Cameron Men’ inside the first landing craft to disembark.
Whilst in Italy, he took 42 Germans prisoner with an NCO and his broadsword. A raid that did not go to plan, due to the hesitancy of supporting partisans in Yugoslavia, saw the survivors of Churchill’s unit all killed by mortar fire except him. He played on his bagpipes while waiting for his own death, which didn’t come. As he was playing ‘Will Ye No Come Back Again?’, he was knocked unconscious by a nearby explosion. As a commando he should have been executed. Hitler’s decree of 18 October 1942 ran;
‘From now on, all enemies on so-called commando missions in Europe or Africa, challenged by German troops … whether armed or unarmed, in battle or in flight, are to be slaughtered to the last man.’
The Wehrmacht captain who captured Churchill had either never read that or he was not prepared to follow that order. He refused to hand him over to the SS. ‘You are a soldier, as I am. I refuse to allow these civilian butchers to deal with you.’
In September 1944 as the Allies pushed the Germans back across France, Churchill was captured and sent to Sachsenhausen, Berlin’s own concentration camp. He escaped but was recaptured near Rostock.
As the war came to a close, the SS guards abandoned the prisoners and Churchill walked 90 miles to Verona, where he met up with an American patrol. The close of the war was sad news for a man like Churchill, who commented ‘If it wasn't for those damn Yanks, we could have kept the war going another ten years’.
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For more information on Weirder War Two or to buy a copy, click here.
'Mad Jack' Churchill was recently selected by YouTube star Count Dankula as one of his 'Mad Lads' and he has produced a fantastic video explaining the remarkable Briton in more detail. Why not check out the video and the rest of the 'Mad Lads' series below.