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St John 'Jock' Horsfall


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#1 D-Type

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Posted 18 July 2010 - 20:53

I have been trying to find out about 'Jock' Horsfall.

On another forum I found this potted biography by TNF-er Leigh Trevail

I wrote this for the Ipswich based East Anglian Daily Times, so its aimed at those with a good knowledge of the area; but not necessarily one of motor sport. However it may be of interest to one or two of you!

St. John ‘Jock’ Horsfall. (1910 - 1949)

Each year the Aston Martin Owners Club hold the St.John Horsfall Memorial Trophy, whilst many local racing enthusiasts know of the race; they have no idea of the connection that this famous driver had with Suffolk, or of his war time exploits.

St. John Ratcliffe Stewart Horsfall was born on the 31st of July 1910 at Morningthorpe near Long Stratton in Norfolk, he was the youngest of seven children and later St. John would simply be known as ‘Jock’. The family also rented Cliff House at Dunwich on the Suffolk coast, eventually they purchased the property and it was here that Jock grew up. Jock shared a motorcycle with an older brother which they rode around on the driveway, just like a lot of boys would; he took the motorcycle to pieces but unlike others; when he put it back together it worked!

Although he had no formal training as an engineer; Jock went on to modify sports cars in the workshop he built at the house, in fact the career he chose could not have been more different, he became a stockbroker and worked for Chapman & Rose. In 1933 he purchased a well used Aston Martin and set about rebuilding it for competition work, and in June of the following year he entered the car at Brooklands, having won a Special Award in Class; he quietly left in the same manner in which he had arrived. Between then and the outbreak of World War Two he had much success in this Aston and another that replaced it, he also jointly owned an E.R.A. with Tony Rolt and was given works drives by Aston Martin. Despite being involved with the racing cars Jock never lost his love for motor cycles, he raced at local grass track events and tuned the bikes for the West Ham Speedway team.

During the First World War Jock’s Mother was driver to Sir Eric Holt Wilson, Sir Eric who lived at Redgrave on the Norfolk / Suffolk border had been headof Military Intelligence (MI 5), after the outbreak of the Second World War the Horsfall’s were to move away from the coast to the stable block at the Redgrave Estate. Naturally all motor sport was suspended during hostilities and Jock’s life would be very different, but it would still involve his driving skills.

Jock was recruited to MI 5, and would drive around the country collecting and delivering secret agents. Obviously with the clandestine nature of the job; much of that he was engaged in will never be known. However, he was involved with what must have been one of the most audacious operations of the whole war; which was ‘Operation Mincemeat’. This mission did literally change the course of the war and was the basis of the 1956 film ‘The Man Who Never Was’, although in it Jock was never actually mentioned by name.

By 1943 the Allied Armies had total control of North Africa; and intended to invade Europe through Sicily then Italy, this was such an obvious route that the Germans had to be deceived into believing that we intended to make a two pronged attack on Sardinia and Greece. The deception was elaborate in extreme, and it involved having to use the body of a recently deceased man! With the permission of the deceased immediate family; the body of a pneumonia victim was dressed up as a fictitious ‘Major William Martin’, this together with false secret papers in a briefcase would be taken by submarine and set afloat off the southern coast of Spain. Although Spain was supposedly a neutral country many Spanish officials had strong Nazi sympathies; which is what MI 5 were relying on.
Having been washed ashore; the Spanish Post Mortem decreed that Major Martin’s cause of death was by drowning after a plane crash, however the fluid in the victims lungs was because of the pneumonia, not drowning! As to plan the Spanish allowed the Germans to see the body, they copied the letters before Major Martin and the papers were returned to the British Consulate; who arranged his funeral; complete with full military honours. Jock’s role in this operation was to help dress the body; and take it in an especially made container from cold storage in London to meet the submarine HMS Seraph in Scotland, for this he used a Fordson van that previously carried one of his racing cars, (again this was omitted from the film). The result was that the Germans were fooled into taking men and equipment away from Sicily, it is impossible to calculate how many Allied Servicemen’s lives were saved by Operation Mincemeat or by how much the war was shortened!

With the war over Jock retrieved the Aston Martin from storage, as there was no circuit racing in Britain immediately after the war he entering in speed trials and hill climbs. Ironically on the continent circuit racing had resumed and he entered the Belgium Grand Prix. In 1949 he returned to Belgium for the Spa 24 Hour Race, during this he made the incredible decision of driving the whole twenty four hours himself, finishing 4th overall and 2nd in his class.

