Rex grew up in the countryside near Palmerston North. His father worked at a dairy factory and the family of four lived nearby at a house owned by the dairy company. He became a junior clerk with the Rongotea BNZ, near Palmerston North, in 1939 when he was 18 but enlisted in the Territorial’s shortly after.
He had always dreamed of being a pilot but his parents were unwilling to sign his application form to allow him to enter the Air Force. He seemed destined for infantry, but in 1942 he turned 21 and was able to apply without his parents approval. He was encamped at Paikakariki ready to embark as a soldier when he was accepted into the Royal Air Force NZ training crew.
He trained in Tiger Moths in Harewood and gained his wings in September 1943. In early 1944 he began flying MKV Spitfires while stationed at Sealand, near Chester.
It was while in England that he met his wife, Irene, at a dance hall. Irene says she would listen to Rex flying a Spitfire over the town while he was completing his night flying training.
The couple only had a couple of months to get to know each other before Rex was called away. He flew Hurricanes and Spitfires near Suez and Cairo, and then flew to India, before eventually being stationed with 273 Squadron in Burma, providing ground support to the British 14th Army.
“He was always grateful he was up in the air rather than going through the swamps below with a rifle,” Irene says.
The young couple were parted for two years but would write every day, although mail delays often meant they went weeks without hearing from each other, fearing the worst.
While in Burma, Rex wrote to Irene’s father, asking for permission to marry her. This was granted, but only if he promised pick her up from England at the end of the war. Irene was just 17-years-old.
In 1945, while stationed at Rangoon, he witnessed the formal surrender of the Japanese on September 4.
Before disbanding in January 1946, the squadron flew their Spitfires to Vietnam, where the French were embattled against the Viet Minh, in former French Indochina.
Due to the heat and poor rations, Rex weighed less than 50 kilograms when he left Burma. The g-forces caused by the sharp takeoff from a short runway in the jungle caused back problems that would plague him for the rest of his life.
Rex and Irene married in 1946, five days after Rex arrived in England. They sailed on the aging RMS Rangitiki to NZ, which took seven weeks after breaking down near the Panama Canal.
The newly-weds settled back in Palmerston North where Rex again started work as a bank clerk in Rongotea. In 1949 he was transferred to a BNZ in Rotorua to be able to use the thermal baths to alleviate his back pain.
While in Rotorua they had two children, Jocelyn and Ian.
In the coming years they lived in Taihape, Taranaki and Dargaville, and retired to Warkworth in 1980. In 2012 they moved into Summerset so Rex could be closer healthcare facilities. He passed away on May 30 and is survived by his wife, children, three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.