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
Rank: 
Lieutenant Colonel
Regiment/Corps: 
Essex Regiment
Service: 
Army
Born: 
Friday, August 19, 1904
Died : 
Wednesday, April 26, 1972
Operations: 
Col. Newman VC 2 Commando
Lt. Colonel Augustus Charles Newman, Officer Commanding No 2 Commando, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry whilst Military Force Commander of Operation Chariot, St. Nazaire.
 

Extract from Commando Association Newsletter 55 of September 1972

It was with profound regret that we learned on the 26th April last, of the death of Lieut. Colonel A. Charles Newman, V.C., O.B.E., T.D., our first President to pass away whilst in office, and we are deeply indebted to his close friend and comrade, and esteemed Chairman of our Warrington Branch, Lieut Colonel W. O. (Bill) Copland, D.S.O., for the following most fitting tribute:-
 
"St. Paul's Cathedral, a link with famous men and their memorials for nearly 300 years, can seldom have held a more numerous and more varied a congregation of friends as were gathered together on the first of May, 1972, to pay homage and to show affection to the memory of Charles Newman, V.C., our President, friend of many, enemy to none, example to all of us."
 
"As a Territorial Soldier he was the epitome of civilian military service in Peace and in War, ranging from his own beloved Essex Regiment to No. 3 Independent Company which saw service in Norway in 1940, then in No. 1 Special Service Battalion to his zenith of Service in No. 2 Commando which he commanded on its formation in 1941."
 
"To him, this was the ultimate in choice of a service and, because he was so splendid a Commanding Officer, he gained quickly the affection and respect of his new command drawn, as it was, from almost every Regiment in the Army. The high standard he set for every aspect of military training and conduct both on and off parade and his deep sense of fairness, helped to produce a unit in which the only punishment was R.T.U. and whose only standard was perfection. Enough has been written about his part in the Naval and Commando Raid on St. Nazaire on 28th March, 1942, whore he earned his Victoria Cross, to assure for him his special niche in military history. With others of No. 2 and attached Commandos, Royal Engineers and others, together with Royal Navy personnel, he spent 3 years in German prison camps. Here again he contributed much to morale by his conduct and bearing. If this were not enough, and knowing he had still much to give, he commanded 2lst S.A.S. Regiment (Artists) T.A. and was Colonel Commandant of his County Army Cadet Force."
 
"His links with civil life were many and varied and in many ways required similar outlooks and qualities as-best befit a soldier. As Chairman and Managing Director of a world wide firm of contractors, he led his company through good times and bad with the same kindly handling and belief in those who worked with him. In public life he was a man of many parts with wide interests and affections. He became a Deputy Lieutenant of Essex and Chairman or member of many organizations, civil and sporting." 
 
"Finally, after his retirement in 1971, ever a lover of children, he gave much joy to youngsters in many recreations, Pony Clubs and 'messing about in boats', all so near to his ' Peter Pan' heart. So we say 'au revoir' 'to one of our most excellent of Presidents of The Commando Association, splendid soldier and citizen, head of a loving and beloved family. May his example illuminate our future and may our Nation ever find men like Charles Newman to help guide and protect it in War and Peace "  W. O. Copland.
 
Bob Bishop No 2 Commando recalled the Colonel’s tremendous work in recruiting, training and forging a fighting unit that he could lead into battle anytime and at anyplace.  Colonel Newman 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, 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.
During a boxing tournament that had been arranged between No. 2 Commando and a local artillery unit stationed near Ayr, 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 Colonel Newman made his entrance and Bob Bishop comments "the 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.  
Colonel Augustus Charles NEWMAN VC OBE TD DL (Commanding Officer No 2 Cdo) died 26th April 1972.

 

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
Rank: 
Lieutenant Colonel
Regiment/Corps: 
Manchester Regiment
Service: 
Army
Born: 
Sunday, September 16, 1906
Died : 
Friday, March 8, 1996

After a brief spell as 2i/c No 5 Commando, the then Major John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill (later affectionately known by some as Mad Jack) 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: 
Ted
Rank: 
Lieutenant Colonel
Regiment/Corps: 
Gordon Highlanders
Service: 
Army
Service number: 
109827
Born: 
Thursday, July 9, 1908
Lieutenant Colonel Francis Fynn 2 commando
Lieutenant Colonel Francis Fynn 2 Commando
Lieutenant Colonel Francis West Fynn became the Commanding Officer of 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].
 
Sources
[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:

"I GOT IT FOR THE WHOLE COMMANDO."