Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (19 & 20 September 2013)
Date of Auction: 19th & 20th September 2013
Sold for £52,000
Estimate: £60,000 - £80,000
The unique and outstanding post-war C.B., 1939-40 bomber operations D.S.O. and Bar, Great War fighter ace’s M.C., D.F.C. and Bar group of fourteen awarded to Air Vice-Marshal W. E. “Bull” Staton, Royal Air Force, a giant of a man blessed with great presence and physical courage, who was thrice decorated for downing 25 enemy aircraft on the Western Front in a little over six months in 1918, a magnificent operational record made possible by his preference for point-blank attacks and only curtailed by a serious thigh wound - and an operational record swiftly matched as a Squadron C.O. in 1939-40, when he led by example and added a D.S.O. and Bar to his accolades, on one occasion spending an hour over the target area and bringing home a badly shot up Whitley, such deeds enacted in the name of accuracy that led to the eventual formation of the Path Finder Force: having then proved an uncooperative prisoner of the Japanese - who in retaliation removed his back teeth - the remarkable “Bull” Staton went on to captain the British Shooting Team in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, C.B. (Military) Companion’s neck badge, silver-gilt and enamel, in its Garrard & Co. case of issue; Distinguished Service Order, G.VI.R., 1st issue, with Second Award Bar, silver-gilt and enamel, the reverse of the suspension bar officially dated ‘1940’ and the reverse of the Bar officially dated ‘1940’; Military Cross, G.V.R., the reverse privately inscribed, ‘2nd Lt. W. E. Staton, 62nd Sqn. R.A.F., France, April 1918’; Distinguished Flying Cross, G.V.R., with Second Award Bar; British War and Victory Medals, M.I.D. oak leaf (Capt. W. E. Staton, R.A.F.); India General Service 1908-35, 2 clasps, Mahsud 1919-20, Waziristan 1919-21 (F./O. W. E. Staton, R.A.F.); 1939-45 Star; Air Crew Europe Star; Pacific Star; Defence and War Medals, M.I.D. oak leaf; Coronation 1953; Czech War Cross 1939-45, mounted as worn where applicable, contact marks on the earlier awards but otherwise generally very fine and better (14) £60000-80000
FootnoteC.B. London Gazette 1 January 1947.
D.S.O. London Gazette 20 February 1940.
Bar to D.S.O. London Gazette 7 June 1940. The original recommendation states:
‘Wing Commander Staton is recommended for this special award because of his outstanding gallantry in recent operations and of his continued leadership in the air. He led the attack on the oil depot at Bremen on the night of 17-18 May 1940. The target was very heavily defended and difficult to identify because of the exceptional number of searchlights. After one hour worrying and misleading the defences, he attacked in a dive coming down to 1000 feet to ensure hitting the target. His aircraft was hit by six shells, the last one breaking the aileron and part of the wing and compelling him, as damage continued in flight, to return to base across the North Sea at 90 m.p.h. Beyond this speed the aircraft became uncontrollable.
Wing Commander Staton organises and leads his squadron on all new tasks - Sylt, Oslo, Stavangar, the Ruhr and finally on 22-23 May in the Ardennes, where his aircraft was again hit.
His leadership and courage in the air and his magnificent work on his station is so constant that it could easily be taken for granted, but the effect is so valuable and inspiring that recognition should not be withheld because of past awards.’
M.C. London Gazette 22 June 1918:
‘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 a third down out of control. In addition, during the nine days previous to this, he had destroyed five enemy machines, two of these triplanes. The services which he has rendered have been exceptionally brilliant, and his skill and determination are deserving of the highest praise.’
D.F.C. London Gazette 21 September 1918:
‘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 fine example to his squadron.’
Bar to D.F.C. London Gazette 3 December 1918:
‘This officer had already been awarded the Military Cross and 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 other pilots of his squadron.’
William Ernest “Bull” Staton was born at Tutbury, Staffordshire, in August 1898, and was educated at Burton Guild Street School and the Burton Science School.
Enlisting in the 28th London Regiment, The Artists Rifles, when of sufficient age in 1916, he was commissioned as a Temporary 2nd Lieutenant on his appointment as a Cadet to the Royal Flying Corps in May 1917, in which capacity he attended No. 9 and No. 38 (Training) Squadrons, and qualified for his Aviator’s Certificate (No. 6675) at Upavon in late September.
Fighter ace - M.C., D.F.C. and Bar
Posted to France as a founder member of No. 62 Squadron in January 1918, he quickly established himself as an outstanding exponent of the Bristol Fighter, originally with the Australian, Lieutenant J. R. Gordon, as his Observer and gunner - the pair would notch up 15 victories together in the period March-June 1918.
