John Worrall


John Worrall (9/4/1911 -14/1/1988)


Battle of Britain squadron leader who took part in some of the fiercest fighting in the summer of 1940.


Air Vice-Marshal John ‘The Baron’ Worrall CB, DFC was educated at Cranleigh between 1923 and 1929 and was one of the few who fought during the Battle of Britain in 1940.

After leaving Cranleigh he went to RAF Cranwell where he learned to fly Hawker Fury biplane fighters and then Hawker Demons. Shortly before the war he learned Chinese while in Peking, spending a spell as an intelligence officer with the Air Ministry before appointed to lead 32 Squadron in May 1940.  Within days he found himself in a Hurricane protecting retreating troops in northern France.   Closer to home later that summer, he fought during the Battle of Britain to protect his Biggin Hill base and other airfields of No.11 group.  At 29, he was older than most of his fellow pilots and earned two nicknames; ‘the Baron’, a tribute to the German Ace Baron von Richthofen, and ‘the Mandarin’, a reference to his fluency in Chinese.

One exchange between Worrall and a controller has gone down in folklore.

Controller: “Twenty-four bombers with 24 behind them.”

Worrall: “Got it.”

Controller: “Twenty more bombers and 20 fighters behind and above.”

Worrall: “All right.”

Controller: “Now 30 more bombers and a further 100 fighters following.”

Worrall: “Stop. No more information please. You’re frightening me terribly.”

On July 19, he led his squadron through the Dover anti-aircraft barrage to tackle Ju-87 dive bombers attacking the harbour. Next day, diving out of the sun, he led his Hurricanes through a heavy ME109 fighter escort to engage a mass of Stukas over a convoy ten miles out to sea.  Worrell himself was shot down in early August; although he managed to crash-land, his plane caught fire and was destroyed.  In mid August he stood down, his “splendid leadership”, to quote his  citation for a DFC, “reflected in the work of his squadron which had destroyed 43 enemy aircraft and possibly a further 22”.   He later spoke of the pressure pilots were under: “If you weren’t in the air you were plastered.”  He was appointed to Fighter Control at Biggin Hill.

He subsequently held several staff appointments in the Middle East and later commanded West Malling and then Kai Tek in Hong Kong, where his knowledge of Chinese came in useful. He retired from the RAF in 1963 as a Senior Air Staff Officer.