Rex, Charlie

Rex, Charlie

Charles Robert Richmond Rex, affectionally known as “Charlie” by most, passed away peacefully at about 0500 on Thursday 11 June, 2020.  He had been frail for many months due to a long illness.   

One of his sons, Ashley, flew in from Japan.  He and Charlie’s devoted dog Bonnie were in loving attendance over recent weeks.

Born in Hobart, Charlie attended Hutchins School, with which his family had a long history. His activities were athletics and swimming, and later rowing. He joined the Sea Cadets and in 1963 was judged to be the best Naval Cadet, and the following year he won selection to Jervis Bay.

Charlie entered the RAN College as a cadet Midshipman in 1964 aged 16. He graduated as a pilot from RAAF Pearce and in 1968 was posted to the RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam (2nd Flight) which was integrated into the 135th Assault Helicopter Company.  It operated in the Delta area of South Vietnam in the thick of the fighting. 

Sub Lieutenant Rex was awarded a Mention in Dispatches during this period.  His Citation mentions, inter alia, that he flew “…combat missions almost daily since his arrival in South Vietnam….has been quick to evacuate wounded from hostile Pick-Up Zones….under fire….even when a bullet narrowly missed his head after passing through the aircraft windshield….has remained calm..setting an admirable example for his men…”.

After returning from Vietnam, Charlie transferred to fixed wing aviation and completed No 4 Skyhawk OFS in December 1970. He completed a number of operational tours in HMAS Melbourne as a member of 805 Squadron, and was later appointed Senior Pilot of 724 Squadron. 

After being granted a Permanent Commission in 1982 and a posting to HMAS Leeuwin as a Divisional Officer, Charlie served as the commissioning Commanding Officer of Freemantle Class Patrol Boat HMAS Launceston (II), and later as the Executive Officer of HMAS Success. 

Charlie Rex in 2018 as guest speaker on Anzac Day at his old school, The Hutchins School, Hobart, unveiling an honor board for the school alumni who have died in war.

Commander Rex served as the Commanding Officer HMAS Penguin from 1992-94 before attending the Joint Services Staff College.  In his final period of service he oversaw the Navy’s transformation from mainframe computing to distributed computing, including the introduction of information networking in their ships and weapon systems. Charlie resigned from the Navy in 1995.

We have been advised that due to COVID-19 travel and quarantine restrictions and the fact that Charlie’s three sons are living/working overseas, a memorial is being planned, possibly in 2021, when domestic and international COVID-19 travel restrictions have been lifted. Condolence messages to the family may be sent to Ashley Rex here.

Charlie’s death represented a very sad and far too early demise of a popular and highly professional FAA Officer.  May he rest in peace. 


Note: If you wish to add a few recollections of your time with Charlie, you can use the Comment box below if you are a member of the Association, or the ‘Contact Us’ form at the foot of this page to save logging in.

Photo by Jock Connolly.

Comment (1)

  • Max Speedy

    Vale – Commander Charles Robert Richmond Rex, RAN.

    Charlie Rex seemed to be impressed that I could remember all his names: but if you are commissioned into the world named like that, it is memorable. He seemed to like the idea anyway.

    I first met Charlie while we were both on 723SQN in early 1968 in preparation for a year’s tour in Vietnam on the Royal Australian Navy Helicopter Flight Vietnam and to be integrated with the US Army’s 135th Assault Helicopter Company. We were part of the Second Contingent, arriving at Camp Blackhorse in the middle of nowhere in September, 1968, to be greeted by the huge smiling faces of the 1st Contingent who left us to it the next day. It took us a year to work out why the big grins.

    Charlie, like everyone who went to Vietnam, had to do his Peter Pilot co-pilot time. Depending on ability, it could take between 200 to 300 combat hours to achieve Aircraft Captain status. Charlie became a captain in quick time and in his turn, mentored many American Warrant Officer pilots fresh from flight school, Fort Rucker, Alabama, into the rigours of combat flying. While for the most part it was unending formation flying, Charlie, like the rest of the Australians, quickly became Flight Leader either at the head of the trailing second “V” of five or leading the Company’s 10 UH-1H Slicks into landing zones hotly defended by a resolute enemy. In this role, great leadership skills were vital and Charlie excelled. It is no easy thing to take fire, remain calm, and to make safe decisions for the 40 aircrew depending on you and the 100 or so troops you are carrying into the teeth of battle. He was awarded a Mention in Despatches for his excellent ability under combat conditions.

    Charlie and I flew together lots of times and he always had the ability to find a bit of humour even in the tightest of spots. At the end of most days, we would retire to the bar to wind down and celebrate the passing of that day, singing bawdy ballads and thinking we were both Enrico Caruso. With nothing else but flying or drinking, we did lots of both. Charlie got a bit too close to getting unintentionally hurt in another bar at our Bear Cat base one night – some Thai soldiers got too willing and one threw a grenade. Charlie was extremely lucky to get just a slight graze.

    Charlie will have come out of Vietnam a very different person to the one who went there: everyone did. After it, we went separate ways and I didn’t see Charlie again until 2015 when a mutual American friend came to Australia. We crossed the street at the same traffic lights going to the restaurant and barely recognised each other. It didn’t take much to catch up and from then till now we had a firm closer connection.

    Old age is a bitch and Charlie spat in her eye but in the end, she wins. I will always remember the hard Vietnam days we had together and the fine aviator Charles Robert Richmond Rex was in the toughest work place known.

    Max Speedy, June 2020.

    July 6, 2020 at 8:17 am

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