Photograph of Rex in 'Forward From Kohima' by Robert King-Clark. ISBN 1873907117
(L to R) Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (Military Division); Military Cross; General Service Medal 1918-62 with clasp 'Palestine'; 1939-45 Star; Burma Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal; Korea Medal; United Nations Korea Medal; 1953 Coronation Medal
Robert, or 'Rex' as he was known, was born on the 27th November 1913 in Byfleet, Surrey. His father was called Alexander and his mother was Katherine Margaret Elizabeth Mainwairing. He had 2 older sisters called Elspeth and Jean and a younger brother called Cuthbert, or 'Cuffy'. The family were Scottish.
Before the First World War broke out in 1914 Alexander had been a stockbroker. He gave up this job to join the Army, and became a Captain in the Army Service Corps. He died on the 28th October 1918. Rex and his siblings lived in Byfleet with Katherine until she died on the 18th October 1927.
Rex was sent to St Wilfred's Preparatory School in Bexhill on Sea, Kent. He was there on the 31st May 1924 when it caught fire and burnt to the ground. He left this school in 1927 and was sent to Loretto School in Edinburgh. This was a boarding school, so Rex lived there during term time. At the beginning and end of each term he travelled to and from Loretto on the 'Flying Scotsman' train.
Rex had grown up very close to the Brooklands racing circuit, and racing cars and aeroplanes were to become 'two consistent interests - and at times passions - throughout my life'. As a teenager Rex used to sneak into Brooklands to watch drivers practising. By the time he was 18 he had bought a driving licence, and 'there being no driving test required in those days', he bought an Austin Seven in December 1932.
By this time Rex had joined the Army. He entered the Royal Military College at Sandhurst in September 1932 to train as an officer. In December 1933 Rex passed out of Sandhurst. On the 2nd February 1934 Rex became a Second Lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment.
Rex was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, based at Strensall near York. He was given command of 2 Platoon in A Company, and held this position for 3 years. This would be the longest time Rex spent in command of any unit during his career.
During 1935 Rex took up motor racing. He was able to fit in a great deal of practice and races around his military duties. He was also a keen sportsman, and played football, rugby, cricket and hockey for the battalion. In the autumn of 1935 Rex spent 3 months learning the sport of fencing.
After the end of this course Rex took 6 weeks leave and travelled around America. He visited New York; West Point Military Academy; Chicago, where he saw the boxer Joe Louis fight; Washington DC; Durham, North Carolina and Miami, before sailing from New York back to the UK on the 5th February 1936. This trip made a deep impact on 22 year old Rex.
Back with the 2nd Battalion Rex continued to lead his soldiers and to drive. During July he learned to fly at York airport, and bought a Miles Hawk Gypsy III soon afterwards. On the 31st August he flew this aircraft from York to Doncaster. His friend, Second Lieutenant Henry Frisby went with him. As Rex landed the aircraft stalled and crashed. Rex suffered a concussion and 'some facial injury', but Henry was killed. As Rex put it: 'The crash was entirely my fault...and that's really all I feel I can say about it, even...half a century on'.
After the accident Rex was told by the Air Ministry accident investigator that he was not to blame, and given 3 months sick leave. He spent the time taking part in races and touring Scotland, France and Italy with his friend and ex-fellow officer Jack Churchill. They spent most of their tour wearing kilts and at their overnight stops would often entertain the locals with bagpipe playing and highland dancing. He was promoted to Lieutenant on the 1st February 1937.
In early 1937 Rex was transferred to the 1st Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. They were based at Ismailia in Egypt, and he was given permission to fly himself out to join them. Rex bought a Miles Whitney Straight aeroplane and set off from York on the 4th March. He flew across the UK, France and Italy, before crossing the Mediterranean near Tunis and flying east to Cairo.
The 1st Battalion left Egypt in January 1938 and moved to Palestine. A rebellion had broken out amongst several of the Arab tribes living in this colony. The 1st Battalion was based in the area around the city of Acre. Their roles were to search for gangs of rebels, to patrol villages and the countryside and to guard important areas against attack.
At first Rex commanded 11 Platoon of C Company, just like he had in Egypt. The first half of the year was quite quiet. Rex was stationed at Mount Canaan and to pass the time he made a number of films. Some of these can be seen in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment. In June Rex was assigned to command a 'Special Night Squad'. This was formed by Rex and 11 other soldiers from the 1st Battalion. Their job was to train local Jewish settlers and then lead them on operations to seek out and destroy Arab fighters.
The Squads were extremely successful and on the 28th October Rex was awarded the Military Cross for 'gallant conduct in several engagements with armed bands since June 1938'. The 1st Battalion left Palestine in late September. They sailed to Singapore, but again Rex was allowed to fly. His route took him over the modern nations of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand and Malaya. He arrived in Singapore on the 21st October.
Rex spent 6 months in Singapore before he returned to the UK. He had applied for a secondment to the Royal Air Force. When he arrived in London in March 1939 Rex was told they 'had never heard of me'. In the end he was assigned to the 2nd Battalion in Aldershot until he could begin his secondment in October.
The outbreak of the Second World War changed these plans. Rex would serve with the 2nd Battalion 'for every day of the Second World War'. He began as commander of B Company, and sailed to France with them in late September. This period was known as the 'Phoney War' due to the large armies in the area, and the lack of fighting. During February Rex was able to meet the author P.G. Wodehouse at his home near Le Touquet.
The Germans invaded France and Belgium on the 10th May 1940. Despite the best efforts of British and French forces they were quickly overwhelmed and forced back to the Channel coast. Between the 27th May and the 4th June most of the British forces were evacuated from the town of Dunkirk.
The 2nd Battalion was reformed and reequipped over the next 2 years. They were sent to India in April 1942, and spent the next 2 years training there. During 1943 and 1944 the Japanese were advancing towards India, eventually entering the country. By March 1944 they were besieging the towns of Imphal and Kohima. The 2nd Battalion was ordered to move to the area and take part in attempts to relieve the British forces trapped there.
Rex commanded the 2nd Battalion during the Battle of Kohima, fought between the 4th April and the 22nd June. This was a decisive struggle that stopped the Japanese advance and relieved the forces at Kohima.
After the battle Rex became second in command again. He held this position as the 2nd Battalion re-trained and re-organised, then took part in the Allied advance into Burma. Rex took command again on the 2nd February 1945, and led the battalion for the rest of the war. They captured Mandalay during March and returned to India in late April. The war in Burma ended in July.
Cuffy had also served during the Second World War. He was a Pilot Officer in the RAF when he was shot down and killed on the night of the 18th June 1940.
Rex continued to command the 2nd Battalion until October. He was then sent to the Indian Staff College at Quetta. He was still there when India became independent during August 1947. By mid 1949 he had returned to the UK and was serving at the War Office in London as a staff officer. We don't know his exact job. Later that year Rex finally became a military Pilot. He then took command of a squadron of the Glider Pilot Regiment.
On the 16th January 1950 Rex married Jean Campbell in London. They had 2 children; Robert Campbell on the 28th October 1950 and Catherine Mainwairing on the 30th October 1952. Both children were born in Winchester, Hampshire. Shortly before Catherine was born Rex was sent to Korea to join the British forces there.
The Korean War had been underway since June 1950. Rex was first assigned to the headquarters of the British Forward Maintenance Area, and during the rest of 1952 lived in Seoul. In January 1953 he became Deputy Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster General to the 28th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade. In this job he was responsible for administration, discipline and coordinating the movements and supplies for the Brigade. His work was recognised on the 8th December 1953 when he was awarded the MBE.
In 1954 Rex returned to the UK and became second in command of the 1st Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. Rex and his family moved to West Berlin with the battalion later that year. On the 18th December 1955 they left the battalion for the last time and drove across Europe back to the UK.
Rex was again assigned to the War Office as a Staff Officer. He had a number of different jobs, but in his last position he played a key role in the formation of the Army Air Corps, which absorbed the Glider Pilot Regiment. He left the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel on the 19th September 1958.
Rex went to work for Calor Gas, and lived in Walton on the Hill in Surrey. In mid 1963 the family moved to Helensburgh in Dunbartonshire, Scotland. Rex retired from Calor Gas as an area manager in 1971. Later he and Jean moved to nearby Shandon.
Rex kept a close connection with the Manchester Regiment and his old comrades. He attended many reunions, and wrote a number of books about his time in the Army. He took great pleasure in flying his regimental flag whenever he had guests from the regiment. He had carried this flag with him at Kohima.
Rex died at the age of 94 on the 30th December 2007.