Charles, Viscount Portal

Beneath the Battle of Britain memorial window in Westminster Abbey are the names of six leaders of the RAF during the Second World War, unveiled in 1989. Among the names is that of Charles Frederick, Viscount Portal of Hungerford, Air Chief Marshal.

He was born on 21st May 1893 near Hungerford in Berkshire, son of Edward Portal and his second wife Ellinor (Hill). The family was originally of Huguenot descent, from the south of France. He was educated at Winchester and Oxford and during the 1914-1918 war became a dispatch rider and later joined the Royal Flying Corps as an observer. In 1915 he was nearly killed in a motorcycle accident at home. As a Flying Officer in 1916 he did outstanding service during the Somme offensive and was awarded the Military Cross. Later he commanded a squadron which excelled in night bombing. He became a Squadron Leader in the new Royal Air Force and an instructor after the war. He married Joan Welby and they had two daughters. In 1934 he was commander of the British forces in Aden. As Air Vice Marshal he organised defences around London prior to the 1939-45 war and without his preliminary work setting up airfields etc. the Battle of Britain victory may not have been possible. In 1940 he was appointed to Bomber Command, was knighted and became Chief of the Air Staff. After the war he worked at a highly secret atomic energy directorate. He died on 22nd April 1971 and his ashes are buried in Funtington churchyard near his home in Sussex. His daughter Rosemary inherited his barony as a special privilege. A memorial service was held at the Abbey in July 1971.

Portal has a statue on the Victoria Embankment in London.

Further reading

"Portal of Hungerford" by D. Richards, 1977

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004.

"Voices of the Battle of Britain" 2 DVDs and book


21st May 1893


22nd April 1971




Lady Chapel

Charles, Viscount Portal
Charles, Viscount Portal