BEDFORD: Three terrifyingly badass WWII heroes you’ve never heard of
History — and especially the time around World War II — is filled with heroics, and, Lord knows, the bookshelves are filled with tales of great men’s exploits. A quick Amazon Books search reveals 12,453 hits for Winston Churchill, 7,811 for Dwight Eisenhower, 3,735 for Douglas MacArthur and 3,526 for George Patton. But what about the millions of citizen soldiers who also served in combat? (RELATED: How to dine like Churchill)
Recent history has been kind to the rank and file of WWII, with miniseries like “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific” drawing specific attention to the men in the trenches. Still, we at The Daily Caller feel there are more than a few terrifyingly badass Allies who, while honored in their time, have been forgotten by history.
From “Mad Jack” to the “Kilted Killer,” these three men distinguished themselves in bravery — and in style — in the war against the Axis, and for that TheDC salutes them.
Lt. Col. John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill, or “Mad Jack”
Born in Hong Kong in 1906, 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.
Lance Naik (Corporal) Bhanbhagta Gurung
Born in a tiny Nepal village in 1921, Bhanbhagta Gurung joined the 3rd Battalion of the 2nd Gurkhas in 1940 and first saw action against the Japanese in 1942 under the command of Brigadier Orde Wingate — a man credited as a founder of modern guerrilla warfare.
On March 4, 1945, as part of a British advance on the Japanese, Gurung’s unit was ordered to take a fortified hill, but were pinned by machine guns, mortars and grenades. When an enemy sniper took advantage of their vulnerable position, killing pinned riflemen, Gurung leapt to action, standing up “fully exposed” to enemy fire and “calmly” felling the sniper with his rifle.
When met with further resistance near the top of the hill, a 1945 London Gazette account of the battle reports, Gurung once again sprang to action, neutralizing the first foxhole with two grenades, the second foxhole with his bayonet, and the third and fourth with a combination of the two.
“During his single-handed attacks on these four enemy foxholes,” the Gazette’s account reads, “Rifleman Bhanbhagta Gurung was subjected to almost continuous and point-blank light machine gun fire from a bunker on the north tip of the objective.”
Undeterred, Gurung attacked the bunker, again alone, this time jumping onto its roof, tossing smoke grenades inside, and killing two fleeing Japanese with his Kukri machete. Gurung then crept inside the bunker and, confined by the tight space, killed the remaining Japanese soldier with a rock, capturing the gun and helping to hold off a swift counterattack.
All in a day’s work for the young Gurkha, whose “outstanding bravery and a complete disregard for his own safety” earned him the Victoria Cross, awarded by King George VI at Buckingham Palace in October.
Despite praise from his comrades, he retired from the military after the war to care for his wife and family, and died in Nepal in 2008, an 86-year-old man.
Maj. Tommy Macpherson, or the “Kilted Killer”
Born in Scotland in 1920, Macpherson volunteered for the Scottish Commandos shortly after joining the army in 1939.
Captured by Italian troops in Egypt in 1941, Macpherson used his imprisonment to learn Italian before escaping via train and boat to England two years later. Never one to miss the fight, Macpherson next parachuted into enemy-held France to embark on his true calling as the “Kilted Killer,” and to help fulfill Churchill’s order to “set Europe ablaze.”
A large part of the major’s role was to galvanize scattered French resistance fighters to disrupt the Axis reaction to the D-Day Normandy invasion. And although the resistance unit he first met up with was small, unproven and poorly armed, through cunning, vicious tactics and bombastic style — he wore his full Highlander’s battledress, including the kilt — he was able to galvanize the Frenchmen.
His constant, daring and flamboyant attacks earned him a 300,000 Franc mark on his head from the Germans, but as the Allies began to win the day, the Scotsman further taunted his enemies by flying the British and Cross of Lorraine flags from the automobile he drove around the countryside.
One famous deed included rigging his machine guns to sound like heavy weapons, allowing he and three companions to scare 100 Germans into surrendering. But his most incredible exploit may be rushing a retreating German headquarters, under fire, in an ambulance and, in full Celtic regalia, convincing Gen. Botho Henning Elster to surrender 23,000 men and 1,000 vehicles to the Allied forces he pretended to have under his command.
“The clincher was when I told him that I was in contact with London by radio and could at any time call up the [Royal Air Force] to blow his people out of sight,” he writes in his autobiography, “Behind Enemy Lines. “In truth, the only thing I could whistle up was Dixie, but he had no way of knowing that.”
Following victory in France, Macpherson went to Italy where, along with fighting Nazis, he protected Catholic leaders from communist partisans and helped to prevent Yugoslavian communist leader Josep Tito from taking parts of Italy for himself. For his efforts, the communists called for the killing of “the interfering major” — giving Macpherson the distinction of both fascist and communist death sentences.
For his efforts to defeat the Axis and the communists, Macpherson is the United Kingdom’s most decorated soldier, and his awards include the Military Cross and two bars, the Legion d’Honneur, the Croix de Guerre and a papal knighthood.
After the war, he studied at Oxford and led a successful career in the timber business. He is still alive — and as badass as ever — today.
For their bravery, patriotism, and unflinching devotion to tradition — be those claymores, Kukri or kilts — TheDC honors these three heroes. Long live their stories.