In the time between the trenches of WW1 and the miscalculations of the Castle Bravo atom splitting at the Marshall Islands, a man called Jack Churchill roamed the battlefields. Time has laid waste to so many untold stories that never found a mouth. So many tales buried beneath the rubble, vaporised by the shell or those tales that wandered off into the night alone, never to be heard again, only in quasi, second-hand form with embellished additions. Every generation has bizarre stories, every war, every army, but I don’t think there will be days like WW2 to forge tales like those of Mad Jacks again.
It is the exploratory warfare that commenced in those years which saw it most. A new speed of learning took place since humanity stepped out the trenches and into blitzkrieg - into the lightning warfare. The British expeditionary forces that touched the face of uncertainty through tactical exploration, that is, the mist that dwelled in areas of military practice where special organisations were formed and sent to exploit the gaps in conventional military tactics where they arose to gain an advantage. Dealings behind enemy lines, nurturing resistance, conducting raids, espionage, and sabotage. A new kind of mindset had to depart from the trenches because it could not go on. There could not be such a loss of life on such a scale again, and so there had to be an evolution. Not only could it not happen again, but it didn’t need too. In this community of these new pioneers dwelled men who were not only built for it, but built for something beyond it, and God only knows what they would have gone on to do if they had not found themselves in such junctures of time.
I don't think even the closest to these people can see it coming within them until something cataclysmic arouses it out of necessity, something on the scale like the British warning to the Wehrmacht - You have not withdrawn from Poland, a state of war now exists between us. The 3rd of September 1939. There will ever be pioneers, leaders or killing machines like those that rose in proceeding years of that onslaught. People like Mad Jack Churchill, who, after surviving the Dunkirk extraction and receiving the military cross for his efforts, volunteered for the commandos to bounce back to Europe. He would carry into battle a longbow, bagpipes, and a basket-hilted broadsword drawn as he waded down the ramp of the landing crafts and through the frothing surf onto the beach landings. Through the blood, through the mud, through the sand, and into deaths head he led the first commando teams. It would almost appear to the opposition as they sat behind their MG42’s, Howitzers, and flamethrowers that there was some confusion as to which kind of battle Mad Jack thought he was about to wage, that is, if they were unlucky enough to see him. Some sword wielding, longbow stretching, bagpipe playing lunatic from the front of the medieval battle lines brought into the ranks with the Thompsons, grenades, Bren guns, and Lee Enfield's. There is no place for such behaviour, and that's what makes the legend.
He led a patrol to capture a strategic outpost in the town of Molina, a German position that controlled the beachhead, Salerno. He infiltrated and captured the town and took 42 prisoners, including the mortar squad. The prisoners pushed their dead and wounded out of the town on carts, and when Mad Jack went back to the town to retrieve his sword from the guts of an SS officer, a lost American patrol wandered into the town and was on route to an enemy ambush. Refusing to follow advise from Jack and turn back, he offered them the final warning ‘I’m not bloody coming back a third time.’ In 1944 he was captured when he was knocked unconscious by grenades when he led Yugoslavian Partisans and Commandos on a raid to the German-held Island of Brac. He went on to endure the horrors of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where new experiments of mustard gas were underway on the prisoners, and testing of cocaine and methamphetamine cocktails were being trialed as performance-enhancing drugs for the Wehrmacht. And so Jack was enslaved by the awful motto emblazoned on the gate entrance Arbeit Macht Frei - Work makes you free. This was the place where an operation was underway producing counterfeit sterling notes to be dropped by German aircraft by the tons over London to rupture the British economy.
But he survived, like so many lost tales don't.
It will be a special kind of circumstance to survive something as demented as a concentration camp again. Even more so to survive close target chaos without armour. Tales of such survival are from a wild world I don’t believe we will ever visit again. The more the range increases through digitisation, the more beings with such prolific methods of war and unique capacities to endure dwindle. With such enormous advancements in weaponry and technology, lightning war is now obsolete, and a new level of surgical, quick, bespoke, well planned and orchestrated, single hit operations has made war an ongoing process like a form of maintenance, rather than a prolonged monstrous event. I don’t know if it is the psychological effect it has on the enemy, or if Jack genuinely believed that a longbow and broadsword would be advantageous or guard him against something or lead him past the hail of MG42 gunfire, but it did. It did that time and the time before. That's some kind of luck.
We fight much further away now, too far to understand bravery as it was recognised in the trenches, in Bastogne, on the beach landings and the skin splitting depth of permafrost on the eastern front, where there was no end in sight for those involved. Where it just went on for fucking years without relief. Technology will no longer allow it, and now the medal of mad will have to be earned some other way because Mad Jack got in close, into the exchange of breath and heat to touch the flesh of those new tactics in the mist.
The universe will choose only a few to survive the lead blizzard, those few with such extraordinary courage. They will not be hit, something within the fabric of space and time will see to it that the bagpipes will be played in that quiet before the fight. Maybe out of some divine curiosity, the universe wishes to see that men like Mad Jack will return to scenes of carnage to collect his sword from the guts of the Wehrmacht. It will see that the comrades of the constructors of the concentration camps will find their own stapled to trees with his arrows. And the universe will see that men like Jack will proceed and live on, to command, to teach and it will give him the time to carve out his name in the stone wall behind the waterfall of blood and metal, with the other berserkers who could not be touched.
“Any officer who goes into battle without his sword is improperly dressed.”
Captain ‘Mad’ Jack Churchill (1906 - 1996)