Lieutenant-General Sir Jeremy Calcott Reilly KCB DSO
Colonel of the Regiment
1986 to 1996
Lieutenant-General Sir Jeremy Reilly
January 10 2017, 12-01am,
Meticulous army officer who was awarded the DSO as a commander in
Northern Ireland in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday
Reilly in Belfast in the early 1970s. His aggressive patrols and intelligence-led operations kept the Provisional
IRA in check
Jeremy Reilly vowed to keep the IRA out of sight in Belfast. He did this in
part by engaging with local community leaders, thus to an extent isolating
the local IRA leadership, and in part quite literally, by authorising his
fusiliers to shoot out the street lights in west Belfast so that they could
benefit from the use of their night sights.
These unusual orders gave confidence to his soldiers, as did the banning
of parade ground drill, the wearing of patrol dress at all times and the
carrying of personal weapons.
Such innovation was typical of the man who from his early regimental
service had been marked out by his senior officers as a man destined for
high rank. Reilly was always professional in his approach; there was never
a hint of it will be all right on the night about him. Close scrutiny of
intelligence and the known facts, followed by meticulous training and
preparation of his soldiers were his hallmarks.
They were all in evidence during his command of 2nd Battalion The Royal
Regiment of Fusiliers in Northern Ireland during 1971-72. This was a
period of ascendancy for the Provisional IRA, made worse by the
reputational damage suffered by the army after Bloody Sunday on
January 30, 1972.
Reliable intelligence on the IRA barely existed, leaving the army and the
Royal Ulster Constabulary to act either on hunches or simply to react to
IRA bombing and assassinations. Soldiers were killed trying to contain
riots or as they patrolled the streets of Belfast and Londonderry, shot by
snipers who were almost impossible to find.
For each of the four emergency tours in the province undertaken by his
battalion in 1971-72, Reilly prepared his soldiers so thoroughly that they
could immediately recognise the streets and key features of their new
operational area, despite never having seen them before. As the time
approached for the start of his first Northern Ireland tour, he ordered that
sentries at Alma Barracks, at Catterick, should have loaded weapons
many months before such instructions were received down the chain of
During their tour of duty in northern Belfast from October 1971 to
February 1972, 2nd Fusiliers brought IRA activity in the New Lodge and
Unity Flats areas to a virtual standstill. This was because of Reilly's policy
of aggressively patrolling and targeting the IRA based on such intelligence
as he could scrape together, while keeping careful watch over intercommunal
In July 1972 his battalion was deployed in Andersonstown, southwest
Belfast, in preparation for the ending of the IRA no-go areas under
Operation Motorman. With no security force bases in the area, Reilly and
his soldiers lived on the streets and immediately established domination
of the area. Although occasionally under fire himself, Reilly sought to
explain the purpose of his battalion's actions to community leaders, and
when he introduced his policy of shooting out street lights the regimental
signal officer discreetly patrolled ahead with a screwdriver to disconnect
the electricity to individual lampposts.
He was awarded the DSO in recognition of his battalion's outstanding
successes against the IRA.
He ordered his fusiliers to shoot out the street
lights in west Belfast
Jeremy Calcott Reilly was born in 1934 and spent his early childhood in
India, where his father was a lieutenant-colonel serving in the Madras
Sappers & Miners. He was educated at Uppingham and Sandhurst, from
where he was commissioned into the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in
He served in Egypt and Cyprus during the Eoka terrorist campaign, when
he was mentioned in dispatches, and later served with his battalion in
Germany and in north Borneo during Indonesia's confrontation with the
Federation of Malaysia.
After battalion command he moved to the Ministry of Defence, becoming
Colonel GS of Army Staff Duties 2. The job description for this post,
arguably the most demanding colonel's job in the army, includes the
phrase must have shown the ability to reach the army board. Although
Reilly did not reach the board, his calm demeanour and measured
approach to problems proved ideally suited to the job.
Still only a colonel aged 42, he was selected to attend the 1977 course at
the Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS), but at the last moment was
switched to become chief staff officer to Field Marshal Lord Carver
(obituary, December 11, 2001) as resident commissioner (designate) in
Rhodesia. This was after negotiations to end the country's political and
security stalemate arising from the Ian Smith administration's unilateral
declaration of independence and black African armed opposition. This
was a daunting task, not least because Carver had accepted the
assignment with some reluctance and the chances of Rhodesia moving
from civil war to popular democracy looked decidedly slim. And so they
proved. Aside from visits to Rhodesia with Carver, Reilly worked with him
on the Rhodesia problem for 18 months and spent time in the United
Nations headquarters in New York attending meetings of the Group of
Five nations working on the Namibia problem.
He was no stranger to the US, having served as aide-de-camp to the
head of the British Army staff in Washington from 1958 to 1960, when he
met his future wife, Julia, the daughter of William Forrester, a civil
engineer. She was a PA to the British ambassador at the time. They were
married in 1960 and she survives him with their two daughters: Katherine,
who is married to a veterinary surgeon and works in a hospital; and Brigid,
an artist and therapist. A third daughter predeceased him.
In 1979 Reilly was appointed to command the 6th Field Force based at
Aldershot. Planning with Britain's Nato allies was an essential part of the
commander's work, which benefited from Reilly's earlier experience of
international negotiations. During an exercise abroad in the first year of
this command he was ordered back to London to draw up a ceasefire plan
with the opposing military commanders in Rhodesia to persuade them to
participate in the Lancaster House talks, which were at a near stalemate.
Unexpectedly, he proved successful.
He was again selected to attend the RCDS course in 1980 and again his
nomination was cancelled, on this occasion because he was chosen to
command 4th Armoured Division in Germany as a major-general at the
early age, for peacetime, of 47. His success in that role was marked by his
appointment as director of battle development in the MoD, with
responsibility for conceptual policy within the Army Department. As a
result of the reorganisation Michael Heseltine brought about while
secretary of state, Reilly took on a tri-service role as assistant chief of
defence staff (concepts), but still in the rank of major-general.
He drove to the barracks at racing speed,
taking corners with precision
In 1986 he was promoted to lieutenant-general and appointed to oversee
army training policy and supervise its implementation by the directors of
the fighting arms of the service. He held this post for three years, during
which time he initiated a review of the army's training organisation. He
was appointed KCB in 1987 and then abruptly was retired in 1989 at the
age of 55.
This termination of his military career surprised Reilly and those who knew
him well. Here was a general officer, highly experienced operationally as a
staff officer in the most demanding roles, and a skilled international
negotiator. Four-star posts that is, in the rank of full general had
been reduced to the absolute minimum; nevertheless, his retirement
could not be viewed other than as a waste of an exceptional talent.
He declined to accept offers of civilian employment, concentrating his
formidable intellect and energy on his duties as colonel of the Royal
Regiment of Fusiliers, from 1986 to 1996, and then as colonelcommandant
of The Queen's Division, of which his regiment formed part,
from 1988 to 1990.
Some of his action personality appeared in his private life. Having raced
a Triumph TR2 as a young officer, he drove his command team back to
barracks after one of the Northern Ireland tours at racing speed within
the limits corners being taken with precision. Yet he also had a gentle
side. A keen birdwatcher, he would take visiting children in hedgerow
hunts for birds' nests, to be observed but not disturbed, which they found
as enthralling as they did his company. Parkinson's disease limited the
final years of his life, but even then his fighting spirit remained
Lieutenant-General Sir Jeremy Reilly, KCB, DSO, soldier, was born on
April 7, 1934. He died on January 1, 2017, aged 82