Rex Kimlin is indeed a fortunate man.
The 92-year-old Amity icon has had an amazing life in the knowledge that he has had the ‘bonus’ of an additional 70 plus years.
You see, Rex Kimlin should probably have died in 1944 or 1945.
He was in a situation where his odds of survival were minimal - in fact the highest death rate of any fighting for the Allies in the tumultuous Second World War.
Rex Kimlin was a proud member of Bomber Command, the one area of the services that suffered more casualties than any other arm in all services of war.
Rex was a radio operator on board a famous Lancaster Bomber.
The average life expectancy of a bomber crew was approximately 6 missions.
More than 50 per cent of all bomber crew were killed, with a further 10 per cent surviving crashes and becoming prisoners of war in Germany. According to the records, 125,000 air crew were part of Bomber Command. More than 55,000 were killed.
Rex was fortunate to be part of a crew that survived a stunning 35 missions over occupied territory, mostly missions to Germany.
So rare was it for a crew to have such longevity, the Americans placed a 25 mission maximum on their crews, and celebrated their return with much fervour (see the movie Memphis Belle).
No such fanfare for an Australian in a mixed crew flying for Bomber Command and the RAF (many RAAF Australians were co-opted to the RAF in the war).
“We were just happy to have survived,” Rex remembers nearly 70 years later.
He admits the Second World War was different to just about any war.
“Servicemen and civilians living in Britain literally didn’t know from one day to the next whether we would be alive the next day.
“In Bomber Command it was worse.
“I had a strange war. Despite all the death that surrounded us, I never saw a dead person.
“I lost a lot of my mates.
“You would wake up the morning after a sortie and the bed next to you would be empty. We just had to get on with it,” Rex remembers.
Despite the constant fear and not knowing your fate at the end of each day, for many WW2 survivors that period of their lives was both the best and worst times of their lives.
“The time we landed to the end of our 35th flight to end our active part in the war, the relief was indescribable,” he told The Friendly Bay Islander.
The war was nearly over and Rex went on to become an instructor in those final months before Germany surrendered in April, 1945.
Along with many other Australians, he was returned to Australia and they waited to be brought into use in the war against Japan, but that also came to a prompt end with the dropping of the Atomic bombs.
Rex Kimlin’s ‘Great Adventure’ had come to an end.
At the time, Rex didn’t think it was such a ‘big thing’.
However, as time passed and so did the passing of his crew mates, Rex believed he should ‘do something about it’.
“My dad was in the first war and we knew practically nothing of his war service.
“I didn’t want it to be the same for my children, grand children and great grand children.”
The result was a personal account of his war years which has become a book ‘How Lucky I Was - 35 missions in a Lancaster Bomber’ which tells the story of his recruitment into the RAAF the day after Pearl Harbour was bombed in December 1941 as a fresh faced 18-year-old.
Rex wrote his first account in 1997 and it has been upgraded on a number of occasions since.
It was brought to our attention by Amity correspondent Gordon Dix.
Rex lives ‘just up the road’ in the cottage where his wife, Charmian, spent some of her childhood.
The cottage must have been one of the ‘originals’ at Amity, with Charm’s mother and grand mother growing up in the Kindara Street, Amity, address.
After the war, Rex returned to the PMG (Australia Post) to continue his career as a morse code telegraphist (which got him into Bomber Command in the first place as a radio and morse code operator).
He and Charm had four children, and he ended his working career as a supervisor with Australia Post.
In the 1960’s Rex tracked down the group of friends he first signed up with in December 1941 and they met every year until 2004, when the remainder of them had passed on.
Amazingly, Rex Kimlin is still with us 11 years on. He is literally The Last Man Standing.
He has his health issues, but his mind is as sharp as a tack and his devoted wife ‘Charm’ is still by his side.
If you would like to read his story, contact Gordon Dix at Seashells Amity.
• Rex Kimlin, aged 92, at his Amity cottage and his book.