Mad Jack the Bagpiper Hero

He was nicknamed Mad Jack by his men during the Second World War.

After coming face to face with Lieutenant Colonel John Churchill, the Germans probably had a similar, if less affectionate, moniker for the eccentric officer. Rather than wield a sub-machine gun in battle, the commando leader inspired his comrades by storming beaches armed with a bow and arrow and two-handed sword, dressed in a kilt and playing a set of bagpipes.

He enhanced his reputation by capturing 42  German prisoners with only his Broadsword and later escaping from one of the  most daunting Nazi jails before the end of the war.

Mad Jack the Bagpiper Hero

The colourful officer’s bravery – he is the  only soldier in the war credited with killing enemy troops with arrows – earned  him a chestful of gallantry medals, including two Distinguished Service Orders  and a Military Cross. But even though his career was one of the most remarkable  in the history of the Army, his story is not widely known.

Now the heroism of Lt Col Churchill, who died  in 1996 aged 89, has been recovered by researchers at family history website  findmypast.co.uk. His story has been put  together from reports in local newspapers which have been placed online for the  first time. Born in Surrey in 1906, he  was educated on the Isle of Man and at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.  He joined  the 2nd Battalion the Manchester Regiment in 1926. He later left the Army to become a  professional bagpipe player and appeared in films. He was also a highly skilled  bowman, representing Britain in the World Archery Championships in 1939. At the  outbreak of war he was recalled to the Army.

Carrying an English longbow and American  Indian arrows on to the battlefield, Lt Col Churchill’s fearlessness under fire  became his hallmark.

He often said that ‘any officer who goes into  action without his sword is improperly armed’. An account in the Dundee Evening  Telegraph from May 1945 described his deadly attack against Germans hiding in  bushes during the retreat to Dunkirk five years earlier.

‘He was on patrol when some Germans were  detected in a thicket about 200 yards away,’ said the report. ‘He shot two  arrows into the thicket. There were some strange noises and no answering fire.’

He was also in the thick of the action with  his bagpipes while leading  2 Commando through Sicily, to Messina and the  landings at Salerno, Italy.

Alongside a corporal named Ruffell, he took  42 German prisoners and captured a mortar post using only his sword, taking one  guard as a human shield and then creeping between sentry posts and forcing the  soldiers to surrender.

Mad Jack was finally captured in an attack on  the island of Brac, off the then Yugoslavia, when, as bombs exploded around him,  he continued to play his bagpipes until he was knocked unconscious.

He later escaped from the Sagan prison but  was recaptured and interned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp until being  released by the German army.