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VANRENEN, Henry Poleman DFC (1913-1988)

VANRENEN, Henry Poleman DFC (1913-1988)

Grazier, Henry Poleman Vanrenen distuinguished himself as a transport pilot during World War II.

He was the eldest son of Henry Baumgard Vanrenen and Winifred Alexandra nee Sutherland, of Avoca Forest and was born in Melbourne on 25 December, 1913. He first attended Avoca Forest State School and then his mother enrolled him at Geelong College where he studied as a boarder from 10 February, 1926 to December, 1929.

'Harry' Vanrenen at Keevil 4 June, 1944 (AWM UK 1393)

'Harry' Vanrenen at Keevil
4 June, 1944 (AWM UK 1393)

He enlisted in the RAAF as a Flying Officer (409258) on 20 July, 1941 eventually being promoted to Flight Lieutenant. Pegasus of June, 1943 reported: ‘Flying Officer Henry P Vanrenen has recovered from burns sustained when he 'belly-landed' a Wellington bomber in England last June. He was first Mentioned in Despatches and then awarded the Distuinguished Flying Cross (DFC) while serving with 196 Squadron: ...for his part in the invasion of Europe. After a period of flying supplies to the French Maquis he was among the first aircraft carrying troops over Normandy on 'D Day'. Later at the British crossing of the Rhine, he had released a glider and was turning for home when a shell exploded inside the plane, injured three of the crew, and wrecked two engines on one side. F/L Vanrenen, himself wounded, got the plane across the Rhine and successfully landed behind British lines.'

John Herington in Air Power over Europe 1944-1945, mentioned this flight on D Day: 'Eisenhower personally watched the operation from observation posts west of the Rhine and admired 'the courage of transport pilots flying relatively slow aircraft steadily along their allotted routes in spite of heavy flak barrages'. Surprisingly, only seven tugs and ten gliders were shot down but thirty-two transports and nearly 300 gliders were damaged in some degree. F/L Vanrenen of No.196 Squadron was one who arrived after German gunners had recovered from their initial surprise. His aircraft was badly hit over the landing zone, two of his four engines failed, and he, his navigator and his wireless operator were all wounded. Undaunted, Vanrenen struggled back across the Rhine where he had a masterly forced landing in friendly territory and refused any assistance himself until his wounded comrades had received medical treatment.

The brilliant results of 'Operation Varsity' reflected the very great strides made since June, 1944 in the planning and execution of airborne landings, but this success, in helping to breach the last formidable enemy defences in the west, brought a virtual end to the requirement for such operations. RAAF aircrew did participate in two subsequent planned mass transport flights, but their importance was minor.'

Henry Vanrenen was discharged on 21 January, 1946. The portrait of F/L H P Vanrenen was taken at an Allied Expeditionary Air Force glider-towing squadron, at Keevil. He died on 27 September, 1988 in Hamilton, and is buried in the Glenthompson Cemetery.

His three brothers, Adrian Deneys Vanrenen (1915-1968), (Dr Bertram Sutherland Vanrenen (1920-2014), and Donald Sutherland Vanrenen (1924-1992), all attended Geelong College as well.

See pages 653-4 for a letter from one of his crew giving insight into service under Henry Vanrenen's command and outlining his crew members' growing appreciation of him.

Sources: Based on an edited extract from Geelong Collegians at the Second World War compiled by James Affleck. pp527-528; pp653-654 (citing Pegasus; Australian War Memorial; National Archives; John Herington, Air Power over Europe 1944-1945; Vanrenen Family Recollections. Last updated 26 Aug, 2014.
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