2 Commando Commanders

This history of No. 2 Commando was compiled at the request of The Commando Veterans Association, who wanted a record of the unit’s activities and first-hand recollections of its members as seen through the eyes of a No. 2 Commando veteran. There was a certain urgency about the request because this veteran, turned author, is old and just about one step away from the knacker’s yard. There is much to tell about the No. 2 Family and its Father, Charlie Newman.

Bob Bishop

Read more about each Commanding Officer below.

Continue reading our history of No 2 Commando here  'Some of the Men'.

NEWMAN, Lt Col. Augustus Charles, VC

Known as: 
Colonel Charles, Charlie
Lieutenant Colonel
Essex Regiment
Friday, August 19, 1904
Died : 
Wednesday, April 26, 1972

Lt. Colonel Newman was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry whilst Military Force Commander of Operation Chariot, St. Nazaire.

An account by Bob Bishop No 2 Commando from his history of No 2:

"As soon as the name Colonel Newman is invoked, the reaction is always ST. NAZAIRE! But, there was more to Charlie than his epic leadership as Military Force Commander at that battle of March 28th, 1942. If one wants to know about the exact dates of when Charlie left his role in No. 3 Independent Company, or when he arrived or left Paignton, Weymouth, Dumfries, Lockerbie or Ayr, and perhaps details of his pre-war Territorial Army service, ample information on these events can be obtained from the many books written by ‘historians’ who somehow catalogued such data without ever knowing Charlie.

This author likes to reminisce about the Colonel’s tremendous work in recruiting, training and forging a fighting unit that he could lead into battle anytime and at anyplace. Charlie managed to keep his troops at a razor-sharp level of efficiency despite the winter of discontent and impatience of 1940 and the year of frustration that followed it in 1941. Under a lesser leader morale would have surely gone to pot, but Charlie, by clever use of novel training programmes which he dreamed up, managed by sheer force of personality to actually improve the ‘readiness’ condition of the Commando, day by day.

It sticks in my mind that during the days that followed the raid on St. Nazaire, my friends and myself never did any talking about that event. When new replacements arrived to rebuild the Commando and wanted to know about what happened there, they never answered by anything other than non-committal remarks. However, when this or that was debated, Charlie’s views as we had known them were always offered as solutions to differences of opinions. Colonel Jack Churchill arrived to fill Charlie’s spot as C.O. The Commando welcomed ‘Mad Jack’ as its new leader and over the space of the next two and a half years he became a magnificent Commander. But in those days it seemed only a temporary arrangement. Maybe we thought that Charlie would somehow show up and take over again.

There are a couple of memories that this author has of Charlie that cannot be found in any book. A boxing tournament had been arranged between No. 2 Commando and a local artillery unit stationed near Ayr. Before the first bout commenced, the artillery C.O. entered the hall and took his ringside seat amid some mutterings from his own men to the effect of ‘officers always getting the best seats’. Then Charlie made his entrance and difference could be compared to codfish versus caviar. The entire Commando rose up and belted out this verse:

Clap hands! - Here comes Charlie!
Clap hands! - GOOD OLD CHARLIE!
Clap hands! - Here’s OUR CHARLIE now!!

The Colonel grinned, and turned with his hands clasped above his head in the prize-fighter manner to acknowledge what he knew was a genuine expression of admiration from his boys. The artillery lads looked on in disbelief. They just could not understand how we respected and admired our Charlie.

