Jeremy Reilly Obituary

A TRIBUTE TO MY FATHER,

JEREMY REILLY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for being here. I want to tell you a little bit about the man who was my father.

 

Just before the outbreak of the War, when Dad was 5, and his brother, Patrick, was 3, the family was posted to India. There, his mother would play golf. And his father, a colonel in the Royal Engineers (the Sappers), was often away. And so, after a whole month’s journey by ship, Dad and Patrick would be left with a not overly watchful nanny, leaving them free to explore the local area, as long as their mother never found out!

 

With few opportunities to make other friends, Dad and his brother were close and did almost everything together. During wartime new toys weren’t available, so Dad worked his way through a series of exciting books about a jungle hunter called Bill Blackadder! On his 6th birthday, he was given a bicycle, which was small, second-hand and red. This was in frequent use. And if Dad cycled with the same nerve he later showed driving racing cars, it’s no wonder the bike acquired the name of ‘the Red Peril’!

 

 

When they moved north, earthquakes were a risk. So when the weather warmed up, Dad and Patrick’s beds were moved outside with their mosquito nets. There, they’d have to try to get to sleep, listening to the long and haunting howls of jackals hunting together in huge packs. This was very frightening for two small boys, outside, alone and in the dark, who at the dreadful noise were picturing jackals the size of tigers! But Bill Blackadder came to the rescue - he wouldn’t have been frightened of a jackal! Dad would go to sleep dreaming he was in the jungle stalking a man-eating tiger. Or firing endless bursts from the cannon of his Hurricane as he flew it over occupied France, before getting into his Spitfire to win a dog-fight at higher level!

 

Away on a long campaign in Eritrea, their father sent back two large boxes. Inside was an Aladdin’s cave of confiscated weaponry from Italian prisoners of war, including two small rifles designed for boys’ units, empty training grenades, belts, badges, swords, and a catapult! You can imagine the excitement these two small boys felt, having had no new toys for 3 years, especially seeing the rifles! Even without their firing pins, they gave a feeling of power, as they demonstrated their bolt action on sorties around the garden and neighbouring area!

 

When at home their father would take them on long nature walks teaching them to identify birds and butterflies and inspiring Dad’s love of nature. So it must have felt very exciting when they moved south to the edge of the jungle at Chhindwara, where nature abounded all around! Tigers were usually further away, but their landlady had been called on to shoot a man-eater not long ago. They learned to recognise the coughs of panthers at night, and found a python sleeping on the beams of their verandah. It’s not surprising that this was the very place where Kipling’s Jungle Book was set. Of course all this was very exciting for two small boys, and their armoury was often called into action. And they shared exciting jungle exploits together, sheltered under the illusion that their catapult and boys’ rifles would offer them some degree of protection!

 

Eventually they had to return with their mother to England - and an education. It was by now 1944, and Dad was 10. It was still wartime. So they had a tense, and yet for small boys quite exciting journey back by sea, under continual threat of torpedo attack. One afternoon, the ship’s alarm sounded. Assuming it was a practice, Dad and Patrick began to return down the stairwell to retrieve their life-jackets, only to be overrun by a mass of Indian soldiers charging up in panic from below, and the terrifyingly loud sound of gunfire outside. All they could do was crouch down and hug each other at the side of the stairs, while imagining a sea-full of torpedoes about to strike the waterline of the ship – just where they were crouching! It was very frightening!

 

With no home to return to until their father could leave India, within 2 weeks of arriving in England, Dad and Patrick were packed off to boarding school in Devon. The two brothers and playfellows, who’d known only the unregulated simplicity and freedom of Indian life, now found themselves in an unremembered country and climate, separated from each other into different age groups, cooped up in icy dormitories; and their days and nights regulated into the strict routines, rules and punishments of boarding school life. The experience was quite overwhelming and depressing, and added to the sense of homesickness, despite having no home. They were behind educationally as a result of inadequate teaching and continual changes of school and home in wartime India. Now faced with things like Latin, French and algebra, and classmates who were already several years ahead, Dad was overwhelmed and found it hard to concentrate. He and Patrick were both so unhappy that, one night, Dad broke out of school, in hope of persuading his mother to take them both away from there. This was not the success he hoped, and she sent him straight back to the headmaster for a beating. Mr Blencoe, to his credit, merely gave Dad an understanding lecture, which left Dad comforted, and of a mind to keep on trying!

 

During holidays they stayed with grandparents in Eastbourne, where bomber aircraft would fly overhead and sirens would alert to the approach of German flying bombs or Doodle-Bugs. On one of these occasions they saw two aircraft flying over the sea, directly towards them! Their mother dragged Patrick to safety, but Dad was much too excited not to stay and watch. First there was a sound of machine-gun fire. Then the second aircraft turned away in a sharp upwards bank. Then the first aircraft, the Doodle-Bug, was by now passing very low over him, with its loud and rasping pulsating sound. It was all over in seconds, and then the All Clear sounded.

 

So what kind of man did this daring and adventurous little boy become? He became a brilliant army officer, who loved racing old sports cars, and whose soldiers recounted stories of his bravery as their Commanding Officer in Northern Ireland. He drew up the ceasefire plan that persuaded opposing military leaders in Rhodesia to enter the talks that led to its independence.

 

He was the strength and rock for Mum, after the loss of their second child Penelope, at only 9 weeks. And then within 3 years he had to deal with the tragic loss of his brother, Patrick.

 

He was a supportive, encouraging father, a very proud grandfather, and a loyal husband. He inspired my profound love and respect for the natural world, and desire to paint it, as he had done. And later in life, he wrote 22 volumes of autobiographical journals, a labour of love, from which some of these stories have come.

 

His regiment, the Fusiliers, who were raised on stories of his exploits in Northern Ireland, called him a Regimental legend, an inspirational leader, and a great man. But even great men have to come home and live normal lives, which in some ways for him was his hardest challenge of all. His mind could grasp complex ideas at bewildering speed. He was always finding better ways of doing things, much to the irritation of my mother - and I think some of his senior officers! He wasn’t comfortable with small talk. And even though it made him appear taciturn and put one on edge terribly, he’d consider and reflect on things, and wasn’t afraid of silence. He wasn’t given to expressing feelings, not easy to know, and amazingly, not always right. But he loved, felt and cared very deeply. And he was very loved. Never more so than by his wife, in whose loyal and loving care, he was able to enjoy the last precious years of his life, surrounded by friends and family, in the home that he loved.

 

It is only fair that I give Dad the last word. He liked having the last word on most subjects! In the days when he could still walk a little on his frame, Dad took my husband Peter aside, on one of their walks up the road to the telegraph pole and back, and said that there was something he needed to talk about. Dad couldn’t talk easily by this time, but he’d been thinking about us all being here today. He said, “I want everyone to know that I was very proud of my daughters, and loved them very much, and that Julia … was my angel.”

 

Brigid