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Old 17 Dec 2009, 09:47 (Ref:2601219)   #1
Leigh Trevail
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Horsfall, St. John 'Jock'

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.
___________________
Further reading The Man Who Never Was by Ewen Montagu (Spellmount Publishers)
The Horsfall Story by Ian Girling AMOC Magazine Spring 1999.
Also the film” The Man Who Never Was” (1956 Dir. R. Neame) is available on video.
©Leigh Trevail April 2008
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Old 17 Dec 2009, 10:14 (Ref:2601233)   #2
John Turner
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John Turner is going for a new world record!John Turner is going for a new world record!John Turner is going for a new world record!John Turner is going for a new world record!John Turner is going for a new world record!John Turner is going for a new world record!John Turner is going for a new world record!John Turner is going for a new world record!
Excellent subject, Leigh and a great article. However, whilst clearly driving solo in the 1949 Spa 24 hours race was a superb achievement in terms of stamina, surely his best racing result was at the same event the year before when, sharing with Leslie Johnson, they won the race outright in the 2-litre Aston Martin, SPA/48/1, at 72.07 mph. It's certainly the result that always comes to my mind whenever I see St John Horsfall's name.

Last edited by John Turner; 17 Dec 2009 at 11:08.
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