P J Riley Career Highlights

I was not quite fifteen when I skipped taking my General Certificate of Education exams and decided instead that it was time for me to leave school altogether. A few months later I tried to join the Army but was turned away and told to come back when I was old enough to shave. I was seventeen years and six month old, and still barely able to grow anything more than a little fluffy down on my cheeks, when I joined the Regular Army.

My lack of educational qualifications at that time meant that my prospects for promotion were fairly poor, bordering on grim. It wasn't until I became 'friends' with my highly esteemed Commanding Officer's daughter and she fell pregnant, leading to a hastily arranged shotgun wedding, that I decided that I should try to improve my prospects.

I had a desire to become a pilot. The Army were accepting volunteers for flying training but I lacked the academic qualifications even to apply, so I set about, during my spare time, getting them. Within a year I had applied for, and was accepted to join, one of the most difficult courses in the Army. After more than a year of training, which I found to be extremely demanding, I qualified as an Army pilot, albeit with the aid of a little judicious cheating. The highlight of my career, up to that point, was when His Royal Highness Prince Phillip ceremoniously stuck the Army pilot's wings on my chest.

At the age of thirty six I was faced with the prospect of leaving the Army and taking up a nice cushy flying job, or putting myself through, what is widely accepted to be, one of the most gruelling physical tests in the world. Despite doddering towards senility and very much against the advice of everyone around me, I opted for the latter. The chapters in my book covering selection show how my ageing body, and especially my feet, were pushed to the limit. My mind was also tested to the breaking point during the Resistance to Interrogation phase. After reading about it you may well agree that this stage of my career stands out as one of the highlights. 

In 1980 I was a member of the United Kingdom Counter Terrorist team. We trained incessantly to develop techniques to rescue hostages from buildings, planes, buses, trains or ships, constantly improving our methods of operating as new technologies and ideas were introduced. When the Iranian Embassy was taken over by a group of heavily armed terrorists later that year life  took on a different meaning, since this was no longer a part of our training regime but everything was real. Real ammunition was going to be used and real human being were going to be killed. The events of the few days over which the siege lasted are vividly seared into my memory. 

No soldier, especially one in the Special Forces, wants to be left behind to look after the families when a war is declared. I firmly believe that people join the armed forces, not to get well paid or gain a professional qualification but to go to war. I was gutted when the task force set sail towards the South Atlantic and I was not part of it. But it wasn't long before I was on my way via Rio de Janeiro and Santiago de Chile to Tierra Del Fuego to take part in a top secret attack on the Argentinian mainland. War is not easily forgotten. 

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