The Airmen's Stories - F/O W W Straight
Whitney Willard Straight was born in New York on 6th November 1912, the son of Major Willard Straight, an Oriental expert. After her husband's death in 1918 Straight's mother, one of the wealthy Whitney family, married again and moved to England. There she and her husband founded the educational, artistic and agricultural community at Dartington Hall. Straight came to England in 1925 and, after education at Dartington Hall, went on to Trinity College, Cambridge where he took a Moral Sciences Tripos. At that time he flew his own aeroplane and was a well-known racing driver, with a black-and-silver Maserati.
In 1935 Straight married, became a British subject, gave up racing and settled down to business. He founded the Straight Corporation, which later took over Western Airways, then operating the highest frequency of flights of any airline in the world with 58 services a day.
Straight joined 601 Squadron, Auxiliary Air Force in early 1939 and was called to full-time service on 24th August that year. He sailed with a naval force to Norway on 15th April 1940, with the temporary rank of Squadron Leader. His job was to find frozen lakes from which aircraft could operate. After landing on the 17th, he found and organised the clearing of Lake Lesjaskog, SW of Trondheim, in time for 263 Squadron to arrive on the 24th.
The Germans bombed the lake on the 25th and destroyed most of the Gladiators. Straight was injured in the attack and evacuated to Britain by the Navy. He was temporarily deaf, because of this he was grounded and appointed ADC to the Duke of Kent.
On 28th August 1940 Straight went to HQ Flying Training Command on supernumerary flying duties. He regained his operational category and rejoined 601 Squadron at Exeter on 28th September and destroyed a He111 on 12th December. For his work in Norway Straight was awarded the MC (gazetted 1st January 1941). He was appointed a Flight Commander in early 1941 and destroyed a Me109 over the Channel on 2nd February.
Straight with his groundcrew at Exeter.
He was posted away on 23rd April to command 242 Squadron at Stapleford Tawney. Straight destroyed a Me110 on a night intruder operation over Merville airfield on 12th June, he shared a Me109 on a Blenheim escort to St. Omer on the 21st and probably destroyed two Me109's on 27th July. He was awarded the DFC (gazetted 8th August 1941).
During an attack on a destroyer at Fecamp on 31st July 1941 Straight was shot down by light flak. He made a forced-landing in a field, unsuccessfully tried to fire the aircraft and then fled on foot from the scene. He was prepared for a landing in enemy-occupied territory, with a special jacket, boots, money and a pistol. Straight slept in a barn and caught a train for Paris the next day.
He went to the American Embassy but it was closed, however he managed to obtain 12,000 francs from the caretaker. Straight crossed into Vichy France and was eventually imprisoned, posing as a British Army officer. He was interned until escaping on 22nd June 1942. With the help of the Resistance, he reached a beach near Perpignan, from where he was rowed out to a trawler, which took him and other fugitives to Gibraltar. He reached No. 1 Depot Uxbridge on 21st July 1942.
Straight was posted to the Middle East on 10th September as an Acting Air Commodore, going to HQ 216 Group as AOC. He returned to the UK in June 1945 and was appointed AOC 46 Group, Transport Command. He was released from the RAF in November 1945, as a Group Captain, retaining the rank of Air Commodore.
Straight was awarded the Norwegian War Cross (gazetted 18th December 1942), received a Mention in Despatches (gazetted 1st January 1943), was made a CBE (8th June 1944) and an Officer of the US Legion of Merit (15th March 1946).
Straight became Managing Director of BOAC in 1947. He died on 5th April 1979.
His portrait was made by both Cuthbert Orde (below left) and Sir William Rothenstein (below right).