The most important memory in my military life is the saga of events concerning my attempts to volunteer for Commando service with Col. Newman. It began with myself, then 17, feeling somewhat in a useless situation within the confines of Britannia Barracks, Norwich. A Notice had been posted on the board which declared that: ‘All ranks may apply at the company office to be interviewed at a date to be arranged for the purpose of volunteering for Commando service’. This was an instruction from the all-highest, the Army Council, and I foolishly thought that no one could circumvent that and they would have to let me volunteer … Silly me! I should have known that the Army Council instruction would be dismissed as rubbish by our exalted Company Sergeant Major Cooper. This author, then so naïve, rushed to the company office eager to have his name put on the Commando volunteer list. C.S.M. Cooper gave me his usual friendly glower and greeted me with a jocular ‘What do you bloody want?’ My response was that I wished to volunteer for the Commandos. I think I added ‘Sir’ at the end of my request just to mollify the old rotter. C.S.M. Cooper carefully considered my request for all of two seconds then gave me his decision with his famous roar and snarl combination, ‘OUT!’. Then he asked me a very pertinent question, ‘Who the hell do you think you are?’. Without waiting for a response from me to this friendly inquiry he stabbed at the door direction with a finger and yelled ‘OUT!’ once more. He was in fine voice that day and as I trudged down the company office steps I thought that the word impasse really was a French description of our Sgt. Major. There was no way, it seemed, to get around such an immovable object. But my utter dejection was short-lived. Lady Luck arrived and intervened on my behalf. That delightful lady arranged for C.S.M. Cooper to be the victim of a tragic motorcycle accident the very next night and Sgt. Major Cooper was as dead as a mackerel. The way was clear and Cpl. Friston, the company clerk, added my name to the list of volunteers with no argument.

Charlie arrived at Britannia Barracks shortly after all this happened and it should be recorded as to how he was helped in his recruiting endeavours. Charlie had to find a room for himself in town and was not offered the hospitality of the officers’ mess. He had to conduct his interviews within the luxurious confines of the men’s canteen. This author recalls that Charlie evaluated him from across the billiard table. I think he had to rummage for my papers between two itinerant red-balls. But I arrived one day thereafter to take my place in his command and it was all so very worthwhile.

One day in early 1942 we were practicing manhandling some rather heavy equipment up the cliffs at the Heads-of-Ayr. Charlie called out to me, ‘Move that rope grapple to the left, SON!” That form of family address personified Charlie’s relationship with all his boys.

Our Charlie passed away April 26th, 1972. He was 68."

NEWMAN, Lt Col. Augustus Charles, Citation for VC

Type: Files
Author: John Mewett
Year of Publishing: 2015
Keywords: Lt Col A C Newman VC No 2 Commando St Nazaire Raid

The Citation for the award of the Victoria Cross to Lt Col A.C. Newman The Essex Regt No 2 Commando and Commander of the land forces St Nazaire raid 27/28th March 1942.

Follow this link to learn more about all the Commandos awarded the Victoria Cross

CHURCHILL, John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming (Lt Col)

Known as: 
Mad Jack
Lieutenant Colonel
Manchester Regiment
Sunday, September 16, 1906
Died : 
Friday, March 8, 1996

After a brief spell as 2i/c No 5 Commando, the then Major Churchill moved to 2i/c No 3 Commando. Shortly after Lt Col Newman was taken prisoner at St Nazaire in 1942, Major Churchill was promoted Lt Col. to replace him as OC No 2 Commando. Lt Col Churchill remained OC until he was also taken prisoner in 1944. 

An account by Bob Bishop No 2 Commando from his history of No 2:

"It has been over sixty-three years since this author served under the command of Jack, but to this day it is impossible to think of the man without prefacing my reverie with some kind of exclamation such as: Whew! or My God! and I have to stop thinking about this larger-than-life character or else I wouldn’t get anything done during the day or sometimes, night. Jack will always be with me because he will be part of my life; something that will last and never fade.

Unlike so many of the men he commanded, Jack came from a pretty well-heeled Oxfordshire family. Following his formal education at the Dragon School, Oxford and King William’s College, Isle of Man, then RMC Sandhurst, he obtained a regular army commission in the Manchester Regiment in 1926. His career in the peacetime army came to a screeching halt ten years later when Jack and his C.O. agreed to disagree and Jack resigned his commission.

Jack was recalled to the army at the outbreak of war, served with distinction at Dunkirk and got himself an M.C. After which, he was one of the very first volunteers for the newly-formed Commandos. Jack found himself assigned as Major, and second-in-command of No. 3 Commando. The author wonders about that time. The thought of having three diverse personalities and future Commando legends – John Durnford Slater, Peter Young and Jack Churchill – all under the same roof is frightening! However, it all worked out well – J.D.S. was kicked upstairs, promoted to Brigadier, Peter Young eventually got control of No. 3 Commando, and Jack Churchill was shifted over to No. 2 Commando replacing Lt. Col. Charlie Newman, who had been lost at St. Nazaire.

