Yvonne Ethel Rentoul, nee Keon-Cohen, was born on 15 November 1908. She was dux of Presbyterian Ladies' College, Melbourne and a successful athlete. (Years later she became president of the PLC Old Collegians.)

During World War II Rentoul served in the Royal Australian Air Force (service number was 350085) and was awarded the War Service medal  and the Australian Service Medal. Her war-time service began in January 1942 when she attended WAAAF officers' training school at Methodist Ladies College, Melbourne. The Argus newspaper suggested she was part of a group of women selected for the course from outside the service. Section Officer Yvonne Rentoul was then posted to Townsville as Officer-in-Charge of WAAAF in early 1942, likely as soon as her training had been completed. In Townsville the establishment of the RAAF Headquarters, North-Eastern Area, created an urgent need for teleprinter operators and general clerks. Around 20 airwomen were posted to the base between October 1941 and February 1942. Rentoul was responsible for the establishment of WAAAF Barracks at St Anne's School (its pupils had been evacuated inland) and also the administration of the WAAAF in Townsville. She oversaw the conduct and well-being of hundreds of airwomen among the thousands of servicemen, many of whom had recently returned from forward areas (AWM: S461/17/9). She had to deal with tensions between Australian and American servicemen, and between service personnel and the civilian population.

In April 1942 Rentoul conducted a course for WAAAF recruits from Townsville, aiming primarily to provide 12 drivers for senior American officers. One of the main problems she encountered was the casual way American officers related to their drivers. It was difficult for her to maintain high standards of dress, behaviour and morale. By then Rentoul was responsible for 100-200 women, most of whom worked 24-hour shifts. She was also confronted with cases of dengue fever with only a temporary sick bay, no sick-quarter attendant, plague numbers of tropical cockroaches and shortages of uniforms and clothing. She also had no legal disciplinary code or conditions of service on which to base her administration of the WAAAF, and no specification of her duties (Rentoul, taped interview, 6 December 1984).

Her husband Alexander (Lex) Rentoul, whom she married in 1933, and who had managed the New Embassy Ballroom in Melbourne from 1934, served as a Squadron Leader during the war and was posted to the Air Ministry in London.

Rentoul was discharged at the RAAF Headquarters on 2 Dec 1945. After the war she became politically active in Sydney - for example she attended a women's protest against the nationalisation of the banks in September 1947. She was also an entrepreneur, and leased one of the large decorative pylons of Sydney Harbour Bridge, previously used as a 'fun parlour', to create a lookout for tourists, which she opened in 1948. The lookout included a diorama, a tribute to the Royal Australian Navy, a 'penthouse', a cafe and a shop. She also cared for an increasing number of cats living on-site. She maintained the lookout and its attractions for 22 years.

References

Thomson, J.A. (1992). 'The WAAAF in Wartime Australia', pp.151-152.

Taped Interview with Rentoul, 6 Dec. 1984.

1942 'SCHOOL FOR WAAAF OFFICERS', The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), 7 January, p. 5. , viewed 07 Apr 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article8226501.

1944 'The Jottings of a Lady About Town', Truth (Sydney, NSW : 1894 - 1954), 14 May, p. 24. , viewed 07 Apr 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article168764081.

1947 'Advertising', The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1931 - 1954), 24 September, p. 10. , viewed 07 Apr 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article248102547.

1954 'BOTTLENECK ...', The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1931 - 1954), 6 September, p. 26. , viewed 07 Apr 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article249055286.

1945 'Appeal for New PLC at Burwood', The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), 8 August, p. 10. , viewed 07 Apr 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article972527.

Lawson, V., 'Nine lives couldn't save them: the cats of the Harbour Bridge'. Sydney Morning Herald, 24 Jan 2020, https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/nine-lives-couldn-t-save-them-the-cats-of-the-harbour-bridge-20200116-p53s2n.html.

1933 'RENTOUL-KEON-COHEN WEDDING.', The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), 15 September, p. 7. , viewed 07 Apr 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11692681.

1933 'DANCING TIME: NEW YEAR PLANS', Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic. : 1885 - 1939), 28 December, p. 26. , viewed 07 Apr 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article147260505.

1953 'Roundabout with Suranne', Truth (Sydney, NSW : 1894 - 1954), 30 August, p. 17. , viewed 07 Apr 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article168109237.

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