Later the same year; Jock agreed to drive an ERA in the 1949 Daily Express International Trophy Race at Silverstone. Having been immersed in developing his Aston Martin he had not had much involvement with the ERA; which was really an up-rated pre-war car. Testing it three weeks before the race he realised that the supercharged engine was much too powerful for the chassis, and was detrimental to the handling. Concerned; he told close friends of his doubts with the car; but as he had agreed to drive it he would not back out! On lap 13 of the race the ERA left the track; and after hitting a straw bale turned over, with his neck broken Jock Horsfall died instantly.

The following year the Aston Martin Owners Club held the St. John Horsfall Memorial Trophy race at Silverstone, the race has been held every year since; keeping alive the memory of this extraordinary man.

I know that co-driving with Leslie Johnson he won the 1948 Spa 24 hours in an Aston Martin, the prototype DB1 I think.

I always understood that he was Scottish, possibly because of the 'Jock' nickname but it appears he had no Scottish connection as he doesn't get a mention in Graham Gauld's Scottish Motor Racing and Drivers.

Can anybody throw more light on his career or explain why he had the very Scottish nickname?

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#2 Tim Murray

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Posted 18 July 2010 - 22:36

I expect you've already come across this snippet, Duncan, which I found on this site about the Ben Macintyre book on Operation Mincemeat:

The job of transporting the container to the submarine that would take it to Spain was entrusted to one of England's leading race-car drivers, St. John (Jock) Horsfall, who, Macintyre notes, "was short-sighted and astigmatic but declined to wear spectacles." At one point during the journey, Horsfall nearly drove into a tram stop, and then "failed to see a roundabout until too late and shot over the grass circle in the middle."

(OT - one of the key players in Operation Mincemeat was Lieutenant General Archibald Nye - I suppose it's too much to hope that he might be a relation?)

#3 Leigh Trevail

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Posted 19 July 2010 - 11:54

Anyone interested in Jock Horsfall should try to get a copy of the Spring 1999 edition of the Aston Martin Owners Club magazine, in it they will find an account of this mans life by a chap named Ian Girling. Ian was a friend and confidant of Jock, and also spannered for him at Coe’s of Ipswich where his cars were prepped, also; Ian writes so much better than me!


#4 arttidesco

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Posted 19 July 2010 - 14:35

I have been trying to find out about 'Jock' Horsfall.

I know that co-driving with Leslie Johnson he won the 1948 Spa 24 hours in an Aston Martin, the prototype DB1 I think.

Heard of the annual race, remember seeing the film on TV in the seventies, thanks to this thread I now know something about the man, does anybody know if this is him or team mate Leslie Johnson in the #54 Aston Martin DB1 at Spa in 1948 ?

#5 Bill Becketts

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Posted 19 July 2010 - 21:12

I've always believed that he was the first fatality at Silverstone. Can anyone confirm this?


#6 Vitesse2

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Posted 20 July 2010 - 15:13

I've always believed that he was the first fatality at Silverstone. Can anyone confirm this?

I believe you're correct, Bill. He's certainly the earliest recorded on Motorsport Memorial.

#7 Leigh Trevail

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Posted 21 July 2010 - 20:06

In reply to Arttidesco, I am sure that the driver of the car in the photo is NOT St. John 'Jock' Horsfall.

#8 D-Type

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Posted 24 July 2010 - 21:57

Does anyone know the background to the "Jock" nickname as there doesn't appear to be a Scottish connection?

#9 David McKinney

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Posted 25 July 2010 - 05:18

Whilst "Jock" is primarily a Scottish diminutive it isn't exclusively so but no, I don't know how it came about in this instance

Edited by David McKinney, 25 July 2010 - 05:18.


#10 Allan Lupton

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Posted 25 July 2010 - 08:18

Whilst "Jock" is primarily a Scottish diminutive it isn't exclusively so but no, I don't know how it came about in this instance

Yes that's worth remembering.
I knew a Jock (b1894 in Sussex) whose formal name was John.
Since his father was also John I guess that his mother called him Jock either as a diminutive or to differentiate him from his father and he was known to all (including his wife) as Jock to the end of his (quite long) life.
It must have been his mother that started it as, in those days, we could presume that only she would have called John (senior) by his first name.

Edited to add:
Perhaps Mrs Horsfall found "St. John" a bit of a mouthful when calling out for her infant son and found "Jock" better for that.

Edited by Allan Lupton, 25 July 2010 - 08:21.


#11 Paul Parker

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Posted 25 July 2010 - 15:04

In reply to Arttidesco, I am sure that the driver of the car in the photo is NOT St. John 'Jock' Horsfall.


This is Leslie Johnson instantly identifiable by his large jaw. Sadly he had suffered serious medical conditions during childhood that included nephritis and acromegaly (this is a hormonal disorder that produces excess growth hormones and enlargement of the facial structure and is also associated with gigantism) which damaged his heart and led to his near fatal heart attack in 1954 during the Monte Carlo rally and eventual premature death in 1959 aged just 47.