The ‘coming’ of Jack to No. 2 Commando in April 1942 and his subsequent campaign exploits are related elsewhere. In this narrative, the author confines himself to relating his memories of Jack and endeavors to try to convey some truths that need to be recorded and questions that need to be asked now, or they will never see daylight.

This author finds himself somewhat dismayed by various reports that have surfaced from time-to-time which infer that Jack Churchill was a sort of ‘publicity seeker’. For those who have that opinion, I ask them to consider this:

Where is there a book written by Jack Churchill concerning No. 2 Commando depicting himself in a starring role?

Jack has never written anything about his life and times, or caused them to be recounted by some ghost-writer. Thankfully no officer who served in No. 2 Commando has ever caused publication of a book to join the many which were authorized by Jack’s brother-colonels in other Commando units and several accounts written by lieutenants on upwards. The author makes this point, not in criticism of these many published scribes, but to illustrate that Jack certainly had a personal story of unexcelled heroism to tell, but was too darn modest to cash in on it.

There is that matter of a decoration. At Salerno Jack and his runner had operated far out ahead of the Commando and entered the enemy-held village of Pigoletti, whereupon Jack descended on each German sentry post or weapons pit, made its occupants prisoner and delivered them group by group to be guarded by the waiting runner. When the count was made it amounted to 42 prisoners Jack had taken. He even made the German mortar crews carry out their own mortars. The prisoners with all their weapons were then handed over to the leading Commando troop when it finally caught up with Jack. For this audacious feat of arms Col. Jack was recommended for the Victoria Cross, which was in due course watered down to a D.S.O. WHY? The award of the V.C. had certainly been made as a result of actions concerning far-lesser valour.

The qualities of leadership displayed by Jack’s fellow Commando colonels, Lt. Cols. Durnford Slater, Peter Young, Derek Mills-Roberts, Lord Lovat and Ronnie Tod, were all recognized by their promotion to the rank of Brigadier. They were all grand leaders who deserved such recognition. BUT Jack was not promoted. In fact, we have to sadly note that in 1948 he had been demoted to the rank of major engaged in the thankless task of keeping Arabs and Jews from each others throats in the Palestine mandate. It is thought that Jack had fully deserved the promotion which was awarded to his peers, but somehow denied to him. WHY? again.

It is said by many fanciful writers that Jack went into action in No. 2 Commando ‘resplendent with bow and arrows’. Where? The author participated in everyone of the Colonel’s operations in No. 2 and only saw our Jack adorned with claymore, bagpipes, an American M-1 carbine, sometimes a 45 automatic, haversack, helmet with large S.S. badge, and map case. Wasn’t that enough?

Jack much admired the discipline and enthusiasm of the average German soldier. He once stated ‘that was what made them such wonderful soldiers’. He compared such qualities rather favourably with those who inhabited our ‘mass-produced army’. He always advocated more realistic training for the ordinary British soldier although he fully realized that it would be impossible to put the whole army through Achnacarry.

Jack, the man, was hard, if not impossible, to get to know. He lacked a certain rapport with his brother-officers and certainly never got close to the rank and file boys in the same way as Charlie Newman. But, then again, Charlie Newman’s fatherly attitude was a tough act to follow and Jack Churchill’s pale, steely-blue eyes were fixed on the prosecution of the war and nothing else.

Our ‘Mad Jack’ once gave himself to prose, writing that:

"No Prince or Lord has tomb so proud
As he whose flag becomes his shroud"

Lt. Col. Jack Churchill, D.S.O., M.C., a.k.a. ‘Mad Jack’ passed on, March 8, 1996. He was 89."

Obituary for Colonel Churchill DSO MC by Henry Brown OBE

Officer Commanding No. 2 Commando from April 1942 until, his capture in 1944. Affectionately known by his Commandos as "Mad Jack". He died on Friday 8th March 1996. 

