Having been born and brought up on a farm in Kent and educated in an agricultural stream at technical school it surprised his parents when Alan Wiles enlisted as a junior in the Corps with number 7 Squad in 1960.
After qualifying as an S3 he was posted to 45 Commando in Aden.
The desert heat was not to be a problem as within weeks he was sent to Dhala, a tented outpost in the pleasantly green and cool mountains close to the border with Yemen. Hearts and Minds patrols to the local villages became the order of the day, but on one such patrol he drank the local well water and as a result, over the next week became ill and slipped into unconsciousness.
He came round draped in a white shroud in a very dark and cool room. Convinced that he had been put in a morgue he screamed for help and woke most of the patients in the medical ward of RAF Hospital Steamer Point. He was very ill with a form of hepatitis, which kept him bed ridden in that same ward for over four months before being medevaced back to the UK. Worse was yet to come as he was banned from drinking alcohol for at least five years and it was recommended that he stay on a fat free diet for life.
Once back in the UK he quickly regained his fitness in time to deploy to Norway for Arctic warfare training which in those days involved very little in the way of specialist clothing or footwear. Snow holes were not his scene and he volunteered and rejoined 45 Commando in the sunnier climes of Aden. 1964 was to be a busy year for the Unit and they embarked in January on HMS Centaur heading south to quell a mutiny of the East African Rifles in Tanganyika.
HMS Centaur was a Fixed Wing carrier, ill equipped to have a Commando unit embarked and every nook and cranny seemed to house a Marine and his kit. The assault into Dar Es Salaam’s Colito Barracks saw few Marine casualties particularly after a 3.5 inch anti tank rocket had been fired into the E.A.R. guardroom killing all inside. After a few days of mopping up, it was back to Aden via R & R in Mombasa. After a short respite in Aden, the unit deployed into the Radfan mountains at the start of the campaign to quell a dissident uprising in the area. On one occasion his patrol was short of water and it was a Scout, piloted by a SNCO that resupplied them, which sparked his ambition to fly. Sadly, there were no NCO Pilots in the Royal Marines at that stage and only a handful of Royal Marine Officers flew with the Navy.
After a brief spell with 41 Commando at Bickleigh, his Arctic training paid off and he joined the ships detachment of HMS Protector, the Antarctic Patrol Ship and forerunner of HMS Endurance. Training had just started when there was a requirement for 6 of the detachment to form Naval Party 8901 and deploy to the Falkland Islands to train up the FI Defence Force. He joined the Party and took on the role of PTI alongside a cook, driver, weapons instructor, admin Colour Sergeant and his Recce Troop boss from Aden, Captain Ian Martin. After sightseeing much of North and South America en route to the Islands; the Party arrived in Port Stanley in early 1966. The job was not onerous with Defence Force training two evenings a week and on the odd weekend. There was plenty of time for personal admin and it was during this time that he met a local girl. The romance blossomed and they married two years later in England.
During his time in the Falklands, an Aerolineas Argentinas DC 4 was hi-jacked over Argentina and landed on the racecourse just outside Port Stanley. He was going trout fishing as it circled to land, so thinking it was in distress, diverted the Land Rover to help. In short, the El Condor Group of 25 young men, commanded by a very attractive blonde woman, had hijacked the aircraft on an internal flight in Argentina and flown to Port Stanley intending to liberate the Islands from British rule. Alan and two other Marines were taken hostage, but were not too concerned as during the initial frisking, the terrorists had missed the explosive fishing aid in his pocket. The Argentinean passengers were soon released and much to Alan’s concern the Falkland Islands Defence Force, which at that stage closely resembled ‘Dads Army’ quickly surrounded the plane. After a long stand off, the group gave up and all ended well. Alan managed to confiscate some photographic film from their photographer and days later The Daily Express had exclusive photo coverage of the proceedings.
