Air Force Ace

Air Force Ace

A farmer’s son from Whiston who became a decorated pilot in World War 1 and a Squadron Leader in the RAF.

Walter Hunt Longton was born at Whiston Hall Farm, Whiston in September 1892. His parents were Walter Henry Longton, a farmer from Widnes, and Mary Anne Hunt whose family had been watchmakers in Farnworth. The family later moved to Derby Street, Prescot and he attended Prescot Grammar School and Cowley School, St Helens. Before World War 1 he worked as a tester with Allday and Onions Matchless Motorcycles of Small Heath, Birmingham and the Sunbeam Motor Car Company in Wolverhampton. In between times he raced motor cycles winning over 25 medals in various races as well as contesting the TT in the Isle of Man in 1913.
In August 1914 he enlisted as a Private in the Queen’s Own Worcestershire Regiment and was posted to Gallipoli on April 24th 1915. In July he was in Egypt where he saw the Pyramids while escorting Turkish prisoners of war to Cairo. Invalided home he took his Flying Certificate on a Hall Bi-plane at Hall School, Hendon on March 31st, 1916. On April 29th he was appointed temporary Second Lieutenant for duty with the Royal Flying Corps serving intially with 24 Squadron and then 85 Squadron. He was awarded the Air Force Cross on June 3rd 1918, an award for courage or devotion to duty but not in active operations against the enemy. This was in recognition of his work in developing training programmes and encouraging recruitment to the RFC. Photographs in the Archives of the Imperial War Museum in June 1918 show him with other officers of 85 Squadron at St Omer Airfield in northern France.
On September 3rd 1918 he married Lily Eleanor Miller in London. On November 2nd 1918 he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, a military decoration for those involved in active operations. He had led a formation of six machines to attack and bring down enemy scouts following a period of seven weeks in which he had brought down seven enemy machines, accomplishments described in the Supplement to the London Gazette as ‘a brilliant performance reflecting the greatest credit on this officer as a leader’. On February 8th 1919 he was awarded a Bar to the DFC for carrying out twelve reconnaissance trips which gathered valuable information and for his role in supporting ground troops by an attack on an enemy machine gun nest. This was followed by a second Bar on June 3rd 1919 in recognition of his distinguished service during the war.
On November 1st 1919 he received a permanent commission as Flight Lieutenant in the newly formed Royal Air Force. He was appointed to Air Staff Duties in April 1920 moving to the Directorate of Training at the Air Ministry in October 1922. On January 1st 1924 he was promoted to Squadron Leader and in July of that year to command 58 Squadron jointly with Squadron Leader Arthur Travers Harris (‘Bomber’ Harris) at Worthy Down. He remained there until October 1926 when he was appointed to the Flying School at Netheravon.
Throughout this time he continued to exercise his skills as a pilot through participation in Air Races organised by the Royal Aero Club and air pageants. In 1923 he tied for first place for the Daily Mail Light Aeroplane Prize at the Lympne Light Aircraft Trials and he won the Grosvenor Cup in 1924 with a Sopwith Camel and in 1926 with a Blackburn Bluebird. He was also a gifted exhibition pilot whose solo displays of trick flying became a standing feature of RAF pageants.
Walter Longton died in a flying accident during the Medium Power Handicap race at the Bournemouth Meeting at Ensbury Park on June 6th 1927. His obituary recalled his ‘unfailing cheeriness under all conditions, his good nature, his humour and his real solid knowledge (which) combined to make Walter Longton one of the best loved and valuable men in British Aviation’. He was buried with full military honours  at the church of St Mary, Upavon in the presence of 500 members of the RAF. A plaque inside the church reads ‘In memory of Squadron Leader Walter Hunt Longton, DFC AFC, Royal Air Force, killed in a flying accident at Bournemonth June 6th 1927. Erected by the officers and airmen of Netheravon and 58 Bombing Squadron, Worthy Down, in grateful remembrance’.

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