But his first major combat was actually fought with Lieutenant Horace Merritt as his Observer, a tangle with some 30 enemy fighters south-east of Cambrai on 13 March, pilot and gunner opening their account with a Fokker Dr. I and Albatros DV destroyed. And with Gordon as gunner, another Fokker Dr. I and three further enemy aircraft followed suit before the month’s end - the last named all on the 26th. Shortly afterwards, recently installed fighter ace Staton was recommended for his M.C. and advanced to the acting rank of Captain.
And of subsequent exploits as a Flight Commander in the period April-July, the recommendation for his first D.F.C. states:
‘On 1 April 1918, when an enemy machine attacked Lieutenant H. C. M. Nangle of his formation, he dived on its tail, firing a long burst from 200 yards to 20 yards range. The enemy aircraft went down in a vertical nose dive, with engine full on, and omitting huge clouds of smoke. As his formation was still being attacked, he was unable to follow his victim right to the ground. This combat took place over Bouchoir.
On 3 May 1918, while on offensive patrol east of Armentieres, his formation engaged a formation of Albatros and Pfalz Scouts. He dived on one Pfalz, and zoomed up under its nose, firing a long burst at very close range. The enemy aircraft turned over on its back and dropped into a straight dive, ending in a spin, finally being observed by Captain Staton and his Observer, Lieutenant J. R. Gordon, M.C., to crash and burst into flames two miles south of Armentieres.
While rejoining his formation, he attacked an Albatros two-seater which was flying behind and below his formation. After a burst of 50 rounds from very close range, he turned to allow his Observer to get in a burst. The enemy aircraft went into a very flat spin, and crashed about one mile south-east of Ploegsteert Wood. This was confirmed by his Observer and also Captain G. E. Gibbons and Lieutenant S. A. W. Knight, M.C., of the same formation.
On 22 May 1918, while on offensive patrol over L’Aventie, he dived east and cut off an L.V.G. two-seater, which was obviously engaged on artillery observation work. He fired 100 rounds into him and the L.V.G. went down in a very steep spiral. He followed it down to 2000 feet, firing short bursts the whole of the time, and he and his Observer saw the machine crash just north of L’Aventie. Captain G. E. Gibbons and Lieutenant L. Campbell of the same formation, confirm having seen this enemy aircraft going down very low, absolutely out of control.
On 29 May 1918, over Aubigny, when two pilots of his formation were attacking an L.V.G. two-seater, he dived on to it, fired a very long burst at short range and then turned to allow his Observer to get in a burst, and the enemy aircraft fell completely out of control with engine full on. Confirmed by all formation.
On 30 May 1918, he dived on another L.V.G. near Cambrai, and cut it off. He fired two bursts of 50 rounds into it, the second burst at point-blank range. The enemy aircraft went down completely out of control, but Captain Staton was unable to see it crash, owing to the haze and the colour of the machine.
On 2 June 1918, just east of Albert, he saw a Fokker-Triplane attacking a British machine. He turned and dived on it, firing 150 rounds into it, finishing his burst at point blank range. The Fokker rolled on its back and went down in a series of side slips, and finished in a dive. It was seen by Captain Staton and his Observer to crash south of Pozieres. This is confirmed by Lieutenant T. H. Broadley and 2nd Lieutenant E. Dumville of the same offensive patrol.
On 5 June 1918, his formation was attacked by six Pfalz Scouts, four from the rear and two from the front. Seeing one flying close to him, and level, he turned, got slightly under it, and his Observer got a burst in at very close range, and the Pfalz put its nose down and shortly afterwards burst into flames.
He then immediately dived on the remaining enemy aircraft, turned again slightly below a second machine, and allowed his Observer to get in a good burst at 60 yards range. The Pfalz fell over on its back and went down in this manner for 2000 feet. It then went into a steep dive and was seen to crash near the cross-roads north-west of Douai.
On 8 June 1918, on an offensive patrol south-east of Douai, he observed three Pfalz Scouts at a much lower altitude, apparently quite unaware of the Bristols above them. He throttled back and glided to their level and slowly approached them from the rear, in the end making formation with them. As the leader of the enemy aircraft turned, the rear Pfalz crossed Captain Staton’s bow, and he fired two long bursts into it. A piece of the machine fell away and the enemy aircraft fell into clouds beneath.
On 8 July 1918, north-west of Carvin, his formation was flying over a formation of Sopwith Camels of No. 73 Squadron. During a general fight, he saw a Camel dive past him with a Fokker Triplane on its tail. He followed the Fokker and fired 150 rounds into it at point blank range. The enemy aircraft collapsed in the air and fell. This is confirmed by Lieutenant L. Campbell, Lieutenant J. W. Parsons, and Sergeant W. N. Holmes, M.M., of the same formation.
