The real-life Band of Brothers: A good news WW1 story!

A strange thing happened this week whilst researching for my upcoming WW1 book, I came across a good news story!  In a war that saw much of an entire generation of young men lost forever, the story of the Calpin brothers is even more amazing as not just one or two joined up but 10 and miraculously they all returned home at the war’s end.

Calpin Parents

Proud Parents, Sarah and Patrick Calpin and their daughter Anna who saw their 10 sons go to war and miraculously return

1914 saw the famous poster of Lord Kitchener plastered over the entire country urging young men to join-up and the men of the Calpin family in York like so many others were obliged to fight for God, King and Country.


The infamous WW1 poster featuring Lord Kitchener.

The fact that ten of them joined up seems to make them the biggest Band of Brothers yet known and their dedication earned them a public thanks and a congratulations from King George V and Prime Minster Asquith.   They set an example for their city and country and they were used as part of the massive recruitment drive.Aged between 18 and 37, the brothers fought in both the Royal Navy and the Army in WW1.  Their parents, a lowly builders labourer and a housewife received a letter from Buckingham Palace and told that:

His Majesty had heard the news ‘with the deepest gratification’. He offered the new recruits ‘best wishes for success, health and  happiness in their noble career’.

After the war, members of the family were saddened that they didn’t receive any recognition for their sacrifice and soon they passed into obscurity but now with Britain preparing to remember the dead of The Great War they are at long last beginning to get recognition with the Imperial War Museum in London investigating the possibility of holding a special exhibition for the 10 brothers.

1914 report

Original 1914 report from Daily Mail Newspaper


It appears they beat overwhelming odds to survive with one brother being on-board a navy vessel that was sunk by a U-Boat and another being targeted in a German poison gas attack.  Others were wounded in action and at least one mentioned in dispatches.

Letter from the Chief Magistrate of the city of York

Letter from the Chief Magistrate of the city of York

In a different but equally intriguing story I came across the tale of Lt Colonel John Malcolm ‘Mad Jack’ Churchill.  Mad Jack was a Scotsman who fought in WW2 and would rouse his men by playing bagpipes.  He insisted on wearing his Officers Sword into battle as without it he would be improperly dressed!

Mad Jack apparently once captured 42 enemy soldiers and a mortar battery armed with just his sword.  He is also recorded as being the last man in modern warfare to kill an opponent using a bow and arrow no doubt partly helped by the fact he competed in the 1939 Archery World Championships.

Mad Jack

Lt. Colonel John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill aka Mad Jack or Fighting Jack.

He had a total disregard for danger and was wounded, captured and escaped on numerous occasions before finally walking 150 miles to freedom.  His feats didn’t stop there as he later saved 500 Jewish doctors and patients from a massacre in 1948 and motor-cycled across Burma and starred in several major movies! Yet he was reluctant to talk about his achievements and always respected his wife in her role as head of the house-hold.

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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6 Responses to The real-life Band of Brothers: A good news WW1 story!

  1. Malla Duncan says:

    Love and admire that last sentence terrible much.


  2. Two amazing stories of an incredibly difficult period of time…and imagine, just imagine all the other stories of bravery and service.


  3. Jenny says:

    Glad you liked my post about Deneys Reitz and the Irish Batallion. WWI is a fascinating subject to me as an American even though we Yanks tend to give it short shrift, not having been as deeply involved as many other nations/empires. I’ve gotten so obsessed with history that, as you may have noticed, I’ve started a whole new blog dedicated to history titled “1870 to 1918.” I am afraid that I am subjecting my readers to an overload of information, but I’m having so much fun with it that I don’t care.


    • I really enjoyed your post. It is quite unusual to find an American who is really into WW1.

      It’s such an interesting time though and virtually the entire modern world goes back to the events back then. I like that you go back to 1870 too, the end of the 19thC is key to understanding WW1.

      Yes I am having to ration myself too. Once I get my book published I shall hopefully get it out of my system, at least blogging wise!!


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