Shortly after this event, the Royal Marines asked for SNCOs to volunteer for Pilot training and he applied. After a year on the Islands, he joined HMS Protector and headed south to enjoy supporting the British Antarctic Survey. Expecting a good run ashore on return to civilisation in Chile, the ships Company were unimpressed when the ship docked briefly in Punta Arenas to pick up the British media and headed south again to escort Sir Francis Chichester around Cape Horn. The sea was lively and having met up with Gypsy Moth to the West of the Horn, the weather worsened as Sir Francis approached abeam the rock. He was down to a storm jib only and as the seas worsened, only one of the assembled media, Richard Lindley from ITN, was in a fit state to speak live to camera. Protector began to lose steerage, so pressed on East, returned west and then East again. Three roundings of the Horn in one day was enough for everyone onboard.
The voyage back to England was every Marine’s dream, visiting most of the major ports in South America, Central America and the Caribbean.
After completing an S1 course he joined APC 210 at Middle Wallop in early 1969. His biggest mistake during the course was when his wife Sheila went into labour and took herself off to Tidworth Military Hospital. He telephoned the Ward later in the day and asked the Sister to let Sheila know that he had just completed his first solo on helicopters, BEFORE asking how Sheila was. Julie, the eldest of his three daughters was born a few hours later. Despite a relapse of his old illness and being short on hours, thanks to Duncan MacMillan, he was awarded his Wings and posted to 3 Commando Brigade Air Squadron in Singapore.
Under the tutorage of Spencer Holtom at Kluang in Malaya, he learnt jungle flying techniques and the first of several bad habits. On one occasion they flew the Sioux to a mountain peak some thirty miles from Kluang. Alan made a hash of the approach, scared himself and prayed that Spencer wouldn’t ask him to do it again. Even worse, Spencer climbed out and told him to do it solo. He took off and headed back towards Kluang. After ten minutes he realised that leaving the SFI stranded many miles from civilisation would not enhance his aviation career, so headed back. He made a steep approach staying above the shear line and safely landed on expecting the worst from the SFI. Spencer climbed in and calmly said that the approach looked fine but not to make the circuits so big next time. Alan confessed to Spencer some twenty years later.
On another occasion, after Spencer’s aircraft had gone unserviceable he flew Spencer with their suitcases in one litter and Spencer’s motorcycle in the other from Kluang to Singapore learning the true meaning of limited power in the Sioux.
Exercises took him to the Philippines, Brunei and Hong Kong. He had his first engine failure just after crossing from Singapore into Malaya and managed to put the aircraft safely down onto a yam plantation. Sadly, the Wessex that came to lift his Sioux out all but destroyed the farmers Atap roofed house. Due to a delay because of unserviceability he flew the last British helicopter out of Singapore when British Forces withdrew and having found HMS Bulwark, took part in exercises in the Gulf and Kenya before returning to the UK.
After a Scout conversion he joined Brunei Flight at Coypool. Exercises in Germany and the Mediterranean followed, and he was loaned to 660 Sqn AAC for a tour in NI at Long Kesh. Sadly, while emplaning troops at Gosford Castle, a young trooper from the 17th/21st Lancers ran into the Scout’s tail rotor and was killed instantly. Subsequently, Scout tail rotors were painted black and white to give greater visibility.
On return to 3 BAS, Terence Murphy had taken over command of the Sqn from David Storrie. Terence was a rare breed of Navy fast jet pilot and QHI. The mighty Nimbus engine was still unreliable and it wasn’t long before Alan experienced an engine failure, pulling off a successful downwind landing, down hill at just below max all up weight. One of his passengers calmly requested another aircraft be arranged to take him on to Larkhill and as this was being discussed, the wind caught the pilot’s door of the Scout and cracked the window Perspex on the windscreen wiper motor. It took all day to recover the aircraft and it was to Alan’s surprise when he was marched into the COs office at the end of the day for the expected ‘well done’ that he was fined £5 for not securing the door properly. Justice was done a few weeks later when Terence Murphy’s door perspex shattered on dispersal, Derek Blevins produced the appropriate charge sheet and Terence fined himself £5.
1974 saw Alan joining the Blue Eagles as No 2 and the first Royal Marine in the team. He was commissioned into the Army Air Corps at the end of the season, posted to 657 Squadron in Soltau, Germany and without any formal training on the dos and don’ts of being an Army Officer, was thrown in at the deep end and made flight commander of a12 Sioux Flight supporting 7 Armoured Brigade.