Captain Staton is an efficient Flight Commander and an excellent and enterprising Flight Leader. When leading his patrol, he has never missed an opportunity of attacking enemy aircraft, often when the enemy aircraft have been in very superior numbers.’
As might be imagined, his preference for the point blank attack, and his frequent rescue of fellow pilots, made Staton - or “Bull” as he was invariably known - a popular and legendary squadron figure. And he was no stranger to equally hair-raising activities in the Mess, one heated game leaving him with an impressive scar on his head.
In August, and having teamed up with a new gunner, Lieutenant Leslie Mitchell, Staton re-opened his account with a brace of enemy aircraft destroyed on the 12th, swiftly followed by a Fokker DVII over Bullecourt on the following day, and another of the same type over Pronville on the 24th.
But September would witness the end of his extraordinary combat career for, having added three more Fokker DVIIs and a Pfalz Scout to his tally, he was seriously wounded in the thigh by an explosive bullet, after engaging 30 Fokkers east of Cambrai on the 24th. He was invalided too U.K. via ambulance train and hospital ship, and saw no further action.
Duly recommended for a Bar to his D.F.C. after this final combat, his tally now stood at one shared captured, 15 and one shared destroyed, and nine shot down out of control.
Between the Wars
An excellent rifle and pistol shot, Staton was to represent the R.A.F. at Bisley and elsewhere on numerous occasions between the Wars, in which period his career continued apace. Thus spells of service in India and the Far East, in addition to appointments at Felixstowe and Calshot in the golden age of the Schneider Trophy. He also served as Adjutant to No. 501 (County of Gloucester) Squadron in the mid-1930s, when he was advanced to Squadron Leader.
But it was following his appointment as C.O. of No. 10 Squadron in June 1938 that he embarked on a second chapter of hectic operational service, though enjoying a memorable royal visit to Dishforth in the interim.
Bomber ace - D.S.O. and Bar
By the time of the renewal of hostilities in September 1939, Staton had turned 40, and was serving as Wing Commander, but he was quickly in action in the Squadron’s Whitleys.
Among the first to appreciate the importance of marking targets with flares, his arguments for higher standards of accuracy were among those that led to the establishment of the future Path Finder Force, and in that respect no-one could have set a better example of leadership, the above cited award of the Bar to his D.S.O. being a case in point - namely an extraordinary one hour spent over Bremen before the delivery of a low-level strike that resulted in severe flak damage to his Whitley, the fuselage being found riddled with shrapnel on its miraculous return to base.
He was recommended for his second D.S.O. a few days later and had, meanwhile, gained another nickname - “King Kong” - a sobriquet that reflected a larger than life character blessed with a great physical presence and endless courage. Indeed, as cited above, he ‘organised and led his squadron on all new tasks - Sylt, Oslo, Stavangar, the Ruhr and finally again on 22-23 May in the Ardennes, where his aircraft was again hit.’
He had, in the interim, participated in a number of other notable operations, winning the D.S.O. and a mention in despatches (London Gazette 20 February 1940 refers), among them one of the first reconnaissances of the War, over Kiel on 8 September 1939, and the first ever raid on Berlin on 1 October 1939.
Having ended his operational tour with a strike against Turin in June 1940, Staton assumed command of R.A.F. Leeming, and gained advancement to Temporary Group Captain that December, the same month in which he was appointed an A.D.C. to the King.
S.A.S.O. Singapore - P.O.W.
Next appointed Senior Air Staff Officer, H.Q. Far East, in July 1941, in the acting rank of Air Commodore, Staton was assigned to West Group, Java, in early 1942, in which capacity he was taken P.O.W. by the Japanese on 10 March, but not without his fair share of adventures in the interim - among them a flight to Palembang in a much damaged Hudson - it had 30 roughly patched shrapnel holes in the fuselage and one unserviceable self-sealing tank.
As observed by The Times, Staton ‘did not always prove the most cooperative of prisoners of war and the enemy in retaliation removed his [back] teeth’, and certainly it was one chapter of his career that he rarely re-visited, but he did, nonetheless, submit written evidence for prosecutors at a subsequent War Crimes Trial, following his repatriation at the War’s end - namely the trial of three Japanese officers who were accused of appalling brutality in P.O.W. camps in Formosa.
For his own part, Staton attributed his faith to his survival, and, at great risk, he carved a wooden Cross with an illegally made chisel. And the Cross followed him through his trials and tribulations, being used in Holy Communion and burial services, latterly under the auspices of the Rev. J. W. Bindeman of the A.I.F. As Staton later noted, some Japanese respected his faith and the Cross - but one or two of them, ‘the very lowest animal type of guard’, sometimes proved difficult on discovering the Cross among his meagre possessions. Both Cross and chisel today reside at St. Clement Danes in the Strand.
