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 1944 until the end of the war.
His son, Reg Fendick, said his father’s initial efforts had potential.
“In the mid-’80s he started typing on his old Smith Corona typewriter,” Reg said in an interview from his home in Seattle, Washington.
“And I think he found that satisfying, but it wasn’t going anywhere because [the physical quality] was so rude.”
Reg had some professional writing experience, and he decided to help his father.
“So I took what he had written – he sent me proofs of it – and transcribed it all into digital format. And I bought him a Macintosh and he set about learning to utilize.”
The result was a self-published pocket memoir titled A CANLOAN officer.
This 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 Commonwealth countries loaned officers to British units to replace those killed or wounded in action.
His platoon provided covering fire for every major assault the regiment undertook, from Normandy to the final attack in Germany.
“He wanted to do it from a very personal perspective, of the common participant, rather than, you know, a leader or someone very important,” Reg said.
His father had plenty of material to tell the story.
“I mean, dad never threw anything away,” Reg said with a laugh.
“So he had all his photos from the war in photo albums and well preserved. And he also had the maps. He kept them and a whole bunch of other memorabilia from the war.”
Reg said his father’s finished book was well received. Friends and family bought copies, and Rex distributed the book to libraries and museums.
It even got 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.
Turns out that wasn’t the end of the story.
Between Richard Fisher
“I was in contact with Rex during his lifetime in the late 1990s,” Richard Fisher said in an interview from his home in Swindon, UK.
Now the founder of the Vickers MG Collection and Research Association, Fisher was only 15 at the time and was trying to learn more about his own grandfather’s wartime experience. So he contacted Rex Fendick.
“I was put in touch with Rex as someone to talk to, and we talked quite frequently for a few years.”
Fisher says those conversations helped provide details he otherwise wouldn’t have known about his grandfather’s experiences.
“So keep in mind that I was a teenager on the phone, you know, across the Atlantic, and we would just have this really open, genuine conversation about his experiences, and a lot of other things as well. “Fisher said. .
“But, you know, such a helpful, lovely guy. He was so genuinely free with his advice and with his, you know, with his memories, something that I couldn’t get from my own grandfather, that which is disappointing.”
It is likely that these conversations piqued his interest, and he began a collection of Vickers machine guns and related memorabilia.
And, as it discovered people with similar interests, it grew into a nonprofit group dedicated to advancing this type of research.
Fisher was part of this mission to draw attention to Rex’s memoir among those who research and write about this story.
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 off the shelf and something I referenced quite frequently in my research on the Vickers machine gun,” Fisher said.
And it’s not just Fischer who feels this. A PDF copy of the book has been circulating among online history buffs for years.
“It’s quite unique. There is no other platoon commander’s account of machine gun battalions in modern warfare.”
Last fall, Fisher approached Reg with the idea of reprinting his late father’s book.
He offered a limited run of a spectacular hardcover edition, with high-resolution versions of the original photos and maps, aimed at scholars and historians, amateurs and professionals.
“Well, I was really happy,” Reg said.
“Rich knew about the book. He knew about Dad…and he feels he could improve it and improve its marketing to people who would be really 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 a first run of 200-300 units of the book, which will cost around $45-50 plus shipping.
“We want researchers to be able to pick them up and use the stories that Rex told,” Fisher said,
“Very few researchers and authors have used what Rex wrote, and we certainly think it should be used more widely.”
“It gives a great picture of leadership and how British soldiers were led in World War II, but also, because of the Canadian perspective, you have this really interesting relationship with his men that is somewhat different.”
“There weren’t the normal kind of class limits and other things that we expected,” Fisher said, reflecting on the British practice of attracting upper-class officers.
“He just has a different perspective on how British soldiers were.”
Reg said he was happy to see someone preserving the legacy of his father’s story of an everyday soldier, a story that often doesn’t get attention.
And it is certain that his father would be happy too.
“Dad knew Rich when Rich was a kid and was really into the whole Vickers machine gun experience. what Richard finished.”