William Ernest Staton

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William Ernest Staton
Nickname(s) Bull, King Kong
Born (1898-08-27)27 August 1898
Burton Upon Trent, Derbyshire, England
Died 22 July 1983(1983-07-22) (aged 84)
Emsworth, Hampshire, England
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army (1917 – 1918)
 Royal Air Force (1918 – 1952)
Rank Air Vice-Marshal
Unit Artists Rifles
62 Squadron
20 Squadron
205 Squadron
501 Squadron
76 Squadron
Commands held 10 Squadron
RAF Leeming
46 (Transport) Group
Central Bomber Establishment at RAF Marham.
Awards Companion of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order & Bar
Military Cross
Distinguished Flying Cross & Bar
Mentioned in Despatches (2)
Other work ADC to the King, Olympics participant

Air Vice-Marshal William Ernest Staton CB, DSO & Bar, MC, DFC & Bar (27 August 1898 – 22 July 1983) was a British airman who began his career as a First World War flying ace credited with 26 victories. He was transferred to the Royal Air Force on its creation and remained in the RAF during the inter-war years. During the Second World War he served in England and pioneering the bombing technique of using pathfinders to mark targets. He then served in the Far East before becoming a Japanese prisoner of war. After the war he returned to Great Britain and the RAF where he reached air rank and captaining the British Olympic Shooting Team.[1][2]

Early Service[edit]

William Ernest Staton began military service as a soldier in the Artists Rifles,[1] a volunteer battalion popular with graduates of Britain's public schools and universities. About two thirds of the 15,000 men who passed through the battalion in World War I became officers somewhere in the British military.[3] Staton passed from the ranks of the Artists Rifles to a cadet's position in the Royal Flying Corps. He had been commissioned a Temporary Second Lieutenant in the Artists Rifles on 4 May 1917. He became a Flying Officer with effective rank of Second Lieutenant[4] on 21 September 1917. Staton was posted to No. 62 Squadron at the end of flying training early in 1918.[1]

Aerial service in World War I[edit]

On 13 March 1918, 12 Bristol F.2B two-seated fighters of 62 Squadron inadvertently engaged at least 30 German fighters southeast of Cambrai, France. Staton was piloting one of the Bristols with Lieutenant Horace E. Merritt as his observer, and he claimed his first two aerial victories.[5] He then flamed a Fokker Dr.I on 21 March and scored a triple triumph on 26 March to become an ace.[2]

He was commissioned as a Temporary Lieutenant on 1 April[1] on the same day the Royal Flying Corps was incorporated into the Royal Air Force. After scoring two victories in April and a double on 3 May, he was promoted to Temporary Captain and appointed a flight leader with the squadron.[1] By the time he was awarded the Military Cross on 22 June 1918 he had 17 claims to his credit. Fifteen of these wins were shared with observer/gunner Lieutenant John Rutherford Gordon making Gordon an ace in his own right.

Staton eventually claimed a total of 26, the final score coming on 24 September 1918. Eight of his last nine victories came with Lieutenant Leslie Mitchell as Observer/gunner. In all, Staton had four observers fly with him, and all four became aces, though Merritt and Sergeant William Norman Holmes scored most of their victories with other pilots.

Staton's final victory roll comprised (in conjunction with his gunners) two enemy fighters shot down in flames, fourteen more enemy aircraft destroyed, a Pfalz D.XII captured, and an additional nine enemy planes 'out of control'.[6]

Staton had received a Distinguished Flying Cross on 21 September 1918; a Bar in lieu of a second award would eventually follow, after the war's end, on 3 December.[2]

Staton was wounded in the leg by an explosive bullet during combat east of Cambrai on 24 September 1918. Recovering from this wound, he sat out the rest of the war.[5] He also had a scarred head from a wound inflicted at an officers' mess party and the nickname of "Bull".[1]

Service between the wars[edit]

Staton remained in the Royal Air Force after the war with a permanent commission as a lieutenant on 1 August 1919.[1] He married Norah Carina Workman on 15 November 1919.[7]

On 12 January 1920, he was posted to pilot's duties with 20 Squadron. On 30 April 1922 he was posted as a supernumerary because of illness and by 16 September 1922 he had recuperated enough to be posted back to flight status.

He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant[1] on 1 January 1925.

In May 1927 Staton was assigned to staff duty at RAF Calshot in England. In March 1928 he became an instructor.

In January 1931 Staton was serving with No. 205 Squadron. In February 1934 he was posted to the Royal Air Force Depot. Later in 1934 he was assigned as Adjutant and Qualified Flight Instructor to 501 (County of Gloucester) Squadron, Auxiliary Air Force.

Staton was promoted to Squadron Leader[1] in February 1935. On 15 February, he was assigned to Personnel Staff, Headquarters Inland Area. Later that year he became Chief Flight Instructor, Number 3 FTS (Fighter Training Squadron).

