Leonard Henry Trent
Squadron Leader Trent (left) with Wing Commander G. J. "Chopper" Grindell (centre) and Squadron Leader T. Turnbull (right) in 1943
|Born||14 April 1915|
Nelson, New Zealand
|Died||19 May 1986 (aged 71)|
Takapuna, New Zealand
|Service/||Royal Air Force|
|Years of service||1938–1965|
|Unit||No. 487 Squadron RNZAF|
|Commands held||No. 214 Squadron RAF|
|Battles/wars||Second World War Suez Crisis|
Distinguished Flying Cross
Group Captain Leonard Henry Trent, VC, DFC (14 April 1915 – 19 May 1986) was a New Zealand aviator, senior Royal Air Force officer, and recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
Trent was born in Nelson, New Zealand, on 14 April 1915, the son of a dentist. In 1919 the family moved to Takaka, where three years later, after taking a short ride in a Gipsy Moth aircraft, Trent became captivated by flying. He was educated at Nelson College and boarded at the school between 1928 and 1934.
After induction training at Taieri near Dunedin, Trent undertook Royal New Zealand Air Force flight training in Christchurch, gaining his wings in May 1938. A month later he sailed for Britain to join the Royal Air Force (RAF), and was granted a short-service commission in the rank of pilot officer on 23 August 1938.
In September 1939, following the outbreak of the Second World War, Trent went to France as part of No. 15 Squadron RAF, flying Fairey Battles on high-level photo-reconnaissance missions over enemy territory. The squadron returned to England in December to convert to the Bristol Blenheim IV. Trent was promoted to flying officer on 23 March 1940, and flew numerous combat missions after Germany invaded the Low Countries and France in May.
In July 1940 Trent received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his outstanding performance during the Battle of France. Posted as a training instructor, he married Ursula Elizabeth Woolhouse on 7 August 1940 at Holborn, London. He also test flew the Douglas DB-7 Boston, which he strongly recommended to the RAF. He was promoted to war-substantive flight lieutenant on 23 March 1941.
Trent returned to combat duties in March 1942 and was promoted to temporary squadron leader on 1 June. He had spent six months at Headquarters, No. 2 Group RAF, before assuming command of B Flight in No. 487 Squadron RNZAF, working up on the Lockheed Ventura for daylight raids, a task for which the type was manifestly inadequate. He flew many difficult raids on targets in the Low Countries during late 1942 and early 1943.
Trent was a 28-year-old squadron leader serving with No. 487 Squadron when he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
On 3 May 1943 the squadron was ordered on a Ramrod diversionary bombing attack on the power station in Amsterdam, (the code Ramrod meant a bomber raid escorted by fighters aimed at destruction of a specific target in daylight). No.s 118, 167 and 504 Squadrons of the Coltishall Wing were to escort the Venturas, and were to be met by further squadrons of No. 11 Group, Fighter Command over the Dutch coast. The Venturas were to cross the coast at sea level so as not to alert German radar, then climb.
The No. 11 Group Mk IXs flying Rodeo 212 ahead of the Venturas arrived early and crossed the coast high—being anxious to gain a height advantage—alerting the German defences. They ran low on fuel before the Venturas arrived and had to leave. The Luftwaffe scrambled some 70 fighters in four formations, with Focke-Wulf Fw 190s to deal with the escort and Messerschmitt Bf 109s the bombers.
The escort Wing Leader, Wing Commander Howard Blatchford, attempted to recall the bombers but they were soon hemmed in by fighters. Under constant attack by II Gruppe, Jagdgeschwader 1, No. 487 Squadron continued on to its target, the few surviving aircraft completing bombing runs before being shot down. The squadron was virtually wiped out. Trent shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109 with the forward machine guns of his plane. Immediately afterwards, his own aircraft (Ventura AJ209) was hit, went into a spin and broke up.
Trent and his navigator were thrown clear at 7,000 feet and became prisoners. Trent, whose leadership was instrumental in ensuring the bombing run was completed, was awarded the Victoria Cross. While in captivity, he was transferred to the reserve on 23 August 1943, and was transferred to the service of the Royal New Zealand Air Force on 1 June 1944.
Stalag Luft III
After his capture Trent was assigned to Stalag Luft III in Sagan, Germany (now Żagań, Poland). He participated in the "Great Escape" of 24 March 1944 although he was recaptured almost immediately. The Gestapo executed 50 recaptured prisoners, but Trent received solitary confinement because of his immediate surrender outside the camp.
Trent was liberated by British forces on 2 May 1945. He returned to England and promptly recommenced RAF service, learning that his last combat mission had earned him the Victoria Cross. Quiet and unassuming, Trent disliked the fuss the award caused, especially during his investiture at Buckingham Palace on 12 April 1946, being uncomfortable with the publicity.
Continuing in the RAF after the war, Trent received a permanent commission in the rank of flight lieutenant on 17 September 1947, and was promoted to the substantive rank of squadron leader on 1 July 1948. He trained in jets—having the dubious distinction of having to eject from both a de Havilland Vampire and a Gloster Meteor—and later commanded No. 214 Squadron RAF with the then new Vickers Valiant. Trent was promoted to wing commander on 1 July 1953, and saw further action during the Suez Crisis in 1956. He was promoted to the rank of group captain on 1 July 1959, and in the early 1960s served as air attaché in Washington, D.C. On 12 June 1962, Trent was appointed an air aide-de-camp to the Queen, his final posting before retiring from the RAF on 23 June 1965.
Following his retirement, Trent moved to Forrestdale, Western Australia, in 1965, with his wife, Ursula, and three children, and took a job with MacRobertson Miller Airlines. With his wife, he returned to New Zealand to live at Matheson Bay, north of Auckland, in 1977, dying on 19 May 1986 at North Shore Hospital. Trent's ashes were returned to Western Australia, where they were interred at Fremantle Cemetery alongside those of his daughter, Judith, who had died in 1983 at the age of 31.
- Hayward, Joel. "Trent, Leonard Henry". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 8 January 2011.
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- Catanzaro, Joseph (28–29 July 2012). "Hero at peace by Jood's side". The Weekend West.
- For Valour: The Air VCs by Chaz Bowyer (Grub Street. 1992)
- 2 Group RAF: A complete History 1936–45 by Chaz Bowyer (Faber & Faber 1974).
- https://web.archive.org/web/20091026220057/http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Park/7572/nzvcross.txt New Zealand Troops who have won the Victoria Cross] (brief biography details)