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It was May 1940, and the German officer’s unit was attacking toward a village called l’Epinette, near Bethune, France.
Five of his soldiers took cover behind a farmyard wall, sheltered from the fire of British rearguards covering the retreat of the British Expeditionary Force to the English Channel.
Forty-two battalions of Manchesters served in World War I alone.
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During these years out of harness, Churchill practiced another skill as well—archery.
He had first tried it only after returning to Britain from Burma. And with typical “Mad Jack” determination, he became so good with the bow that he shot for Britain at the world championships in Oslo in 1939.
While he may have known that his enemy was soldiers of the Manchester Regiment, the German leader could not have known that they were led by the formidable Captain Jack Churchill.
It was Churchill’s arrow that skewered the luckless German, while his men’s rifles accounted for the rest.
Churchill was one of those unusual men designed to lead others in combat, and such men are often restless in time of peace.
And perhaps, as his biographer commented, “certain eccentricities—brought on no doubt through frustration—such as piping the orderly officer to the Guard Room at three o’clock of a morning, and studying the wrong pre-set campaign in preparation for his promotion exam, precluded any chance of promotion for the time being and made the break, after a chat with his commanding officer, inevitable.” When Churchill managed to get himself reprimanded for using a hot water bottle, a distinctly non-military piece of equipment, he circumvented this nicety of military protocol by substituting a piece of rubber tubing, which he filled from the nearest hot water tap.
And so, along with a bevy of other free spirits, including the fabulous Mike Calvert, he volunteered for the force assembling to help the Finnish Army, then under attack by the Soviet Red Army.
That expedition was canceled before it could leave for Finland, and Churchill returned to the Manchesters in time to meet the German juggernaut as it crashed into Holland, Belgium, and France in May 1940.
Along the way he lost a contest with a large and hostile water buffalo but returned to his unit in time to serve in the Burma Rebellion of 1930-32.
Unusual hazards and difficulties never meant much to Jack Churchill.
Whatever the reason, after 10 years of service, Churchill resigned his commission and turned to commercial ventures.