For his stoic and gallant conduct at the hands of the Japanese, during which he was moved sixteen times, from camp to camp in Batavia, Singapore, Japan, Formosa, the Gobi Desert and lastly from Mukden to Siam, Staton was mentioned in despatches (London Gazette 1 October 1946).
Crack shot - Olympic Captain 1948 and 1952
Post-war Staton served as A.O.C. No. 46 Group, in which capacity he was awarded the C.B., and as C.O. of the Central Bomber Establishment 1947-49, and finally, prior to his retirement in the rank of Air Vice-Marshal in 1952, as A.O.C. of Administration, Technical Training Command.
Moreover, his aforementioned career as a crack shot at Bisley and elsewhere led to his successive appointments as Captain of the British Olympics Shooting Team at the 1948 London and 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games, in which he added yet further awards to his long list of accolades.
Also a keen and skilled yachtsman, Staton was Commodore of the Emsworth Sailing Club in Hampshire, where he died in July 1983, aged 84 years.
There is an old R.A.F. adage, last used by this cataloguer in respect of Air Commodore A. M. “Father” Wray, D.S.O., M.C., D.F.C. and Bar, A.F.C., that ‘There are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old bold pilots’. In common with Wray, “Bull” Staton proved otherwise; see Dix Noonan Webb, 23 June 2005.
sold with the following related awards and badges:
(i) Helsinki Olympics 1952 Medal, silver-gilt and enamel, and related Commemorative Medal, bronze, in its card box of issue, both with related certificates of issue and the former with related forwarding letter from the Finnish Legation in London, dated 22 May 1953, together with Helsinki enamelled badge, with riband, and G.B. uniform pockets for the 1948 Olympics in addition to Helsinki Games.
(ii) A fine array of shooting prize medals (8), comprising: Royal Air Force Rifle Association Medal, bronze, the reverse inscribed ‘Won by F./Lt. W. E. Staton, M.C., D.F.C.’, and the edge ‘Rifle Championship, 2nd, Far East’, in its Toye & Co., London case of issue; Suffolk County Rifle Association, Rendlesham Cup Medal, silver, by W.J.D., the reverse inscribed ‘Class A, 1926, 1st, Flt. Lt. W. E. Staton’, in its case of issue; Malaya Command Revolver Championship Medal, 1932, bronze, the reverse inscribed ‘2nd, F./Lt. W. E. Staton’; Whitehead Challenge Cup Medal, silver, the obverse field inscribed ‘R.A.F. 1946’, and further inscribed on the edge ‘Air Commodore W. E. Staton’, in its Toye & Co., London case of issue; National Small Bore Rifle Association Medal for Pistol Individual Championship at Bisley, 1947, silver-gilt, the reverse inscribed ‘W. E. Staton, R.A.F.’; Stockholm Pistol Competition Medal, 1947, bronze, by Sporrong & Co., the reverse inscribed to four British team members, including ‘Air Comdr. W. E. Staton’, in its case of issue; Stockholm Centre Fire Pistol Competition Medal, silver-gilt, by S. & Co., the reverse inscribed ‘British Team Captain Air Comdr. W. E. Staton’, in its case of issue; and Union Internationale de Tir Jubilee Medal 1957, bronze, the reverse inscribed ‘W. E. Staton’, in its card Sporrong & Co. box.
(iii) Czech Pilot’s Badge, silver, silver-gilt, the reverse with maker’s name ‘V. Pistora, Paris, 1940’ and officially numbered ‘F194’, in its fitted case, together with related certificate of issue.
(iv) Polish Pilot’s Badge, silver, the reverse with maker’s name, ‘J. R. Gaunt & Co. Ltd., London’, with small chain for wearing, in a Spink & Son case, together with official forwarding letter from the A.O.C.-in-C. of the Polish Air Force.
(v) United States of America, Command Pilot’s Badge, by Meyer of New York, silver.
(vi) The recipient’s Great War period Artists Rifles cap badge.
sold with the following original documentation:
(i) The recipient’s C.B. warrant, dated 1 January 1947.
(ii) The recipient’s D.S.O. warrant, dated 20 February 1940, together with a copy of the Statutes of the Distinguished Service Order.
(iii) The recipient’s 1939-45 War mention in despatches certificates, dated 20 January 1940 and 1 October 1946.
(iv) The recipient’s Coronation Medal 1953 certificate.
(v) The recipient’s certificate of award for his Czech War Cross, together with a quantity of copied photographs and documentation, including his Flying Log Books, these now held in the archive of the Royal Air Force Museum, with other paperwork and photographs pertinent to the Air Vice-Marshal’s extraordinary career.