Henry Brown OBE, National Secretary of the Commando Association contributed the following obituary published in the Commando Association Newsletter 103 dated Sept 1996:

"Colonel John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill DSO MC.
The National Press obituary notices outlined in great detail the sterling qualities of Colonel Jack, describing him rightly as probably the most dramatically impressive Commando leader of the Second World War. One could go to great lengths in describing his charm and countless attributes, and doubtless, all comrades privileged to know him closely, especially those in No.2 Commando, know how daring and fearless he was certainly a man born to lead' Not surprisingly, he soldiered on after the war and in spite of his many varied interests and activities he always took a very close interest in our Association and we look back with much pleasure on his two periods, 1957-8 and 1968-70, as our President. For his dear widow Rosamund, we correct the following inaccuracies in the Daily Telegraph obituary notice. Colonel Jack, always particular about being correctly dressed, did not transfer to the Seaforth Highlanders until after the war. Neither did he rush up any beaches "dressed only in a kilt", nor was he born in Surrey, but Sri Lanka. The passing of these two great wartime Commando leaders* has certainly left gaps in our Commando family we can never hope to fill."

* In the same issue Henry wrote about the passing of Lord Lovat

FYNN, Francis West (Lt Col)

Known as: 
Lieutenant Colonel
Gordon Highlanders
Service number: 
Thursday, July 9, 1908
Commanding Officer No 2 Commando from June 1944 after Lt Col Churchill was taken prisoner of war. 
A former Lance Sergeant in the Royal Artillery T.A., he was appointed Second Lieutenant on the 23rd December 1939 [1]. On the 11th July 1942 the then Lieutenant Fynn was posted from the RA to the Gordon Highlanders [2]
In 1943 he was awarded the MC  in recognition of gallant and distinguished services in the field during Operation Cartoon [view] whilst a Captain (Temporary Major) of No. 12 Commando. [3].
Lieutenant Colonel (Temporary) Fynn MC received a MiD in recognition of gallant and distinguished services in Italy [4].
On the 6th November 1945 he relinquished his commission on appointment to Southern Rhodesia Forces [5].
He was awarded the Bronze Star, conferred by the President of the United States of America, in recognition of distinguished services in the cause of the Allies [6].
[1] London Gazettes Supp. 34758, page 8535.
[2] London Gazettes Supp. 35627, page 3035.
[3] London Gazettes Supp. 35952, page 1405.
[3] The Green Beret author Hilary St. George Saunders.
[4] London Gazettes Supp. 37368, page 5816.
[5] London Gazettes Supp. 38184, page 581.
[6] London Gazettes Supp. 38288, page 2917.

Below is an account by Bob Bishop No 2 Commando from his history of No 2:
"Colonel Fynn was known to all as ‘Ted’, why it is not known, he arrived with that designation and everyone used that name thereafter. He was the third Commanding Officer to be at the helm of No. 2 Commando, inheriting the job right after we had lost ‘Mad Jack’ on June 6th, 1944.

A difficult man to describe - perhaps he was not as fatherly as Lt Col Newman, more like an uncle I suppose, and not as autocratic as Jack Churchill. His style was more ‘laid back’ and easier in the manner of many South Africans, but when you looked at Ted you knew that he had ‘seen’ life. Although this author is second-to-none in his admiration of ‘Mad Jack’ and considered him to be the ‘bravest of the brave’, after two and a half years of serving under his command Ted was regarded with an expression of some relief. This quiet man who had taken over, we all knew, was going to be o.k. It was as though someone had said “It’s time to lighten-up a little, boys!”.

In October, 1942, at Lerwick in the Shetlands, Ted became the titular head of ‘Fynn Force’, a group of Commandos formed with the purpose of making life uncomfortable for the Germans in Norway. Ted led attacks on objectives in Southern Norway. The first assault was on Stord Island where Ted blew up a pyrites mine at Lillebo. A highly successful raid, Ted managed to get this job done with the loss of only one Commando K.I.A. Other operations followed. Ted said nothing of this background when he joined No. 2 and went on to lead the Commando in action at Himare, Albania July ’44 and Sarande, Albania October ’44. Shortly after these operations, the author was seconded to S.O.E. and that was the last he saw of Ted.

Ted won the M.C. in 1943 and was also awarded the Bronze Star (U.S.A.) for his leadership of No. 2 Commando at Lake Comacchio 1945.

The author would like to relate an episode from Ted’s tenure with No. 2. Ted had gotten himself married in Bari, Italy, with a good attendance at the ceremony by officers and others. The morning after the wedding night he was asked by someone, “How did the night go?”  Ted then said, “Well, do you remember what Charlie Newman said when he was awarded the Victoria Cross?” The enquirer replied, “What did Charlie say?” Ted then smiled and uttered the historic words: