Valor Friday

| March 26, 2021

Today’s subject comes by way of a request, though I have been wanting to do an article on him for quite some time. Students of history such as me are often drawn to the most interesting characters. By this I mean people whose personality can transcend their professional, even extraordinary, accomplishments.

Fascinating historical figures like Benjamin Franklin, who cavorted with young French ladies in his 70’s. Or Winston Churchill, who responded to a disliked female member of parliament’s comment “If I were your wife I would poison your coffee.”, to which Sir Winston promptly replied, “And if I were your husband, I would drink it”.

A subset of these curious characters are those men for whom war is their natural element. As I prepared for this article this week I heard Metallica’s Whiskey in the Jar, based largely on the Irish folk song dating back hundreds of years. One line, “Some men like to hear… cannonball a roaring,’” seems to fit this type.

Perhaps the most famous American for whom they liked to hear that cannonball’s roar would be General George Patton. Days before VE Day, which ended the European Theater of World War II, he wrote to his wife “Peace is going to be Hell on me.”

There are two such characters that stand out among our brothers and sisters across the pond. Major Digby Tatham-Warter, a British Army paratrooper who carried an umbrella into battle is one, while the other, Jack Churchill is my subject today. If hearing his saying that “Any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed” doesn’t intrigue you to learn more about the man, I don’t know what will.

Jack Churchill

John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill (what a truly Great British name) was born in Sri Lanka in 1906, the son of a British civil servant. His family moved back to England shortly after his birth, moved to Hong Kong when he was four, and back to Britain when he was 11.

Attending King William’s College for his primary education, Jack then received instruction at Royal Military College, Sandhurst. Sandhurst is probably best described to an American military audience as being a cross between OCS and one of the service academies like West Point.

After receiving his commission, Churchill served with the Manchester Regiment, a line infantry regiment, in Burma. While there he learned to ride a motorbike, travelling 1,500 miles across the Indian subcontinent (hitting a water buffalo along the way). He also participated in the British quashing of the Saya San Rebellion of 1930-1932. The rebellion was led by poor rice farmers adversely affected by the Great Depression.

Churchill left the Army in 1936. He worked as a newspaper editor in Kenya. He also allegedly worked as a male model during this time frame. An accomplished archer, Churchill would represent Great Britain at the World Archery Championships in Oslo in 1939. He was also skilled with the bagpipes, taking second place in the military bagpiping competition in 1938 at the Aldershot Tattoo. He even appeared in two movie films due to these skills, 1924’s The Thief of Baghdad and 1938’s A Yank at Oxford.

When Poland was invaded by the Germans in September 1939, starting World War II, Churchill returned to the Army. He resumed his commission and was assigned once again to the Manchester Regiment.

The Manchester Regiment was sent to Continental Europe as part of the British Expeditionary Force in May 1940 when France was invaded by Germany. Churchill, then a captain, carried both a Scottish claymore sword into battle and his longbow.

During an exercise, Churchill can be seen leading his men in a charge (lower right) while wielding his signature sword.

Leading his men to ambush a German patrol, Churchill gave the attack signal by raising his claymore. It’s also frequently cited that the only known case of a man using a bow to kill an enemy during the war occurred when Churchill used it to kill a German soldier, though Churchill himself refuted this.

Though putting up a valiant defense of France, the Germans pushed the Allied forces back to the coastal city of  Dunkirk. About 500 Manchester men remained as the British mobilized an enormous fleet of civilian volunteer boats to evacuate what remained of their BEF. The French, British, Belgian and other Allied units held at the coast of France at Dunkirk while the Germans mysteriously halted their advance.

Some 400,000 Allied men arrived in Dunkirk, only 330,000 were rescued, leaving behind much of their equipment in the hasty retreat across the Channel. Though considered a success in evacuating about 85% of the men, the French and British soldiers who covered the retreat suffered heavy losses.

On 27 May 1940 Churchill’s company was putting up a hard fight covering the retreat. Surrounded by the enemy, they fought until they ran out of ammunition. Churchill finally ordered his men to evacuate. He led them through enemy lines at night where they arrived at brigade headquarters and were ferried across the English Channel. He was shot in the shoulder, but that didn’t slow him down.

Of the 500 Manchesters that made it to the Dunkirk rally point about 300 were evacuated while less than 200 remained to fight off the German blitz. For Churchill’s gallantry in action in France, Churchill received the Military Cross, roughly analogous to the American Silver Star.

After arriving in England, Churchill volunteered for the commandos, the British special operations forces. By late-December 1941 he was second in command of No. 3 Commando, part of a 570-man strong commando force sent to raid a German garrison at Vågsøy in German-occupied Norway.

Jack Churchill piping. Screencap of film from the Vågsøy Raid.

The commandos had been sent to disrupt fish-oil production and stores, which were being used by the Germans in munitions production, and to force Germany to send more forces to Norway, dividing their attention between the other fronts of the war.

Arriving on the boat for the amphibious landing, Churchill was at the front of his men. With bagpipes in hand, as the ramp dropped on the landing craft, he played “March of the Cameron Men”, tossed a grenade, and charged into battle in front of his men.

Picture that, an officer leading a charge while playing bagpipes. It’s worth noting that this was when Britain was very much on their back foot. The US had just days earlier finally joined the war. Germany had steamrolled over all of Europe and was at the height of their power. Churchill obviously understood the importance of morale among his men. He knew they needed encouragement and was going to provide it by showing not just courage in the face of the enemy. Not just an unhealthy level of bravery that many men do when they stand at the tip of the spear. His playing the bagpipes into battle against the Germans showed a flippant attitude to the threat his battle-hardened enemy posed.

The commando raiders inflicted heavy casualties on the Germans in a successful raid, while suffering minimal casualties of their own. They even took several Quislings into custody and brought 70 loyal Norwegians out. This raid, along with Operation Anklet at the same time, convinced Hitler to divert 30,000 German troops to garrison duty in Norway.

For his part in the raid, now-Major Churchill was awarded a bar for his Military Cross (indicating a second award).

Come 1943, Major Churchill was now officer commanding No. 2 Commando. He led his men into combat again with unmatched eccentricity. Coming ashore at both Sicily and Salerno, Churchill wore his broadsword in a scabbard at his waist, had his longbow and arrows around his neck, and his bagpipes under one arm.

At Molina, near Salerno on the Italian peninsula, Churchill was ordered to have his men take out an enemy observation post. Churchill and a corporal moved to infiltrate the enemy-held town. Once infiltrating the town the two commandos took the enemy position and took 42 men prisoner, including a mortar squad.

The only downside for Churchill was that he lost his broadsword in hand-to-hand fighting with the enemy.

Churchill then led the captured Germans back down the hill to Allied lines. He had the wounded enemy in carts being pushed by German soldiers in what Churchill said was “an image from the Napoleonic Wars.”

For leading this battle Churchill would receive the Distinguished Service Order. The DSO was the second highest award for combat bravery for British Army commissioned officers. The award is analogous to an American Army Distinguished Service Cross.

After the battle, Churchill walked back up into the town to retrieve his sword. Along the way he came upon a disoriented American squad walking toward enemy lines. Churchill advised the American sergeant which way was the safe way to head. When the American refused, Churchill walked away and said he was going to go his own way and wasn’t going to “bloody come back a third time!”

In 1944, Churchill was tasked with supporting Josep Tito’s Partisans in Yugoslavia. Organizing a force of some 1,500 Partisans, his 43 Commando, and elements of 40 Commando, they landed unopposed on the island of Vis.

Upon seeing the German gun emplacements they would face off against, the Partisans decided to postpone the attack to the following day. Churchill however gave the signal for his commandos to attack. Said signal was him playing the bagpipes.

As the commandos pressed the attack they were strafed by fire from one of their own Spitfires, causing Churchill to withdraw and also wait for the following morning.

On the morning of the main assault 43 Commando led a flanking maneuver while Churchill personally led the troop from 40 Commando. The Partisans remained at the landing area.

Only Churchill and six others survived the brutal fighting to their objective. Once there, heavy enemy mortar fire killed or seriously wounded all but Churchill. As the enemy Germans approached, Jack Churchill was playing “Will Ye No Come Back Again?” on his pipes.

Knocked unconscious by an enemy grenade, the Germans overran his position. They captured the Major, thinking he was a relation to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (he was not). Flown to Berlin for interrogation he was then interned at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. This camp was home to many prominent prisoners, including the oldest son of Joseph Stalin, Herschel Grynszpan (the Polish-born Jew whose 1938 assassination of a German dipomat in Paris was used as the pretext for the Nazi Kristallnacht), and France’s last free, non-collaborationist Prime Minister Paul Reynaud.

Within months the fearless commando was back at work. Churchill, three RAF officers, and British Army Major Johnnie Dodge (the latter four all survivors of The Great Escape) dug a tunnel and escaped from the prison camp in September 1944.

Splitting up, Churchill and an RAF officer attempted to walk to the Baltic coast. Evading capture for weeks, they were captured in the German city of Rostock, about 200 kilometers from the camp and just a few klicks from the sea. All of the escapees would be recaptured and would be placed in “death cells”, in solitary confinement and chained to the floor.

In April 1945, Churchill was one of 140 prisoners of the Nazi regime transported to Tyrol from the Dachau Concentration Camp in Bavaria. The prisoners were all considered high value for the Nazis and were separated on Hitler’s order from the other camp inmates for use as hostages in the eventual surrender negotiations.

Among the prisoners sent to Tyrol with Churchill were the three RAF officers he’d escaped Sachsenhausen with, Bertram James, Harry Day, and Sydney Dowse. Also among the “Prominenten” were Allied military leaders, politcians, and diplomats as well as numerous members of the family of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the decorated German Army officer who unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Hitler at his Wolf’s Lair on 20 April 1944.

From Dachau to Tyrol, the prisoners were guarded by the most fanatical of the Nazi Party military units, the SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV), better known as the Death’s Head Unit. The SS-TV was responsible for operating the Nazi concentration and extermination camps.

A group of prisoners expressed to Wichard von Alvensleben, a German Army captain, they thought the SS troops were going to execute them. The Captain moved his men in to protect the prisoners. He cornered the SS men and engaged in a tense, heavily armed standoff. Outnumbered, the SS troops backed down and eventually all left the area.

The prisoners were officially liberated on May 4 1945, Churchill walked some 150 kilometers to Italy where he met up with an American armored unit.

Churchill, who during the war had earned himself the nicknames “Mad Jack” and “Fighting Jack”, was not content to end the war there. The commando was dispatched to Burma, where some of the heaviest continental land battles were happening with the Imperial Japanese.

By the time he was able to arrive in-theater, Churchill was downtrodden to find that the war was over. While in transit, Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been bombed and Japan was unconditionally surrendering. On the matter Churchill said, “If it wasn’t for those damn Yanks, we could have kept the war going another 10 years!”

By war’s end he’d received a bar for his Distinguished Service Order, indicating a second award.

After the war Churchill qualified as a paratrooper and was assigned to the Seaforth Highlanders and sent to Mandatory Palestine. In 1948, just before the British mandate was to end, Churchill was again thrust into battle.

A group of Jewish Hadassah Hospital medical personnel were ambushed and attacked by a group of Arabs numbering some 250. With 12 of his men, Churchill was one of the first men on the scene and banged on one of the beleaguered buses and offered to evacuate personnel in his armored personnel carrier. This was in direct contravention of his orders to keep out of the fight.

The Jewish medical personnel refused Churchill’s offer, believing that the Jewish Haganah (which later became the Israel Defense Force) would come to their aid. When no aid came to the 10 vehicles of the convoy, Churchill and his men began to provide covering fire for the medical vehicles.

Two of the vehicles of the convoy caught fire, killing 77 of the 79 occupants, from the withering fire of the Arab attackers. Churchill’s comments on the battle were;

“About one hundred and fifty insurgents, armed with weapons varying from blunder-busses and old flintlocks to modern Sten and Bren guns, took cover behind a cactus patch in the grounds of the American Colony … I went out and faced them.

