Wicklow-born soldier who won the Military Cross for valour

Rex Hitchcock: September 19th, 1919 - August 14th, 2014

 

Winning the Military Cross is never easy, and Rex Hitchcock, who died recently aged 94 in Devon, was just 22 when he did it the hard way, commanding men fighting a desperate rearguard action to protect retreating comrades.

In January 1942, Allied forces were falling back near Musus in Egypt, and Hitchcock was ordered to protect the rear flank of divisional headquarters. The oncoming Germans had superior tanks and Lieut Hitchcock and his men stopped them – literally – in their tracks.

The citation for his award says: “With three tanks he engaged the nearest German M.K.IVs and then overran a number of German anti-tank guns in a neighbouring wadi, destroying several and killing the crews.” Amazingly, he lost no men in this engagement.

Minefields

Africa

His initial – and subsequent – war service was with the 5th Inniskilling Dragoons, which he had joined in 1940 from his first job with the oil company Shell.

Between 25 and 30 per cent of the officers of the “Skins”, as they were known, came from Ireland. Many still do. After the retreat at Dunkirk in 1940, the officers and senior NCOs were dispersed to other units.

Heavy losses

Reginald Kilner Brasier Hitchcock, always known as Rex, was born in Greystones, Co Wicklow, and grew up near cousins, and the home of his grandmother Amy Brasier, at Abington near Limerick.

His parents separated when he was young and his mother brought him up on her small private income and the proceeds of a florist’s shop, and later a hairdressers, in Greystones. She remarried and settled with her second husband, Gerard Bailley, on a small farm at Castleconnell.

Rex Hitchcock’s father was Frank Clere Hitchcock, who soldiered with the Leinster Regiment in 1915. He suffered badly from the effects of gas and was treated for several winters in Swiss sanatoriums.

His wartime memoir, Stand To – A Diary Of The Trenches 1915-1918, was republished as recently as 2000. He also wrote about horse-breeding, on which he was an expert.

However the best-known member of the family was undoubtedly Uncle Rex. Rex Ingram – he took his mother’s name – was a famous silent film director.

Born Reginald Ingram Montgomery Hitchcock, he mentored stars of the silent screen, including Rudolph Valentino, Ramon Novarro and Alice Terry, who became his wife. He moved to Hollywood and later set up a film studio in Nice.

Film pioneer

In early 1945, before the war ended, Rex Hitchcock had married Joyce Leslie Ritchie. She had a pilot’s licence and had flown many planes, including the Seafire, the naval equivalent of the Spitfire MKII, modified to take off and land from an aircraft carrier.

On leaving the British army in 1960, Hitchcock joined the Whitbread brewing company, managing its Squire’s Gin label until retirement, first living in Sussex, then in Devon. Joyce died in 2009.

He is survived by his daughters, Lady Rosemary Bellew and Sally-Anne Hardy.