North Shore Times : January 29th 2013
Respected pilot: Group Captain Leonard Trent VC DFC born in Nelson who died at North Shore Hospital in 1986. Treasured photo: Ailsa Coutts, from Birkdale, with a photo of her late husband Andrew whose plane was shot down near Amsterdam. Lost but never forgotten Sad memories: Pilot Andrew Coutts' log book records his aircraft missing on an operation near Amsterdam. Aircraft missing When war widow Ailsa Coutts first took her grandchildren to see museum records about her hus- band it was another name that stood out for them. Pilot Andrew Coutts was killed over Amsterdam on a daring but unsuccessful World War II raid. His war story is among those recorded in the Auckland War Memorial Museum cenotaph database. But when Ailsa took her grandchildren to the museum it was nana's name recorded as the widow that stood out. They'd never known their grand- dad who died in 1943. Andrew signed up to be a pilot after telling wife Ailsa that he was not going to be a foot slogger and march and march''. His blunt phone message to the authorities caused confusion. They marched to the family home ready to arrest him thinking he wouldn't fight at all. Ailsa had to reassure them he meant he didn't want to be soldier and was already in the air force. Andrew died at just 27 during a secretive mission to Amsterdam. Before he flew off on the mission in 1943 he wrote Ailsa a special letter'' that she treasured. Andrew was recorded as a miss- ing person'' and his plane was never found. It wasn't until the 1950s that I gave up,'' Ailsa says. His name appears on the Runny- mede Memorial, Surrey, United Kingdom, and at Auckland War Memorial Museum in the World War 2 Hall of Memories. His 487 squadron comprised 12 Venturas of which 11 were lost. The raid is said to have shown the shortcomings of the planes and a switch was made to Mosquitos. Squadron Leader Leonard Trent, who was leading the bombers, reached the target but his bombs fell short, inflicting no damage on the power stations. The squadron leader was shot down and captured immediately afterward. Of the 48 bomber crew members who set out on the raid, 28 died and 12 were taken pris- oner. Leonard was born in Nelson and died at 71 years in North Shore Hospital after living for some years at Matheson Bay, north of Auck- land. He received the Victoria Cross and the London Gazette of March 1, 1946 records the following:- On 3 May 1943, Squadron Leader Trent was detailed to lead a formation of Ventura aircraft in a daylight attack on the power sta- tion at Amsterdam. This operation was intended to encourage the Dutch workmen in their resistance to enemy pressure and the target was known to be heavily defended. The importance of bombing it, regardless of enemy fighters or anti-aircraft fire, was strongly imp- ressed on the aircrews taking part in the operation.'' Before taking off Squadron Leader Trent told the deputy leader that he was going over the target whatever happened. All went well until the eleven Venturas and their fighter escort were nearing the Dutch Coast. Then one bomber was hit and had to turn back. Suddenly large numbers of enemy fighters appeared. Our escorting fighters were hotly engaged and lost touch with the bombing force. The Venturas closed up for mutual protection and commenced their run up to the target. Unfor- tunately the fighters detailed to support them over the target had reached the area too early and had been recalled.'' Soon the bombers were attacked. They were at the mercy of 15 to 20 Messerschmitts which dived on them incessantly. Within four minutes six Venturas were destroyed. Squadron Leader Trent continued on his course with the remaining three aircraft, and in a short time two more Venturas went down in flames. Heedless of the murderous attacks and of the heavy anti- aircraft fire which was now encoun- tered, Squadron Leader Trent com- pleted an accurate bombing run, and even shot down a Messer- schmitt at point blank range. Drop- ping his bombs in the target area he turned away. The aircraft fol- lowing him was shot down on rea- ching the target. Immediately afterwards his own aircraft was hit and went into a spin and broke up. Squadron Leader Trent and his navigator were thrown clear and became prisoners of war. The two other members of the crew died. On this, his 24th sortie, Squad- ron Leader Trent showed outstand- ing leadership. Such was the trust placed in this gallant officer that the other pilots followed him unwaveringly. His cool unflinching courage and devotion to duty in the face of over- whelming odds rank with the fine examples of these virtues. Leonard was captured on May 3, 1943 and spent 730 days at pris- oner of war camp Stalag Luft III, in Sagan, Germany. He took part in the mass pris- oner escape from Stalag Luft III camp by tunnel on the night of March 24-25, 1944 (The Great Escape) but was recaptured. Leonard was liberated on May 2, 1945 by the British. He retired from the Royal Air Force in June 1965 after service that included being posted as the British air attache in Washington.
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