The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. J V Renvoize
James Verdun Renvoize, of Huguenot ancestry, was born on 15th March 1916 in North London. He
went to school in Palmers Green and his first job was in an
office in the City of London.
He applied to join the RAFVR in 1938 but was advised to take a six month course in mathematics and aircraft engineering at Chelsea Aeronautical College first. After completing the course he was enrolled on 4th May 1939 as an Airman u/t Pilot.
Renvoize commenced flying training at 13 E&RFTS White Waltham. Called up on 1st September 1939, he went to No. 1 ITW Cambridge in October 1939, moved to 10 EFTS Yatesbury on 5th December and then to 3 FTS South Cerney on 28th April 1940.
With his training completed, Renvoize was posted to 5 OTU Aston Down on 4th August where he converted to short-nose Blenheims. He joined the newly-reformed 247 Squadron at Roborough on 14th August to fly Gladiators in defence of the Devonport Naval Dockyard. The squadron began to receive Hurricanes in December 1940 and later began intruder raids over France.
Commissioned in October 1941, Renvoize was posted to 276 (ASR) Squadron at Warmwell on 10th February 1942 as 'A' Flight Commander. He was still with the squadron when it went to France in September 1944.
His obituary in the Times recorded:
Though he occasionally flew search sorties in a Defiant or Spitfire, Renvoize generally piloted a Walrus for the rescue phase, for which his great skills ideally fitted him.
Renvoize’s most extraordinary rescue took place when he set out in his Walrus to pick up a Spitfire pilot, Sgt. Wright, who had come down in the Channel 40 miles south of Bournemouth after being hit by flak over France. He arrived to be confronted by 15ft swells whose tops were 40 yards apart. On his first attempt to land, the aircraft bounced off one crest and was in danger of stalling from only 60ft. Renvoize went around again and this time, after three hard bounces, got the Walrus down without breaking anything.
After retrieving Wright, Renvoize realised it would be impossible to take off, and elected to taxi back to the nearest land, the Isle of Wight. Shortly afterwards a rescue launch appeared. But in the rough seas, and with Wright now only semi-conscious, Renvoize judged that a transfer attempt would be far too dangerous. Instead the launch made itself useful by going ahead of the Walrus, which was able to taxi in the smoother water created in its wake.
After four hours, Renvoize was able to deliver his charge to the safety of Yarmouth, Isle of Wight. He later recalled: “All the time we were expecting a flock of Me109s to arrive and blast us and the boat out of the water.” After recovering from his injuries, Sgt. Wright wrote a letter of heartfelt thanks to 276 Squadron, praising Renvoize’s skill.
Renvoize continued with 276 Squadron almost to the end of the war. Among his subsequent rescues were the crew of a Lancaster that had ditched off Bolt Head, south Devon. As he approached the still-floating bomber, a swell swept his Walrus onto the muzzles of the guns protruding from its forward turret, puncturing the hull of the aircraft. A hasty application of rags was necessary to stop the inrush of water which threatened to sink the Walrus. Thereafter the Lancaster’s crew were brought to safety.
During the Normandy landings Renvoize flew search and rescue sorties in support of the massive air effort which covered them. Then, as the Allied advance liberated the French and Belgian littoral, 276 Squadron went overseas and was based variously at St. Croix, Bruges, Ghent and Knocke.
At Knocke he was driving up to the airfield for dawn readiness when a large wave of Me109s startled him by roaring overhead. It was 1st January 1945, the day of the Luftwaffe’s last major offensive in the West.
Renvoize was demobilised as a flight lieutenant in January 1946 and returned to civilian life. He moved to Newquay in Cornwall, where he ran a photography and fishing tackle business. He was a good jazz pianist and a group of which he was a member became a fixture on the Cornish circuit.
He was posted away to 2 FIS Montrose on 7th February 1945 for an instructors course.
From 28th May Renvoize was at 7(P)AFU Peterborough, as assistant to the Wing Commander Flying.
He was released from the RAF in January 1946 as a Flight Lieutenant.
Postwar he ran a
photography and fishing tackle business in Newquay, Cornwall.
Renvoize died on 6th August 2004 aged 88 in Truro.