In early ’78 he joined the QHI course at Shawbury and became the first Army student to sweep the board with the prizes and gain a distinguished pass. During his two years in Advanced Rotary Wing at Wallop he led a Gazelle display team and had the privilege of flying them up the Thames through London at 200’ for the Lord Mayors Show.
Having put around the rumour that he was posted to Fort Rucker, it worked and he was posted to Alabama as the British Army exchange instructor. Promoted Major soon after arrival he was given command of Combat Skills, consisting of 105 Hueys, 76 instructors and 160 students. Fortunately his Ops Officer was a very switched on ex Air America pilot who had his finger on the pulse and pointed him in the right direction. Highlight of his time on the flight line was to lead a formation of 82 Hueys into a lift at the Ranger School in Florida and the most interesting was to do his first ever engine off on NVG as a demonstration to his student, having not covered it during his instructor training and being told to get on with it.
After a year he became a Standardisation Instructor Pilot and moved to the Directorate of Evaluation and Standardisation Utility Branch, responsible for worldwide standards on Hueys.
In 1982 on return from the States he went to the Falklands to fly Argentinean Hueys captured in the conflict and on return took command of Aircrewman Training Squadron at Middle Wallop. With Lynx, Gazelle and Scout aircraft in the Squadron he chose Scouts to form the 1984 Eagles display team. The technicians devised a way of pumping avtur into the exhaust and the team had the best smoke generator around. On one practice after climbing into a spread eagle, No 2 flown by Colin Watkins surged as he went into an anti torque turn and ignited about 200’ of vaporised avtur behind him. The flame was dramatic and Air traffic called ‘you’re on fire’ over the radio, which made for an interesting few seconds as all five dealt with the emergency.
As part of an attempt to break the London to Paris record, he was given the opportunity to fly a Lynx live on Noel Edmunds ‘Late, Late Breakfast TV Show’, which went out early on Saturday evenings. He teamed up with Eddie Kidd of motorcycle fame, Michael Carlton, who owned and piloted a Hawker Hunter jet and David Boyce, who could run fast. He flew the final leg from Biggen Hill into the BBC studios and with the Lynx speed restriction removed flew on Tq and transmission limits, which made for an interesting arrival, trying to slow down into a tight confined area with no overshoot. They established a new record of 38 minutes and 58 seconds, which went into the Guinness Book of Records and still stands today.
A posting to Northern Ireland Regiment as Regimental QHI came next and with just himself and the two Squadron QHIs in Theatre, the introduction of NVG and getting all aircrew up to speed proved challenging. His final three years in the Army were spent as the Senior Flying Instructor based at Netheravon. Visits to all AAC locations outside of Germany and most overseas exercise areas each year made for a busy time, but it was flying the Agusta A109 and Islander with Special Forces that he enjoyed most.
He was awarded an AFC in 1985 and made an MBE in 1987.
With helicopter and fixed wing licences in hand, he left the Army in 1990 just as pilot recruitment in the civilian market took a downturn. Luckily, he was offered a job with Bristows at Wallop replacing his old Basic Rotary instructor, Ian McArthur.
Teaching on Basic Rotary Squadron was the most rewarding and satisfying instructing that he had done and it was during this period that he had the privilege of teaching his eldest daughter Julie, an Army Nurse, to fly, later presenting her with her wings.
In 1992 he teamed up with fellow Bristow Instructor and ex Navy pilot, Billy Campbell to enter Helimeet. With moderate success in winning all the civilian categories, they were invited to enter as a military crew in the next Helimeet and went on to win the overall flying competition. They participated as part of the British team in two successive World Championships gaining silver and bronze medals and the highlight was dropping just three points, out of a possible seven hundred during the navigation event in Moscow.
In his day, Alan has been a keen parachutist, runner and sailor but considers himself very lucky to have been paid to pursue his love of flying. He logged over ten thousand hours on military aircraft, but considers his biggest achievement was remaining current for 33 years, and never missing a monthly summary.
He and Sheila retired to Cyprus in 2002 to enjoy the sun with his logbook firmly closed.