Jack was one of the great escapees of WW2 and one of only two officers to be awarded the Military Cross for his escape efforts.

He was born in Chicago and spent his childhood in the US and Jamaica. He arrived at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst at the age of 18 sponsored to join the Black Watch, but his love of all things equestrian pushed him to be commissioned into the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars in 1935.

At age 20 he set off to join the Regiment in Egypt, first and foremost a professional soldier but overjoyed to be joining the best polo team in the Middle East. With the last mounted parade in November 1935 and mechanisation onto Patrol Cars, polo was the only form of horsemanship left in this fine cavalry Regiment.

Major John (Jack) Pringle MC and Bar

Joining the Regiment before mechanisation, he was a great horseman and polo player.

In 1939 he was seconded to the Royal West African Frontier Force and as the Italians entered the war flexing their muscles in Ethiopia,

Jack was moved to the East African RECCE Regiment as a Squadron Leader, fighting up from Sudan, Somalia, Abyssinia and finally back to Libya.

Through these exciting days in these remote and wild countries, he won his first Military Cross in Abyssinia Commanding his independent RECCE Squadron.

The campaign was not always conducted with the close coordination of armour, infantry and artillery that characterised the later battles of the Western Desert. Jack’s Armoured Car Squadron lost almost half its strength in an encounter with the Italian’s during the advance on Addis Ababa through the Marda Pass in the spring of 1941.

He always felt the blame for the loss of so many of his soldiers, which the award of his first MC for fearless leadership did nothing to ease.

Following the defeat of Benito Mussolini’s troops in the Horn of Africa, Jack returned to the 8th Hussars in time to take part in the Battle of Sidi Rezegh, in which Rommel’s Africa Corps halted the British Crusader Offensive in the Western Desert.

The 8th Hussars were 4th Armoured Brigades reserve, but the turmoil of the swiftly changing battle found them in the direct path of the 15th Panzer Division. Many of the Regiments tanks and men were captured, Captain Jack Pringle was amongst them.

Escape was his predominant thought from the moment he arrived in Brindisi POW camp. In all, Jack made 6 escapes, but I’ll-luck prevented him from achieving a home run.

His most remarkable escape was from the Italian fortress-prison of Gavi in Liguria, from which it was said no one had ever escaped for 400 years.

He, however, found a shaft that led via an underground reservoir to a point where it was possible to tunnel under the outer wall. Although helped by Italian partisans, whit whom he had established contact while in Gavi, he was recaptured when almost in sight of the Swiss frontier.

A later escape, from a camp near Innsbruck, made with David Sterling (of SAS fame), also appeared to be on the brink of success, but the two men were seen, betrayed and recaptured.

Sterling wrote to his mother stating “Jack is the most amazing man, a real scholar with a quite remarkable memory. He speaks Italian, German and French, but what I remember so well about him was everything seemed to him to be fun. He was absolutely fearless and the most steadfast partner one could have had in those days”. Jack was awarded his second MC for this attempt.

At the end of the war and release, he returned to England and was discharged. He went to South Africa where he made his fortune. He married the actress Virginia Nicholson who would be his companion for 46 years.

Returning to England in the 60s Jack continued to Hunt and play polo, he also assisted and instructed the officers of his old Regiment the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars on playing the game of Kings.

Jack was also called on to lecture the young officers of the SAS on combat survival and escape and evasion.

Jack passed away in 2000, but will always be remembered for his special brand of style, good humour, and determination to live life to its full.

Related topics

  1. A short history of The 8th Hussars
  2. Middle East (Egypt and Libya) timeline
  3. Citation and Immediate Award for the Military Cross: Capt J Pringle
  4. Citation and Award of a Bar to the Military Cross: Capt J Pringle MC