Born in Hong Kong in 1906, John Churchill joined the military in 1926, but soon left to, obviously, become a professional bagpiper and represent Britain in the World Archery Championship in 1939 — two skills he would bring back with him when recalled to service as World War II broke out.
Mad Jack won his first Military Cross during the British retreat to Dunkirk. It was during the retreat that he killed his first German with a longbow , using that and two machine guns until running out of ammunition and escaping to the main British force through German lines.
After seeing decorated action raiding Nazi-held Norway, Churchill took over a Commando unit and joined in the storming of Salerno Bay in Italy wearing silver buttons, carrying bagpipes, and armed with a bow and arrow and a hilted Scottish sword called a claymore. “Churchill,” his 1996 obituary would read, “believed an assault leader should have a reputation which would at once demoralize the enemy and convince his own men that nothing was impossible.” “Any officer who goes into action without his sword,” he reportedly said, “is improperly dressed.”
Casualties were high, and in a desperate bid he launched his troops in a screaming, nighttime attack on the Nazi lines, capturing 136 of the enemy. Churchill and a comrade then charged further ahead and, using his sword and a German hostage, captured a 42-man garrison plus a mortar and crew.
On the Nazi-held Yugoslavian island of Brac, Mad Jack’s luck ran out when, as the lone unwounded man atop a hill and out of ammunition, he played “Will ye no come back again” on his pipes until a grenade knocked him unconscious and he was captured.
Though Hitler had issued an order to kill captured commandos, Churchill was spared the Gestapo’s wrath by a German army captain who told him, “You are a soldier, as I am. I refuse to allow these civilian butchers to deal with you.” Later in the war, when the captain was captured, Churchill was able to save him from execution.
Churchill was eventually able to escape from an Austrian prison camp, making an eight-day trek to link up with American forces. There, worried he’d missed too much of the European war, he told friends, “there are still the Nips [Japanese], aren’t there?”
But Mad Jack would never fight the Japanese, arriving shortly after the two atomic bombs were dropped and lamenting, “if it hadn’t been for those damned Yanks, we could have kept the war going for another 10 years.”
But the end of the Second World War would not quell Churchill’s spirit one bit: In 1945, at age 40, he qualified as a paratrooper before taking time off the following year to play an archer in the movie “Ivanhoe.” In 1948, he saw combat in Palestine during the tumultuous British handover, and while serving in Australia in the 1950s, he picked up surfing. After he retired, he took to buying, refurbishing and piloting old steam boats; motorcycle speed trials; and crafting remote-control model boats. He passed away in 1996 at the age of 89.