Rex Fendick thought his wartime experiences would make a good book.
The Saint John veteran served as an officer in charge of a machine gun platoon with a British unit from June of 1944 until the war’s end.
His son, Reg Fendick, said his father’s initial efforts had potential.
“In the mid-80s, he started to bang things out on his old Smith Corona typewriter,” Reg said in an interview from his home in Seattle, Wash.
“And I think he found it satisfying, but it wasn’t going to lead anywhere because [the physical quality] was so crude.”
Reg had some experience writing professionally, and he set out to help his dad.
“So I took what he had written — he sent me some proofs of it — and I transcribed it all into digital format. And I bought him a Macintosh and he set about to learn how to use it.”
The result was a self-published paperback memoir called A CANLOAN Officer.
It followed his wartime experience with the Middlesex Regiment. Rex joined the British regiment just after D-Day as what was called a reinforcement officer.
Many of the Commonwealth nations loaned officers to British units to replace those killed or wounded in battle.
His platoon provided covering fire for major assaults from Normandy through to the final attack into Germany.
“He wanted to do it from a very personal point of view, that of the common participant, rather than, you know, of a leader or somebody very prominent,” Reg said.
His father had lots of material to tell the story.
“I mean, Dad never threw anything away,” Reg said with a laugh.
“So he had all of his pictures from the war in photo albums and well-preserved. And he had the maps as well. He kept them and a whole bunch of other memorabilia from the war.”
Reg said his dad’s finished book was well-received. Friends and family bought copies and Rex distributed the book to libraries and museums.
It was even picked up by a publisher, but Reg said the company didn’t really understand what they had and it was poorly marketed, so it really didn’t do well.
It turns out that wasn’t the end of the story.
Enter Richard Fisher
“I was in contact with Rex while he was alive, back in the late 1990s,” Richard Fisher said in an interview from his home in Swindon, U.K.
Now the founder of the Vickers MG Collection and Research Association, Fisher was just 15 at the time and trying to learn more about his own grandfather’s wartime experience, so he reached out to Rex Fendick.
“I was put in touch with Rex as somebody to talk to, and we talked relatively frequently for a few years.”
Fisher says those conversations helped fill in details he otherwise wouldn’t have known about his grandfather’s experiences.
“So bear in mind, I was a teenager on the phone, you know, on the other side of the Atlantic, and we would have just this really open, genuine conversation about his experiences, lots of other stuff as well,” Fisher said.
“But, you know, such a helpful, lovely guy. He was just so genuinely free with his advice and with his, you know, with his memories, something that I wasn’t able to get from my own grandfather, disappointingly.”
It’s likely those conversations helped stoke his interest, and he began a collection of Vickers machine guns and related memorabilia.
And, as he discovered people with similar interests, it became a non-profit group dedicated to furthering this kind of research.
Fisher has made it part of that mission to bring attention to Rex’s memoirs among those who research and write about that history.
The book has been an important part of his personal library since the veteran gave him a copy in the early 2000s.
“Then and ever since, it’s been on the shelf and something that I’ve referred to quite frequently in my research about the Vickers machine gun,” Fisher said.
And it’s not just Fischer who feels that way. A PDF copy of the book has been making the rounds among history buffs online for years.
“It’s pretty unique. There aren’t any other platoon commander accounts of the machine gun battalions in modern war.”
Last fall, Fisher contacted Reg with the idea of reprinting his late father’s book.
He proposed a limited run of a spectacular hardcover edition, with high-resolution versions of the original photos and maps, aimed at academics and historians, both amateur and professional.
“Well, I was really pleased,” said Reg.
“Rich knew about the book. He knew about Dad … and he reckons that he could improve on it and improve on the marketing of it to people who would be genuinely interested.”
“So when he suggested that, I thought it was just an absolutely perfect fit for his organization and for Dad’s book.”
The two men have been working together ever since on what Fisher said will likely be an initial 200-300 unit run of the book, which will retail for around $45 to $50 plus shipping.
“We want researchers to be able to pick those up and use the stories that Rex told,” Fisher said,
“Very few researchers and authors have used what Rex wrote, and we certainly think that it should be more widely used.”
“It gives a great picture of leadership and sort of how British soldiers were led in the Second World War, but also, because of the Canadian perspective, you’ve got that really interesting relationship with his men that is somewhat different.”
“There weren’t the normal sort of class boundaries and stuff that we would expect,” Fisher said, reflecting on the British practice of drawing officers from the upper class.
“He has just a different perspective on how British soldiers were.”
Reg said he’s happy to see someone preserving the legacy of his father’s story of an everyday soldier, one that often doesn’t get attention.
And he’s certain his father would be happy, too.
“Dad knew Rich when Rich was a kid and was really keen on the whole Vickers machine gun experience. And he was very pleased that somebody was sort of taking up the mantle … as a serious topic. So he would be just absolutely delighted by what Richard’s done.”
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