Group Captain

Leonard Trent

Group Captain Leonard Trent, VC, DFC, who died in 1996 at his home in New Zealand, at the age of 71, won his Victoria Cross for unflinching courage during a daylight attack on an Amsterdam power station in 1943.

Leonard Henry Trent was born on April 14, 1915, at Nelson, New Zealand, and educated at Nelson College. He entered the Royal Air Force on a short service commission in August, 1935.

He arrived in England in 1938 and joined the RAF, transferring to the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a squadron leader in June, 1944.

lt was on May 3, 1943, that Trent, serving with 487 Squadron, RAF, was detailed to lead a formation of eleven Ventura aircraft in a daylight attack on a power station at Amsterdam. The operation was intended to encourage the Dutch workmen in their resistance to enemy pressure.

The target was known to be heavily defended but its importance was such that the orders were for the attack to be pressed home at all costs, regardless of enemy fighters or anti-aircraft fire. The cost was certainly high.

Before taking off Trent told the deputy leader that he was going over the target, whatever happened. All went well until the Venturas and their fighter escorts were nearing the Dutch coast when one bomber was hit and had to turn back. Large numbers of enemy fighters then suddenly appeared and hotly engaged the escorting fighters who then lost touch with the bombing force.

The Venturas closed up for mutual protection and began their run on the target. However, the fighters detailed to support them over the target had reached the area too early and had been recalled.

The bombers were then attacked by 15 to 20 Messerschmitts. Within minutes, six Venturas were destroyed, but Trent continued on his course with the three remaining aircraft.

Shortly aflerwards, two more Venturas went down in flames. Heedless of the murderous attacks and of the heavy anti-aircraft fire which was now encountered, Trent pressed on to complete an accurate bombing run, even managing to shoot down one of the German fighters.

Dropping his bombs in the target area, he turned away. But the aircrafl was hit, went into a spin, and broke up. Trent and his navigator were thrown clear and became prisoners of war. The other two crew members perished.

Trent had shown outstanding leadership on this his 24th sortie. Such was the trust placed in him that the other pilots followed him unwaveringly. His cool, unflinching courage and devotion to duty in the face of overwhelming odds rank with the finest examples of these virtues.

He spent two years in Stalag Lufl 111 and was later among the men who dug an escape tunnel only to be captured at the exit. In July, 1940, he had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Trent transferred back to the RAF in 1947 on a permanent commission and from 1948 to 1959 was attached to Training HQ No. 3 Group Mildenhall.

He commanded RAF Wittering from 1959 to 1962 and was then posted to the British defence staff in Washington as an assistant air attache, where he remained until his retirement from the RAF in 1965. During this time he was also Senior Air Staff Officer, Chief Intelligence Officer (RAF), and an ADC to the Queen.

Trent returned to his native New Zealand. There, he had the shell of a new house built for him and, with his own hands, turned it into an impressive home, creating a garden to equal its splendour. He was also a talented painter and an accomplished golfer.

He married. in 1940. Ursula Woolhouse and they had one son and two daughters.


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