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Air Commodore W W Straight (90680)


Whitney Willard             b: 6 Nov 1912                                                               d: 5 Apr 1979

CBE - 8 Jun 1944, MC - 1 Jan 1941, DFC -8 Aug 1941, MiD - 1 Jan 1943, NWC - 18 Dec 1942, LoM (O) - 15 Mar 1946, FRSA, FRGS.

For a list of foreign decoration abbreviations, click here

(AuxAF): Act Plt Off:  9 Mar 1939, Plt Off: 27 Jul 1939, Fg Off: 3 Sep 1940, Act Flt Lt: 25 Jan 1941?, Act Sqn Ldr: 12 Apr 1941?, Flt Lt (WS): 25 Jun 1941, Act A/Cdre: 10 Sep 1942, Gp Capt (WS): 10 Mar 1943.   

 9 Mar 1939:           Pilot, No 601 (County of London) Sqn AAF.

xx xxx 1940:            Air Liaison Officer to Norwegian High Command.

xx xxx 1940:            PA to HRH Duke of Kent.

25 Jan 1941:            Flight Commander, No 601 (County of London) Sqn AAF.

12 Apr 1941            Officer Commanding, No 242 Sqn.

31 Aug 1941:           Evading capture in France.

10 Sep 1942:           AOC, No 216 Group.

xx xxx 1945:            AOC, No 46 Group.

Born into a wealthy American family, his father died in Paris whilst on war service and following his mother's re-marriage in 1926 he moved with her and her husband to Dartington Hall near Totnes in Devon where they set up an experimental community.  Having soloed at sixteen, he gained his private pilot's licence in 1929 and two years later entered Trinity College, Cambridge.   He also began motor racing in the same year and continued to race throughout his studies at Cambridge, keeping a Puss Moth at Marshall's airfield in order that he could fly down to Brooklands for races.  Completing his studies he set up his own motor racing team making something of a name for himself as a professional racing driver, winning a number of international races and setting a number of world speed records.  However, he gave up his racing career in 1935 in order to establish himself in the field of civil aviation.  He set up a number of companies including the Straight Corporation.  Amongst other things the Straight Corporation set up and ran Exeter Airport.  In 1936, Miles Aircraft began building the Miles Whitney Straight two-seater, which he had designed, also becoming a British citizen in the same year.  By 1938, he operated 40 aircraft and employed over 160 people on eight aerodromes and ran a number of flying schools.

Joining No 601 (County of London) Squadron of the Auxiliary Air Force in 1939, he was called up on the outbreak of war joining Fighter Command.  However, his obvious experience in establishing airfields was put to use in 1940 when he was sent to Norway in order to find suitable sites for landing grounds.  Unfortunately the scale and pace of the German advance prevented the occupation or development of those found suitable.  He was however, awarded the MC for his work in Norway, especially his efforts in mobilising the local populace to clear snow  from frozen lakes thereby allowing their use as make shift airfields.  Seriously wounded in Norway, he recovered and became Personal assistant to the Duke of Kent until fit enough to rejoin 601, being credited with four victories during the Battle of Britain.  Shot down over France in 1941, he managed to evade capture initially making his way into Vichy France where he was arrested, interned, escaped and repatriated to Britain during Operation Bluebottle I on 14 July 1942.

In the Middle East it had become obvious that air transport was a resource of increasing necessity and the decision had been taken to establish a group in the area to be solely responsible for all air transport requirements.  Initially under the command of  Group Capt B H C Russell, it was felt that someone with a wealth of experience in air transport would be better qualified to fill the position.  So it was that he was chosen to command this unit, No 216 (Transport) Group and as an Act Squadron Leader, being promoted to Air Commodore.  The organisation he developed proved so good that the following year when the decision to form Transport Command was made, the organisation of 216 was used as the pattern for that adopted throughout the whole command.  By 1945, he had returned to Europe and taken command of No 46 Group which was attached to the British Air Forces of Occupation.

Returning to 'Civvie street' in 1945, he re-established himself in the civilian aviation world being appointed to a number of position in the subsequent years including, BEA (Deputy Chairman - 1946 - 47), BOAC (Managing Director 1947 - 49, Deputy Chairman 1949 - 55 and 1957 - 71, Executive Vice-Chairman 1956 - 57, Chairman 1971 - 76), Rolls-Royce (Executive Vice-Chairman), Midland Bank and the Post Office Corporation (1969 - 74).  He was also a member of many professional organisations, both aviation and business oriented, such as the Air Registration Board (1939 - 42 and 1947 - 54), British Light Aircraft Centre (Chairman 1946 - 51, Vice-President 1951 - 68), Royal Aero Club, Institute of Navigation, RAFA, BALPA and RSPB to name but a few.

Citation for the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.

"Acting Squadron Leader Whitney Willard STRAIGHT, M.C. (90680), Auxiliary Air Force, No. 242 Squadron (missing).

This officer has participated in many engagements against the enemy throughout which he has displayed excellent qualities of leadership and zeal.  He has destroyed at least three enemy aircraft, one of which he shot down at night."

 (London Gazette 8 August 1941)

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