Every year, at least one fairytale story emerges from the Grand National. And, to be fair, the bigger stories tend to live long in the memories of fans around the world.

After all, who hasn’t heard of Red Rum or the fact that he was the last horse to win the race carrying top weight in 1977?

Or how about Aldaniti and his jockey Bob Champion, two underdogs who rallied to prove that while you may be down, you are never really out.

We have our major upsets like the Queen’s horse, Devon Loch, who in 1956, for reasons unknown, jumped in the air and landed on his stomach, ending his chances of a win.

But amongst all those famous wins and incidents is the story of Bogskar in the 1940 Grand National.

He was an underdog with a last-minute replacement jockey, and he made history.

Bogskar

Given that Bogskar’s win came over 80 years ago, little is known about his early life or pedigree.

It was a sign of the times that documentation of horses’ lineage in the 1940s was less widely documented than that of more recent Grand National runners and winners.

However, as he won the race, we can assume that his DNA combined stamina and jumping ability, qualities essential for the gruelling challenge posed by Aintree’s fences and distance.

But this isn’t simply about the horse or the 1940 Grand National. Bogskar holds a distinctive place in the history of the race for the broader context of the time, with World War II looming over the event.

Bogskar was an outsider with odds of 25/1. In fact we don’t even know who the race favourite was as records around the individual starting prices were never kept.

Trained by Lord Stalbridge and ridden by Sergeant Mervyn Jones, they teamed up for the 99th renewal of the race.

It was also the second-last Grand National to take place on a Friday, which had been the traditional day for the race at Aintree since 1876.

The win was huge at the time, but it also marked the end of the race for five years due to World War II.

Incidentally, while younger horses had enjoyed a decent spell in the race, Bogskar was the last 7-year-old to win the Grand National until Noble Yeats in 2022.

Royal Air Force Flight Sergeant Mervyn Jones

From the highs of winning the 1940 Grand National to the lows of heading to war, life post-Aintree couldn’t have been more different for Mervyn Jones.

Born on the 12th of May, 1919 Llanelli, Wales, he was the son of Herbert and Ann Jones.

Both Mervyn and his brother, William, went to school in Carmarthen and were serving in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve when they were given special leave to ride in the Grand National.

Mervyn was chosen to fill in for the injured Eric Foley and duly went on to win the race.

Following his epic win, Mervyn Jones continued in the RAF before being posted to 1 Photo Reconnaissance Unit (PRU), the first dedicated photo and aerial recon unit of the Royal Air Force of the Second World War, in September 1941.

Tragically, Jones’ career lasted just 11 missions, with his final one taking place on April 3rd, 1942.

While details of the flight are scarce, he was flying his Spitfire over Norway and is believed to have been shot down by a Luftwaffe fighter plane over the fjord between Frosta and Tømmerdalen in Leksvik.

He was spotted bailing out by parachute, falling into the fjord below. A launch was sent to pick him up, but sadly his remains were never recovered.

He was just 23 years old.

The National archives citation AIR81/13121 states: Flight Sergeant M A Jones: missing believed killed; Spitfire AA797, 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit; aircraft failed to return from an operational flight over Norway, 3 April 1942.

His brother, Flying Officer William Hywell Anthony Jones, who served in the 517 Squadron, also died in battle on November 14th, 1944. He was 29 years old.

Both brothers are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

1940 Grand National

The 1940 Grand National was so long ago that it is doubtful any living person remembers watching it.

For most us the story doesn’t go much further than the winning horse was 7 years old, a fact that was relayed for decades as a reason to avoid backing younger horses.

While it may have taken Noble Yeats 82 years to break the hoodoo, it is important that we dig a little deeper to learn about the people who made history.

Sometimes, their sacrifices are as much a part of the history of the race, long after the fans have gone home and Aintree has closed up shop for another day.

With that, we remember Flight Sergeant Mervyn Anthony Jones and his brother, Flying Officer William Hywell Anthony Jones, who gave their lives for their country.