“About 250 rifle-men were on the edge of our property shooting at the convoy…. I begged them to desist from using the grounds of the American Colony for such a dastardly purpose.”

The battle became known as the Hadassah medical convoy massacre. After the massacre Churchill helped evacuated some 700 Jewish doctors, nurses, students, and patients to Hebrew University, where the convoy was originally headed. In his honor, the street leading to the hospital was named Churchill, a name it retains to this day.

In 1952, Mad Jack was again on the silver screen. In MGM’s Ivanhoe he appears as an archer shooting from Warwick Castle.

Churchill would be sent to Australia, serving as an instructor at the land-air warfare center. While there he took up surfing. Upon his return to Britain for a staff position he was the first person to successfully surf the River Severn’s five-foot high tidal bore.

Retiring from the Army in 1959 as a lieutenant colonel, Churchill was still an eccentric fella. He was known to startle passengers and employees of the commuter rail in his home of Surrey when he’d chuck his briefcase out the window every day as the train roared down the tracks. He later explained that he was throwing it into his own back garden, so he wouldn’t have to walk with it from the train station.

In his later years he sailed coal-fired ships on the Thames and played with radio controlled model warships. The fearless daredevil of a man who was so incredibly undefeated by the Germans and the Arabs was eventually taken by old age. At 89 he died in Surrey in 1996.

Category: Historical, Real Soldiers, Valor, We Remember

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President Elect Toxic Deplorable Racist SAH Neanderthal B Woodman Domestic Violent Extremist SuperStraight

A man’s man. I won’t say, the ultimate in British eccentricity, but I’d estimate in the top five.

(minor kidding; I wonder how well he and Chuck Norris would get along?)

I think that they would be besties, Tox. Maybe LTC Churchill was Chuck’s role model? Or maybe, Churchill had so much Badass Hardcore mofo in him that he gave half of his to Chuck?

You know why Bagpipers always walk when they play? They’re trying to outrun the sound.


Great story Mason. Thanks!


Hand Salute. Ready, Two!

Great write up of a great warrior. Thanks, Mason. Hat tip to our own Only Army Mom for the inspiration.

Only Army Mom

Thank you Ed, and a hearty double-handed handshake to you, Mason, for a great write-up of an incredible man. I think we all need to be reminded of what humans are capable of, given the right amount of talent, training and eccentricity. Mad Jack is one of those I’ll look up after I pass the Pearly Gates. I know one who’ll already be there, sitting at Mad Jack’s feet, being regaled by stories.


You won’t have to look them two up OAM. They’ll be waiting at the Gate to give you an escort down that Street of Gold, into the Land of Milk and Honey, Thanking You the whole time for the work you have done on this Earth to Honor and Remember The Warriors.

Only Army Mom

KoB, thank you. It suddenly got dusty in here.


Another notable Brit, “Piper Bill” Millin was personal piper to Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat, commander of 1 Special Service Brigade. He is best remembered for playing the pipes while under fire on Sword Beach during the D-Day landing.
He played “Highland Laddie” “The Road to the Isles” and “All The Blue Bonnets Are Over The Border.” Millin stated that he later talked to captured German snipers who claimed they did not shoot at him because they thought he had gone mad.
Understandable- he was wearing a kilt and only armed with, beside his bagpipes, a sgian-dubh, or “black knife.”

His audacity was immortalized in the great movie, “The Longest Day.”


Two points:

1. The tune being played in that clip is “The Black Bear”.

2. The shillelagh wielded by Commander Colin Maud is the actual one used on Juno Beach.

Maud acted as a technical advisor for the 1962 movie “The Longest Day”, during which he was played by Kenneth More. He allowed More to use the actual shillelagh which he had carried at Juno Beach for his scenes, although Winnie the German shepherd was replaced with an English bulldog.


Helluva story.

Only Army Mom

Mad Jack staggers me. A movie about his life would be a brief history of WWII in Europe. So many of the most seminal moments, Dunkirk, DDay, Norway, Italy, Yugoslavia, concentration camps, the Liberation of Dachau, Mad Jack was there. Undaunted, eccentric, inspirational.