In May 1938 he was posted to fly bombers with 76 Squadron and in June took command of 10 Squadron. His size prompted the new nickname of "King Kong".

In July 1938 he was promoted to Wing Commander.[1]

Service during World War II[edit]

Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939.[8]

In February 1940, Staton was awarded a Distinguished Service Order.[1] The DSO is customarily awarded for meritorious or distinguished service in combat.[9] He is known to have flown on bombing raids during this time and been disappointed by the inaccuracy he observed. He attempted to rectify the situation by use of flares for target marking. He also suggested forming a unit dedicated to marking targets; though he would not see it, this suggestion would eventually lead to formation of the Pathfinder Force, later raised as Number 8 Group Bomber Command.

In July 1940 he was appointed to command of Royal Air Force Base Leeming. In December 1940 he was promoted to Temporary Group Captain,[1] and to the position of Aide de Camp to the King.

His next assignment was as Senior Air Staff Officer, Headquarters Royal Air Force Far East, in July 1941, being promoted in January 1942 to Acting Air Commodore,[1] and in February was assigned as Senior Air Staff Officer, Westgroup, Java. On 10 March 1942 he was captured by the Japanese.

Staton would spend the remainder of the war as a prisoner of the Japanese, and would undergo torture for refusing to disclose information to them. To punish him for his holding out against questioning, Japanese interrogators removed his teeth.[1]

Service following World War II[edit]

On 1 November 1945 Staton was appointed to command of Number 46 (Transport) Group. On 1 January 1946, Staton was permanently promoted to Group Captain with a concurrent rank of Temporary Air Commodore, confirmed on 1 July 1947.

In 1947 he was appointed as Commandant, Central Bomber Establishment, at RAF Marham. In the same year, he also became Chairman of the Royal Air Force Small Arms Association; he would continue in this capacity until 1952. In 1948 he was made Captain of the British Olympic Shooting Team.

On 5 April 1949 he was appointed Air Officer in charge of Administration, Headquarters Technical Training Command, with a promotion to Acting Air Vice Marshal, made permanent on 1 July 1950.

In 1952 he was again Captain of the British Olympic Shooting Team. In November 1952 he retired on the grounds of facilitating promotions among his junior officers.

William Ernest Staton died on 22 July 1983 just before his 95th birthday.[1]

Decorations and honours[edit]

Military Cross[edit]

Citation for the Military Cross (MC):

"T./2nd Lt. William Ernest Staton, Gen. List and R.F.C.

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. On one occasion, when on offensive patrol, he, by the skilful handling of his machine and accurate shooting destroyed two enemy aeroplanes and brought down a third out of control. In addition, during the nine days previous to this, he had destroyed five other enemy machines, two of these being triplanes. The services which he has rendered have been exceptionally brilliant, and his skill and determination are deserving of the highest praise."

Supplement to the London Gazette, 22 June 1918 (30761/7423)

Distinguished Flying Cross[edit]

Citation for the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC):

"Lieut. (T./Capt.) William Ernest Staton, M.C.

This officer has already been awarded the Military Cross for gallantry and devotion to duty. Since this award he has accounted for eleven enemy aeroplanes—nine destroyed and two shot down out of control. He has proved himself a most efficient flight commander and an enterprising leader, setting a very fine example to his squadron."

Supplement to the London Gazette, 21 September 1918 (30913/11255)

Distinguished Flying Cross Bar[edit]

"Lieut. (A./Capt.) William Ernest Staton, M.C., D.F.C. (FRANCE)

This officer has already been awarded the Military Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Since his last award he has destroyed five enemy machines and driven down one out of control. His example of courage and resource is a fine incentive to the other pilots of his squadron."

Supplement to the London Gazette, 3 December 1918 (31046/14317)

Distinguished Service Order and Bar[edit]

Though his award citation for the Distinguished Service Order on 20 February 1940 has not been located, the following award citation for the Bar in lieu of a second award proves he did receive the original DSO:

Citation for the award of the Bar to the Distinguished Service Order "Wing Commander William Ernest STATON, D.S.O., M.C., D.F.C. (04225).

This officer has continued to display outstanding gallantry and leadership in recent air operations. One night in May, 1940, he led an attack on the oil depot at Bremen. The target was very heavily defended and difficult to identify owing to the exceptional number of searchlights but, after worrying and misleading the defences for an hour, he dived and attacked from 1,000 feet to ensure hitting the target. His aircraft was hit by six shells, the last one of which did considerable damage but he succeeded in reaching his home base. Wing Commander Staton organises and leads his squadron on all new tasks with constant courage and his work on his station is magnificent.."

London Gazette – 7 Jun 1940

Inline citations[edit]