Jock Horsfall

31/7/1910 - 20/8/1949

Record updated 08-Feb-23

Aston Martin and ERA exponent Jock Horsfall won the 1948 Spa 24 hour race. He was killed the following year in an ERA at Silverstone. During the war he was involved in Operation Mincemeat, a highly successful British plan to convince the German High Command (OKW) that the Allies would invade the Balkans and Sardinia instead of the island of Sicily, the actual objective.

St. John Ratcliffe Stewart Horsfall better know as "Jock" was born in Morningthorpe, near Norwich, Norfolk, England, raced ERA and Aston Martins.

1936 saw a new 2 litre Aston Martin Speed model with synchromesh transmission (£695 chassis only). The car, which became known as the Black Car, was ordered by R.S. Wilkins and fitted with an Ulster style body found lying unused at the works. After appearances at Brooklands during 1937, Jock bough it and prepared and tuned it for the 1938 season winning the Leinster Trophy Race and going on to set the best British performance at Le Mans. He also took a fine 2nd place (and 1st in class) behind a 3 litre Delage in the 1938 RAC Tourist Trophy at Donnington against stiff competition from BMW 328's. Jock was fortunate to receive considerable support from the factory.

In 1939 went into partnership with Rolt and became the regular driver of ERA R5B "Remus". R5B was made in 1.5 litre form in 1936 for Prince Chula and Prince Bira.

During World War II he worked in secretive government departments, including working on Operation Mincemeat. Operation Mincemeat was a highly successful British deception plan to convince the German High Command (OKW) that the Allies would invade the Balkans and Sardinia instead of the island of Sicily, the actual objective. The operation called for making the Germans believe that they had, by accident, intercepted highly classified documents detailing future Allied war plans. It succeeded: the Germans diverted their forces and the Allied invasion of Sicily proceeded smoothly. The story was subsequently told in a book and later film as The Man Who Never Was. The plan involved dropping the body of a fictional officer into the sea off the coast of Spain with a briefcase chained to his wrist containing false invasion plans. Having found a suitable body and received the permission of the family, the fictional Temporary Captain, acting Major William Martin RM's body, preserved in dry ice and dressed in his Royal Marines uniform, was ferried in the back of a green van across Britain, driven by Jock at high speed, to Holy Loch in Scotland where it was placed on board the British submarine HMS Seraph.

At 0430 hrs. on April 30, 1943 Major Martin was fitted with a life jacket, his briefcase with the papers secured to his wrist, and the 39th Psalm was read as the body was gently pushed into the sea where the tide would bring it ashore.

The body was discovered at around 0730 hrs. by a local fisherman, Jose Antonio Rey Maria, who brought him to port and the report of the discovery was made to the local Abwehr, which was represented in the town by a German agricultural technician, Adolf Clauss.

The Germans got wind of the discovery and the local Abwehr agent with some difficulty was able to obtain the documents. The briefcase was carefully opened by the Germans and photographed, the papers returned and then given to the British by Spanish officials. The photographs were rushed to Berlin where it was evaluated by German intelligence.

Three days later, the Committee received a cable from the Naval Attaché of the news of the body's discovery. After handing over the body to the British Vice-Consul F K Hazeldene. The man known as Major Martin was buried with full military honours on May 4 in the Cemetery of Solitude in Huelva. As Mincemeat became legend the question persisted: what was the identity of the man known as Major William Martin?

It was only in 1996 that an amateur historian by the name of Roger Morgan uncovered evidence that "Martin" was a vagrant Welsh alcoholic named Glyndwr Michael who died of ingesting rat poison. The tombstone now bears Glyndwr Michael's real name, but he will be remembered as Major William Martin, who in death had saved thousands of lives and turned the tides of war.

Back to Jock Horsfall, who after the war in 1945 competed in a sprint organised by the Bristol Aeroplane Company Motor Sports Club (club membership being restricted to company employees). The 0.5 mile sprint was run on the taxiways at the north-eastern end of the Filton Airfield. Fastest time of the day for cars was set by Bob Gerard, ERA (68.5 mph), while the fastest motorcycle was Jock Horsfall on a 998 Vincent.

In 1946 the Aston known as "the Black Car" was converted to a Formula B car taking victory in the 1946 Belgian Grand Prix. It was then modified again in 1949 to sports specification.

In 1947 Aston Martin was in financial difficulties and was bought by David Brown, Chairman of the David Brown Corporation, Gordon Sutherland and designer Glaude Hill remained on the Board and by 1948 the Two-Litre was in production in 2/4 seater drop-head form. It was decided to enter one of the two-seaters in the Spa 24-hour sports car race that year and a single car was built with lightweight racing coachwork. In the hands of Jock and Leslie Johnson it won the race outright. It was the car's only race. It was then re-bodied as 'The Spa Replica' and shown at the 1948 Motor Show, but its high price found no buyers.

For the 1949 race, Paul Frère was to share "the Black Car" with Jock. But Jock elected to drive the entire 24 hours, finishing second to the Chinetti/Lucas Ferrari in the 2-litre class, and 4th overall, so Frère didn't get to drive.

On 20th August 1949 Jock was racing in the final of the BRDC International Trophy at the Silverstone Daily Express meeting in the ERA R11B 1.5 litre "Humphrey" when he was involved in a fatal accident.

"The Black Car" was kept by the family and was finally restored into it's original form finally to appear at the t John Horsfall in 1993. This car, although never a team car, has become one of the most famous Aston Martins ever built. The Aston Martin Owners Club commemorates his life with it's biggest race meeting of the year - The St John Horsfall Meeting.