Childhood & Early Life
Born on September 16, 1906, in Colombo, British Ceylon, Jack Churchill was the son of Elinor Elizabeth and Alec Fleming Churchill. He had two younger brothers, Major-General Thomas Bell Lindsay Churchill, C.B., C.B.E., M.C, and Robert Alec Farquhar Churchill, who served as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm.
After his birth, his family came back to Dormansland, Surrey, where Thomas was born. After his father got a job in Hong Kong, the family moved there with him. During their stay in Hong Kong, Robert was born. They relocated to England once more in 1917.
Churchill studied at King William's College on the Isle of Man before enrolling at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. After graduating in 1926, he was sent to Burma with the Manchester Regiment. During this period, he rode his motorcycle all over the country and learned how to play the bagpipes.
In 1936, likely bored by the long peacetime, he quit the army and took a job as a newspaper editor in Nairobi, Kenya. He later did some modelling.
Churchill also acted in several films in the 1920s and 1930s, including ‘The Thief of Bagdad’ (1924) and ‘A Yank in Oxford’ (1938). In the former project, he demonstrated his archery and bagpipe skills.
He finished second in the 1938 military piping competition at the Aldershot Tattoo. A year later, he took part in the World Archery Championships in Oslo, representing Britain.
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Activities During World War II
In 1939, following the German invasion of Poland, Jack Churchill rejoined the army and was placed with the Manchester Regiment. He arrived in France as part of the British Expeditionary Force.
In May 1940, Churchill and some of the soldiers under him conducted an ambush of a German patrol near L'Épinette. He gave the command to attack by holding his basket-hilted Scottish broadsword up.
During the ambush, he reportedly killed a Nazi sergeant by shooting him with a barbed arrow that went through the man’s chest, but this claim is heavily disputed. In later years, Churchill revealed that while he had been intending to use his longbows, they were run over by a lorry earlier in the campaign.
Following the events at Dunkirk, he joined the newly formed Commandos, the progenitors of the modern British special forces, as a volunteer. His younger brother, Thomas, was the leader of a Commando brigade during the war. He later documented his and his brother’s exploits in a book called ‘Commando Crusade’.
Churchill served as the second in command of No. 3 Commando in Operation Archery, a British joint raid on the German positions at Vågsøy, Norway, on December 27, 1941.
Placed on the lead landing craft, he began playing 'March of the Cameron Men' with his bagpipes as the boat approached the shore. When the ramp lowered, he hurled a grenade at the enemy positions, drew his claymore, and rushed into battle.
In July 1943, during the Allied invasion of Sicily, Churchill, leading 2 Commando, took control of a German observation post in Salerno, apprehending 42 prisoners, including a mortar squad. For this, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.
In 1944, he took part in Maclean Mission (Macmis), serving as the leader of a regiment of the Commandos in Yugoslavia. He put together a diverse army of 1,500 Partisans, 43 Commando and one troop from 40 Commando and conducted a raid on the German-held island of Brač.
He was captured during the raid by German troops and was ultimately sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. In September, he made an unsuccessful attempt of escaping along with the Royal Air Force officer, Bertram James.
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In late April 1945, he was sent to Tyrol along with over a hundred other high-profile prisoners. They were released by the German army unit stationed there. Churchill travelled 150 kilometres (93 mi) to Verona, Italy, on foot before meeting an American armoured unit.
Churchill was then transferred to Burma as the Pacific War was still going on. However, by the time he got to India, nuclear bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan had surrendered.
Following the conclusion of World War II, Churchill obtained a parachutist qualification and joined the Seaforth Highlanders. He was then sent to the British Palestine, where he served as an executive officer of the 1st Battalion, the Highland Light Infantry.
In the spring of 1948, in the final days of the British mandate in the region, he got involved in a conflict that later came to be known as the Hadassah medical convoy massacre in which 78 Jewish doctors, nurses, students, patients, faculty members and Haganah fighters, and one British soldier were killed by Arabic forces.
Churchill later organised the evacuation of 700 patients and staff from the Hadassah hospital on the Hebrew University campus in Jerusalem.
In the 1952 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) film ‘Ivanhoe’, Churchill, portraying an archer, co-starred with his old rowing companion, Robert Taylor. He also spent some time in Australia, working as an instructor at the land-air warfare school.
During this period, he developed a passion for surfing. After returning to Britain, he became the first man to surf on the River Severn's five-foot tidal bore. He also made his own boards.
He held a desk job in the army while he was in Britain. Even after retiring from the army, his characteristic eccentricities persisted. Each day, while returning to his home, he threw his briefcase out of the train windows, surprising both the conductors and fellow passengers. He later revealed that he was dropping his briefcase into the back garden of his home, so he would not have to bear the extra weight from the station.
Family & Personal Life
On March 8, 1941, Jack Churchill exchanged wedding vows with Rosamund Margaret Denny, the granddaughter of the Scottish naval architect Sir Archibald Denny. Their oldest son, Malcolm John Leslie Churchill, was born on November 11, 1942. He was followed by Rodney Alistair Gladstone Churchill on July 4, 1947.
Churchill was not directly related to the former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Death & Legacy
On March 8, 1996, Churchill passed away in the county of Surrey. He was 89 years old at the time. The Royal Norwegian Explorers hailed him as one of the finest explorers and adventurers of all time in their March 2014 book.
He gained much popularity for his motto, “Any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed."