Longbow at Dunkirk June 4, 2010Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback
Donald Featherstone’s The Bowmen of England was written in 1968 and read by Beachcombing 7 long years ago. He is ashamed to say though – and this reflects badly on him rather than on the author – that the only thing he can remember is the epilogue. We feel sure that the reader will soon understand why.
‘In 1939 Captain Jack Churchill of the Manchester Regiment was a member of the British team competing in the World Archery Championship at Oslo. With war in the offing, the party arrived back in England after some difficulties and he went, almost immediately, with the advance party of the British Expeditionary Force to the Continent. Before embarking Captain Churchill had made by Purle of London a hundred-pound yew bow together with hunting arrows; he also equipped himself with two steel bows, which were later broken whilst sticking out of the back of a lorry that was backed against a wall…
On the 27th of May 1940, whilst in command of a mixed force holding the village of L’Epinette, near Bethune, during the retreat to Dunkirk, Captain Churchill, who had been slightly wounded on the 25th, became the only European for centuries who, in the action of war, had killed an enemy with the longbow. Climbing into the loft of a small granary, through a vertical opening in one wall, normally used for hauling up sacks of grain, he saw, some thirty yards away, five German soldiers sheltering behind the wall but in clear view of the granary. Quickly and quietly Captain Churchill fetched up two infantrymen and instructed them to open rapid fire on the enemy but not to pull the trigger until he had loosed his bow, took careful aim and loosed the shaft. At the same time as the bow string twanged, the air was shattered by the rapid fire of the two infantrymen. Captain Churchill was delighted to see his strike the centre German in the left of the chest and penetrate his body; the remaining Germans of the party slumped to the dusty ground… Five years before the first atomic bomb exploded and nearly 600 years after the Battle of Crécy an English archer had incongruously and briefly returned to the ancient battlefields of France.’
Men like Churchill can hardly go through life – and happily he had a long one dying only in 1996 – without getting noticed. Other choice items in his biography include bagpipe playing among the partisans of Yugoslavia, his being the first man to surf the Severn tidal bore and his crashing a motorbike into a water buffalo. Then there was his claymore … The same claymore with which he captured 42 German soldiers near Salerno.
But Churchill has his immortality, Beachcombing is more concerned with the longbow. Can it really be true that there are no other eighteenth- or nineteenth-century eccentrics who have gone into battle with this weapon or a crossbow say? A German prince in one of the minor states before the Prussians got serious, a foppish French aristocrat living on the Riviera… [drbeachcombing[AT]yahoo[DOT]com] The only reference Beachcombing has found is fictional. In the superlative Finnish film Tuntematon sotilas (1955) a character – billed as the company eccentric – appears with a bow to use against the Soviets.
* Beachcombing thanks Mark Hickman at Ancient Britain for the following comment. Is the commando Mark describes Churchill as well? Beachcombing remembers that the great man took part in a commando raid in Norway, but will have to check. As to the OSS… ???? ‘I was fascinated by the story of Captain Churchill. I’m a member of an archery club and I shoot a longbow most days of the week. I had heard some vague stories before about a WW2 longbowman before but not the actual story. I did hear another such story, though it could be confused with the same man, about someone who went on a Commando raid holding a three foot long tube. On the way to wherever they were going, he unpacked this tube and everyone saw what he’d brought with him – a set of arrows and a two-piece longbow, which slots together around the handle, and he went ashore with this and reputedly shot a sentry with it. Also a rather odd device used by OSS in the Far East which was a sort of crossbow, except it was powered by a series of rubber bands rather than a string, and did not have limbs as such but two metal struts. I can only assume that it was more silent this way, and it was used to dispatch people through the jungle at point blank range. Apparently the rubber bands used to deteriorate very rapidly in the jungle, but still they were used. I can only imagine it is to reduce the noise, because I have stood alongside crossbows being shot, and they make quite a bang, like a bow breaking almost. I think quieter versions exist though.’
15 Dec 2014: From JC (a relative?) ‘This story is from the Lancashire Evening Post 28 May 1945