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Bagpipes in World War II, Part 2

Bagpipes in World War II, Part 2


The role of bagpipes on the front lines of war came to an end after the First World War. The high death toll inflicted on pipers relegated them to duty behind the front line in the camps. However there are always people who defy the rules. Part 1 of this article talked about Bill Millin, the famous piper of D-Day. In Part 2, we'll talk about "Mad Jack" Churchill.

Lieutenant Colonel John "Mad Jack" Churchill is an interesting character. He was born in Ceylon in March of 1906, his father was a member of the Civil Service. The family moved to Hong Kong in 1910 after spending a few years in England. He attended the Royal Military College, in Sandhurst, and was part of the Manchester Regiment in Burma before leaving the military.

Jack Churchill at Desk
Jack Churchill at Desk

Churchill was a skilled bagpiper, winning second place in a military piping competition in 1938. He was also an amazing archer. He represented Great Britain at the World Archery Championships in 1939. In 1940, he rejoined the military and served in the Special Services Brigade.

“Mad Jack” had the motto, "Any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed." He almost always went into action with a Scottish broadsword on his waist, a longbow and arrows on his back, and bagpipes on shoulders.

In France in 1940, Churchill became the last known person to kill an enemy, during war, with a longbow. During Operation Archer, in Norway in 1941, he played the “March of the Cameron Men” as he and his men exited their landing craft. It is said that he then threw a grenade at the confused defenders then charged into the battle with his sword.

Churchill also played the bagpipes during the landings in Salerno, Italy in July of 1943. In 1944, as commander of No. 2 Commando, Special Services Brigade, he took part in guerrilla-style attacks against the Germans in Yugoslavia. He would play the bagpipes to signal the start of an attacks on German Forces.

In May of 1944, he led the attack on the German held island of Brač. The landing was unopposed and the main assault was put off until the next day. Churchill led a force of Commandos against gun emplacements just off the beaches. Only seven members of the force made it.

As the Germans advanced to retake the guns, "Mad Jack" played “Will Ye No Come Back Again” on the bagpipes. After intense fighting, where he was the only survivor, he was captured and sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

Churchill was released by the Germans in late 1944 after being transferred to Tyrol. After he was released, he had to walk over 90 miles to Italy to meet with Allied forces. He then served in Burma and India until the end of the war. After the war, he served with the Seaforth Highlanders in Palestine.

He retired from the Army in 1959. John Churchill Died in 1996.

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Bagpipes and the United States Military
The Heroism of Bagpipers during WWI


David Lairson David has been playing the bagpipes for over 20 years. He is an instructor and soloist with the Palm Beach Pipes & Drums and a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Pipe Band. David is active in the Florida competition circuit, and when he is not practicing or playing he works as a computer technician. He currently lives in sunny South Florida.