#12 arttidesco

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Posted 25 July 2010 - 18:57

Thanks Leigh & Paul for identifying Leslie Johnson :up:

#13 Leigh Trevail

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Posted 26 July 2010 - 17:42

I have asked around about the reason St.John Horsfall was known as Jock. Apparently his mother had Jacobite ancestry which she was proud of. The whole family had always called him Jock.


#14 D-Type

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Posted 26 July 2010 - 20:12

Thanks Leigh - I suspected the answer might be something like that.

#15 Leigh Trevail

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Posted 04 December 2010 - 18:53

Tomorrow (Sunday) on BBC 2 at 9pm is a programme about Operation Mincemeat. It will be interesting to see if St. John (Jock) Horsfall gets a mention.



#16 Alfie

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Posted 06 December 2010 - 08:58

Tomorrow (Sunday) on BBC 2 at 9pm is a programme about Operation Mincemeat. It will be interesting to see if St. John (Jock) Horsfall gets a mention.



A very full mention with photos and footage. Excellent programme all round.

#17 Leigh Trevail

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Posted 06 December 2010 - 09:24

As things turned out I could not watch it, I will try to catch a repeat.

#18 Alan Cox

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Posted 06 December 2010 - 09:52

A very full mention with photos and footage. Excellent programme all round.

Agreed. Overall, a splendid programme - in spite of the "recreations" which bedevil modern TV documentaries.

#19 MCS

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Posted 06 December 2010 - 13:24

It's on BBC iPlayer (front page, currently) for UK residents...

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#20 Bloggsworth

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Posted 06 December 2010 - 13:44

Greatest deception since the Trojan Horse described it pretty well I thought - And I hadn't realised that he was very short-sighted yet drove without spectacles; perhaps he thought he would frighten himself if he could see what he was doing?

#21 Alan Cox

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Posted 06 December 2010 - 14:16

Greatest deception since the Trojan Horse described it pretty well I thought - And I hadn't realised that he was very short-sighted yet drove without spectacles; perhaps he thought he would frighten himself if he could see what he was doing?

The programe pointed out that he terrified the passengers in his van.

#22 Leigh Trevail

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Posted 06 December 2010 - 19:38

Thank you MCS; I have now seen the programme on the I Player. I agree with Alan, a good programme but the recreations are annoying, why use a Morris Commercial when the original photos clearly show a Fordson?. I had always been led to believe that the body was that of a pneumonia victim and his parents had given their consent, obviously I was wrong. Also I was pleased to see Ian Girling mentioned in the credits; without Ian’s original account in the AMOC magazine St. John Horsfall’s contribution would have been forgotten.


#23 Doug Nye

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 10:32

I vividly remember the original big-screen version of 'The Man Who Never Was' - 1956, starring Clifton Webb, Gloria Grahame and Robert Flemyng with a guest appearance by writer/judge/naval officer Ewen Montagu who was one of the real scheme's creators in the first place (playing a different character while Webb played him if I recall correctly). I had also read the book that Montagu had written from which the movie was developed. But the recent book 'Operation Mincemeat' is the best thing yet, upon which the TV doc was based - capitalising upon the event's 'rediscovery' for a fresh audience.

DCN

Edited by Doug Nye, 07 December 2010 - 10:33.


#24 Leigh Trevail

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Posted 08 December 2010 - 09:20

Doug is right, as much as some of the recreation was annoying it still made good viewing. There are now hundreds of thousands of viewers who now know the story and that can only be a good thing.

#25 Leigh Trevail

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Posted 06 February 2011 - 20:35

I have received an email from Ian Girling who was; as I have said previously was a very good friend of Jock. He is concerned that there are those who may well get the wrong impression about Jock’s driving ability due to his myopia. Here is his email………


Hi there Leigh.

People seem to make a lot about Jock's short-sightedness and his driving. Don't they know that he had special goggles with prescription lenses. Some of my photographs show him racing with them.

Regards Ian
.

To pre-empt the next posting; I have no idea why he was not wearing them when he delivered the body to Scotland.


#26 bradbury west

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Posted 06 April 2012 - 15:47

I am not sure where to post this, here seems appropriate perhaps, but I think her demise should be recorded.
RIP.
http://www.telegraph...rard-Leigh.html
Roger Lund

edited to add her life as well as her demise. If you read the obit her life was almost as mysterious as the Major Martin episode.
RL

Edited by bradbury west, 07 April 2012 - 08:37.


#27 Catalina Park

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Posted 07 April 2012 - 02:27

Thanks for posting that.

#28 Leigh Trevail

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Posted 03 January 2013 - 08:59

Tonight on BBC 4 at 8pm is a repeat of the documentary Operation Mincemeat which St. John Horsfall was involved in.