2nd Jul, 2022

Tributes paid to 'remarkable' amateur historian who uncovered Whitley's past

TOUCHING tributes have been paid to a life-long Coventrian and ‘remarkable’ man who dedicated his life to uncovering the forgotten history of Whitley.

Reg Kimber, founder of the Whitley History Group, has died aged 80 after suffering a heart attack at home.

A popular local figure, Reg touched the lives of many in the community through his charity work and his role as an amateur historian.

Born in Max Road, Coundon, Reg remembered the night of the Coventry Blitz – taking shelter under the stairs with his mother.

Years later as a teenager, he served national service with the RAF in Honiley, bunking off on sports afternoons to work at AC Wickman’s – where he worked until he was 72 years old.

But, since retiring Reg dedicated his time to uncovering and preserving the history of the Whitley area and sharing it with the younger generations.

For years he turned detective and sought to uncover what happened to the seven royal engineers of the 9th Bomb Disposal Company who were killed on Whitley Common in 1940 when the unexploded German bomb they had moved from the city centre suddenly exploded, killing them all instantly.

While it was well known that the men had died on Whitley Common, the location had not been previously identified and no memorial existed to commemorate their sacrifice.

So Reg made it his personal mission to rectify this and ensure a fitting tribute was made to the men.

Ralph Butcher knew Reg for 20 years and the pair established the Whitley History Group together.

He told the Observer: “Reg was the real driving force behind the memorial plaque to the Whitley seven.

“He suggested we have a competition with children from the local school to design the plaque to get them interested in their local history.

“But it was the book he wrote that was his real labour of love.

“It went into so much detail – pinpointing where the bomb exploded and going into as much detail as possible about the men’s lives.

“Reg even tracked down the families of the seven men and invited them along to see the plaque and pay their tributes.

“Everyone that knew Reg, liked him.

“He was a gentle, kind and calm man and he will be missed by many.”

Reg leaves behind his wife, Marje, who he was married to for 56 years after the pair met at the old Locarno Ballroom, in the years before it was transformed into Central Library.

She has been so inundated with floral tributes to Reg from across the world that she has had to place some in buckets around the house.

The couple have three daughters, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild, Marje recalling how Reg always used to joke he was surrounded by women in the house – including the dog.

Speaking proudly of her husband’s achievements, she said: “The war never finished for Reg – he was a great historian.

“He was always very proud to have been in the guard of honour when the Queen came to Coventry to lay the foundation stone for the new cathedral.

“He was writing and researching right up to the end.

“His latest thing was him that he wanted to rebuild the old mill that had stood in Whitley, using some of the original timber.

“Sadly now that project won’t be finished.”

But history was not Reg’s only passion.

His charity work saw him raise funds and collect books and equipment to sent to a school in Zambia, which his late sister had established.

He also coupled his charity work with his love of football – raising money to buy a young player a car after losing his leg in an accident.

In 1971, Reg organised an international football tournament, with teams from Holland and Germany facing off against the home Coventry side at Bramcote.

He even managed to persuade Coventry City FC legend Jimmy Hill to present the prizes to the teams at a glittering event in London.

Leading the tributes, Reg’s friend for over 50 years, Larry Watson, described him as a ‘one of a kind’ and a ‘community man’.

Former Lord Mayor and Cheylesmore councillor, Hazel Noonan, knew Reg for more than 35 years and said Whitley had lost ‘a valued friend who will be greatly missed’.

Reg was awarded a Good Citizen of Coventry in January 2013 for his efforts in uncovering and commemorating the history of the bomb disposal unit who died on Whitley Common.

Recognising his ‘thoroughly deserved’ award, Lord Mayor, Coun Lindsley Harvard, said: “I was saddened to hear the news of Reg’s death.

“He devoted his retirement to working on and campaigning for a range of local issues in the Whitley area, in particular the memorial to the bomb disposal crew that were killed on Whitley Common in 1940.

“Reg will be missed and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this sad time.”

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